With door wide open, Bears fall flat
Chicago still can win NFC North but doesn't resemble a playoff team in any way
PHILADELPHIA -- Considering the way the season had gone, the sight of the Bears logo in various graphics describing possible playoff scenarios looked odd and out of place these past three weeks, even as the team somehow climbed mathematically back into the race.
But on Sunday night, it was the Bears themselves who looked odd and painfully out of place in a nationally televised game against the Philadelphia Eagles that set itself up as the potential division-clincher for the visitors but ended up as a 54-11 disgrace that had to send the Green Bay Packers to bed with smiles on their faces.
The Packers, who lost to the Steelers earlier in the day after the Lions fell to the New York Giants, now have to be eagerly anticipating next Sunday's trip to Soldier Field, where the winner will capture the most pathetic division title in the league and move on to the playoffs, assuming the playoffs will have them.
If these things were subjective, Sunday's loss would eliminate the Bears just on principle.
For everything the Bears seemingly had going for them in the way of motivation against Philadelphia, they lacked in sheer manpower to stop a team that appeared faster, stronger, better prepared and with more to play for, even though the Eagles had nothing at stake because their Week 17 showdown for the NFC East title against the Cowboys was set regardless of Sunday night's outcome.
Instead, on a beautiful spring night in late December, this ranked as the worst game in Bears franchise history in touchdowns allowed (seven), the second-worst in points allowed and, especially considering what they had to play for, their worst overall showing in recent memory.
You knew the Eagles' offense was going to run fast and be potent, although certainly not to the tune of 514 total yards. And you certainly did not expect five Philadelphia sacks (three by linebacker Trent Cole) and an almost total lack of protection for Jay Cutler.
The Bears and Cutler grew impatient quickly on offense, abandoning their running game and going for home run strikes in the first quarter, although in their defense, the Eagles did lead 21-0 before the quarter was over.
"We were down 14-0 and then 21-0 pretty quickly, and it's hard to get in a rhythm because it's pass, pass, pass and you're putting the offensive line in a bad position," Cutler said.
Just as the Eagles admitted afterward that they were aware of the Dallas-Washington outcome, which made the outcome of Sunday night's game irrelevant to their playoff chances, the Bears could not deny they knew that both the Packers and Lions had lost.
"We didn't address it as a team, but all our players knew it," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We knew what was at stake tonight and the opportunity we had, and we didn't get it done.
"But these kind of motivational things, whatever they are, usually last about two minutes, then guys get settled into playing the game. It might give a team an emotional lift, but once you get started, you're not in position to be worrying about that or thinking about that."
Certainly not when shortly after you get started, your team looks like a group of toddlers in the middle of rush-hour traffic.
Ironically, Cutler pointed to the Eagles as an example of a team gathering itself after an embarrassing loss.
"They just had our number. It's going to happen across the NFL," he said. "These guys went to Minnesota last week and had a similar game [losing 48-30], and then they bounced back pretty well.
"Nothing says we can't play well next week."
The Bears can just as easily look to themselves, having endured a hideous overtime loss at Minnesota three weeks ago to seemingly drop out of playoff contention, only to win two straight and, by the grace of God and the choking Lions, find themselves in control of their own destiny.
That control now feels significantly diminished, although the Bears insist their confidence will not take flight as well. First order of business, they said, is to forget what happened Sunday night, with Cutler almost comically taking the lead.
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"I'm not even thinking about this game, to be honest," he said about a half-hour after it ended. "It's done. It's over with. I'm on to Green Bay. This game is wiped clean."
Hard to imagine, but then it is Christmas week, and there was more than one mention of that ,and the hope that somehow Santa Claus and time with family can redirect any negativity, in the Bears' locker room.
Obviously, they have no other choice. The problem is that even a victory next week against the Packers and the NFC North title that would come with it wouldn't make it any easier to imagine the Bears as a formidable playoff team.
"It's disappointing we couldn't get it done, but if we said in April that we'd have an opportunity to go to the playoffs and do that by winning the last game, we would be in, and that's where we are," Trestman said.
That's one way of looking at it.