They finally played the part, validated their critics, positively unraveled and left a veritable puddle on the Soldier Field turf with their effort.

Or rather, non-effort.

Bears coach Dave Wannstedt called his team's 31-8 loss Sunday to the--voila, suddenly resurgent--Washington Redskins "this ordeal" and acknowledged that it was "definitely" the most embarrassing defeat of the year, which is a statement in itself.

What the Bears did, before a stadium dotted with 13,912 colorful but very empty seats, is show exactly what happens when an overachieving 1-7 team actually tries to get away with living off its only victory of the season.

"We stunk today," said quarterback Erik Kramer. "And we have only ourselves to blame for it."

Sunday's debacle, the fourth Bears loss this season by 20 or more points, was all the more galling by the utter hopelessness from the start and by the lack of composure as the day wore on.

The Redskins entered the game with the worst defense in the league against the run and the fourth-worst rushing offense. Their first run of the game, by Terry Allen, went for 30 yards, and by the end of the first quarter, they dominated the Bears in rushing yards 98-6.

"The other team came out more ready than we were, that's about what I saw," said safety Marty Carter. "They came out, punched us in the mouth, and before we could recover, we were down 21 points."

By halftime the Bears trailed 24-0, had lost John Thierry for the season with a knee injury and Curtis Conway to an ejection after a non-call on pass interference in the end zone, and had shown virtually no inclination to turn in a respectable showing, let alone make a game of it.

"That was the poorest game in effort that I've been involved with as a Bear," said Jim Flanigan. "It was embarrassing."

Wannstedt termed the game "a very, very poor performance in all areas." Indeed, it is hard to know where to start. Special teams was so dreadful with bad punting and even worse returns, including a Tyrone Hughes fumble that led to a Redskins field goal, that on an ordinary Sunday, its performance alone would have been enough to lose the game.

The Bears' defense, however, was so bad, that for once Wannstedt could not blame the random big play by the opponent. On each Redskins possession, there was the long run by Allen, his backup Stephen Davis and even wide receiver Leslie Shepherd on a reverse as the Bears' line was pummeled and the linebackers beaten.

Time and again quarterback Gus Frerotte, who threw two TD passes, found a seam in the secondary. Two touchdowns were set up by Bears pass-interference calls.

"My son could look at this game and say, `Wow, the Bears got whupped today.' It don't take a genius to see that," said Bryan Cox.

"Every team throws a clunker. And obviously, we're 1-8. But in my opinion, we haven't played this poorly all season. Every game we've been in with an opportunity to win. This one we didn't have an opportunity to win from maybe the second quarter. They just literally dominated us."

So what was it exactly? A short work week? A letdown after the big Miami victory last Monday night? Were they just flat?

"Flat?" said Cox. "They made us flat, they flattened us."

The Bears' offense certainly does not escape responsibility. It was 1 of 9 on third-down conversions, rushed for just 62 yards on 16 attempts and hurt itself with penalties.

And perhaps most notably, a non-penalty.