The Bears' offense was dead on arrival Sunday.
And so, with such chilling finality, is their playoff future this season after the Dallas Cowboys made themselves feel right at home at Soldier Field. Dominating virtually every offensive statistic, the Bears still managed to come up short in a 17-13 defeat in a National Football Conference wild-card game witnessed by 62,594 fans.
The Bears (11-6) invaded the Cowboys' 10-yard line four times, but came away with only 10 points. Meanwhile, the Bears further abetted the Dallas cause by turning the ball over three times and having a punt blocked.
"Unfortunately, we (laid) an egg once the playoffs started and we have to get away from doing that," said Bears guard Tom Thayer. "There are a lot of good times, but this is one of the worst."
Mike Ditka's teams are 2-5 in postseason play since winning the Super Bowl in January 1986. Four of those postseason games have been at home.
"Our guys played hard and they tried," said Ditka during a brief press conference. "There was no lack of effort. (Dallas) won, that's all.
"If you want to fault somebody, I guess you have to fault me. Don't fault those guys. They fought like heck.
"If you want to be analytical about it, maybe we are a step away. We'll find out how to make that step up. But maybe that's where we are. Maybe we don't belong up there with these other (playoff) people."
Later, on his postgame radio and television shows, Ditka elaborated. He said the club needed to look for "bigger, stronger" players through trades and the Plan B system. He also said the Bears need to acquire a "professional snapper" for punts.
Regarding recurring injuries to key players, Ditka made a veiled reference to fullback Brad Muster when he said players living in California in the off-season should strongly consider living in Chicago and do a better job of conditioning.
"We have guys who would rather live in California," said Ditka. "If that's the case, they should come to me and say they want to be traded to the 49ers, San Diego or L.A. I have no problem with that. We have to have our people here."
Ditka also said he would consider trading defensive end Richard Dent, with whom he has feuded. Dent negated a key defensive stop at the 1-yard line with what Ditka called "an inexcusable penalty" for illegal use of hands.
The Bears turned the ball over at midfield on their first possession when quarterback Jim Harbaugh fumbled. The Cowboys' Bill Bates forced the fumble and Tony Hill recovered with 10 minutes 46 seconds left in the period. From there, the Cowboys marched 42 yards on eight plays before Ken Willis hit a 27- yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Bears almost thwarted the Cowboys' drive on third down when Emmitt Smith fumbled. The Bears' Mark Carrier nearly recovered, but the ball squirted away and back into the hands of Smith.
Later, the Cowboys' Darrick Brownlow blocked Maury Buford's punt and Ken Norton fell on it at the Bears' 9.
"They definitely overloaded that (left defensive) side," said Buford. "It wasn't anything we hadn't worked on during the week. We just didn't execute by blocking."
"They overloaded a side and got away with a little holding," said the Bears' Ron Rivera, who lines up five yards deep to protect the punter. "The man jumped on (center) Jerry Fontenot and pulled him down so he couldn't block. That's where the free man came from. It's an illegal thing, but they didn't call the penalty."
Smith ran to the 6 on first down. Then quarterback Steve Beuerlein scrambled to the 1.
cowboys 17, bears 13
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