Commentary

Many questions; any answers?

Bears' stunning letdown calls for a redefining of expectations

Updated: October 26, 2009, 12:40 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Jay Cutler
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanJay Cutler had his third multiple-interception game of the season Sunday against the Bengals with three picks.

One of the Bears' concerns going into Sunday's game at Cincinnati was that a loss would drop them to a .500 record, into the middle of the NFC pack and a difficult spot from which to dig out.

And technically, that's what happened.

But the Bears' apocalyptic 45-10 defeat to the Bengals is the kind of game that defines seasons, breaks teams, gets players demoted and coaches fired.

It's the kind of game that makes fans want at least two of the above.

Did the team quit? And if so, why? How does a defense look so thoroughly confused on one of its opponents' five touchdowns that two players in its secondary are playing man, one is playing zone and one, Charles Tillman, is looking for divine intervention?

This is not a team without talent. Not a team that anyone, even those coming up short of Super Bowl predictions, would have expected to lay an egg of such gargantuan proportions as the Bears did Sunday.

"It's embarrassing to come out and play like that," defensive end Alex Brown said. "We represent the Chicago Bears. We shouldn't play like that."

How then do you manage to not run, not stop the run, not complete passes, not pressure the passer, turn the ball over, commit still more stupid penalties and botch two quarterback snaps all on the same day?

Coming off a tough loss last Sunday night, the Bears chose to look ahead optimistically this past week, to celebrate the future and the $30 million, two-year extension of quarterback Jay Cutler. Apparently they forgot about Sunday's game.

Following his worst loss as Bears coach, Lovie Smith said he obviously didn't have his team prepared but didn't see anything like this coming. And he couldn't answer why any team, let alone his, would come out looking the way they did.

"I wish I knew, but it happens," Smith said. "It happens in the National Football League. You never know for sure when. Our preparation was good, I thought. I thought we were ready to go. But again, we weren't."

No, they weren't.

The first play on defense for the Bears was a 19-yard completion from Carson Palmer to Chad Ochocinco. The first play on offense was a false start.

The Bengals had 10 first downs in their first 16 plays, three touchdowns in their first 23 plays, four touchdown passes to four different receivers on their first four possessions and a field goal on their fifth -- all in the first half.

In the first quarter alone, the Bengals rang up 157 yards in total offense while holding the Bears to 22. At halftime, Palmer had completed 15 of 17 passes for 183 yards and had a quarterback rating of 151, which is seven points short of perfect.

Former Bear Cedric Benson, who smiled so much he looked in danger of cracking his mouthpiece, eclipsed 100 yards before halftime, and Ochocinco so effortlessly passed the 100-yard mark before intermission he was too bored to react obnoxiously.

"No blabber," Tillman said.

No time.

The Bengals had 13 offensive plays of double-digit yards.

The Bengals' 31 points tied for the third-most points allowed by the Bears in team history. That's 89 years, remember.

The only intrigue at that point was how the Bears were going to respond in the second half. The answer came quickly when Cutler threw his second of three interceptions, and Cincinnati picked up its scoring streak with a 13-yard touchdown catch by Ochocinco followed by a Benson touchdown to make it 45-3.

Not that it mattered at that point, but the Bears finally stopped the Bengals -- and before they crossed midfield, no less! -- on the next Cincinnati possession when Jamar Williams was called for roughing the kicker to give the Bengals a first down in Bears' territory.

That Cincinnati did not score on a possession for the first time all day was sort of lost at that point as the Bengals kindly went for the first down on a fourth-and-4 from the Bears' 28-yard-line with 3:48 remaining and failed.

"I don't blame Coach Smith for us losing," Tillman said. "I don't blame any coaches. They're not out there playing; we are. At the end of the day, you've got to look at yourselves in the mirror. We're not pointing fingers at anybody."

The defense was without Tommie Harris, who is fine according to the Bears, by the way. But honestly, does it matter? Brian Urlacher's absence is still the most significant, not just for what he could have provided but for what his void has done to the linebacking corps, and seemingly an entire confused defensive unit.

Where do you start? Can we blame the defensive line for going another week without a sack when the offensive line continues to look so porous?

The Packers won and Vikings lost Sunday, but who cares?

"We really can't concern ourselves," linebacker Nick Roach said.

The only thing the Bears have to feel good about is the woeful 1-6 Cleveland Browns coming to town next Sunday. But does anyone have the nerve to suggest that this Sunday might have been an aberration for the 3-3 Bears?

"We're better than that," Smith said.

Are they?

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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