- Melissa Isaacson, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
CHICAGO -- This week, Lovie Smith decided to deliver his motivational talk before the game and not wait until halftime.
And so he used the story of Army Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta -- the war hero, Medal of Honor winner and Bears fan who was honored at Sunday's game -- as a means to deliver the message to his players on Saturday night.
"He was talking about how Giunta was protecting the guy that was next to him [during a Taliban ambush three years ago in one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan]," said Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams. "And he was talking about how we had to do the exact same thing."
And so the Bears raced out into the elements Sunday in a football stadium originally named to honor the very men and women to whom Smith referred; Adams shook Giunta's hand; and the team gave him a "4th Phase" flag, which signifies the contribution of Bears fans.
And then the Bears laid an egg.
"He told us go out there and win," Adams said of Giunta's words on the field, "but we weren't able to get it done."
If the New England Patriots and Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Tom Brady did not present enough pressure, there was this. But on this day, against this team, Smith could have promised his team 53 Lamborghinis and it was not likely to change the outcome.
So good were the Patriots in their 36-7 victory over the Bears, and conversely, so bad were the Bears, that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher began his postgame comments by admitting his mistake when he proclaimed confidently last week that while the Pats were the best team in the NFL "record-wise," the Bears were the better team, "period."
"They are the best team in the NFL," Urlacher said. "I don't know what I was talking about, but they came in here on our field, our weather and just pounded us. We couldn't stop them."
If the Patriots humiliated the New York Jets on "Monday Night Football" last week with their 45-3 drubbing in a much-anticipated showdown between the AFC East rivals, they definitely shocked and embarrassed the Bears.
New England came into the game with a 33-5 record against NFC teams since 2001; Brady is on an MVP run; and the Patriots' offense is tailor-made to attack the Bears' Cover 2 scheme. But somehow we were supposed to get the epic battle that eluded the Pats-Jets game.
Somehow, the Patriots were supposed to still be celebrating the Jets victory to the extent that they overlooked the Bears, and if not, the Pats would be at such a disadvantage due to one less day of practice and -- egads -- snow -- that surely the Bears could handle them.
These were the same Bears who were riding a five-game winning streak, after all. Locally, anyway, we had stopped doubting them and jumped straight to ranking them as one of the league's greats. And we conveniently overlooked the fact that the Bears' defense allowed 253 yards in the first half last week against a Detroit team led by its third-string quarterback.
Surely, back home, in "Bears weather," things would revert to the "form" we conveniently chose to remember. Surely, the Bears could throw Brady off a rhythm so ingrained by now that you can practically hear the Patriots tick.
"It was a chess match," said Bears safety Chris Harris, "and [Brady] said 'checkmate.'"
And he said it before Staff Sgt. Giunta was even introduced to the crowd. A staggering 26 points in the second quarter -- six coming with a flick of Brady's wrist to Deion Branch for about 25 yards down the left sideline that Branch turned into a 59-yard touchdown as time expired -- made it 33-0, Patriots.
And no halftime speech is going to get you out of that.
"That's just not playing good football," said Bears linebacker Lance Briggs of the second-most prolific half by a Bears opponent in franchise history.
Briggs was reminded of Smith's fire-and-brimstone halftime speech last week in Detroit, when he amped it up, Lovie-style, for his listless defense. But clearly rhetoric was not going to get it done against Brady.
"That was nothing like today, nothing at all like today," Briggs said. "Today was a butt-whupping all the way through."
The way Brady does it, however, is with a velvet whip, passing for a solid but not ridiculous 13-of-21 in the first half for 195 yards. But for the eighth -- yes, eighth -- game in a row, he did not throw an interception and finished with 369 yards on 27 of 40 completions for a 113.4 quarterback rating.
"That's why they're so good," Bears defensive tackle Israel Idonije said of the Patriots' overwhelming efficiency. "That's what they do. It's simple, it's effective, but they do it well. They're very consistent, and in order to beat them you have to match their level of consistency. Everyone stay in their gaps, just relentless with your discipline. If you're not pushing the pocket [and] you let Brady have time back there, he's going to run that offense, and they're going to get in that rhythm."
The idea that the weather -- swirling 50 mph wind gusts and steady snow in 20-degree temperatures -- would somehow affect one team or the other was not a theory the Bears would touch and not one that even computes with the Patriots.
"It's one of those days that people would rather be cozied up near the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, but we work on Sundays, and all of us are pretty committed to coming out here and trying to play well and trying to execute well in some pretty tough conditions," said Brady, no stranger and no coward to snow.
The Bears, flustered but not deflated afterward, said sometimes a team needs this type of domination exerted over them.
"Why do we need it?" Briggs said. "To get yourself back to where you need to be, ground yourself a little bit, take you off your high horse. It could be good, and it could come at the right time."
After the Packers' loss to Detroit earlier in the day, Bears fans had to be salivating over the possibility of a juicy two-game lead over Green Bay if the Bears could beat the Patriots on Sunday. After the one-sided loss, Bears players were grateful for the cushion as they head into a meeting against the Vikings somewhere other than Chicago next Sunday.
"The reality is we got our butts kicked, but we're still in first place," Urlacher said. "We have to take something out of this. We'll watch the film, we'll learn from it tomorrow, but we're still in first place in the NFC North. That's where we wanted to be when the season started, and we still are."
And then there was the message Smith had tried to convey this weekend with his story of Staff Sgt. Giunta, which as it happens, maybe wasn't lost after all.
"You always tend to think football, football, football," Adams said. "But you hear a story about a guy who is protecting his life and other people's lives, that's really special. We're just protecting our gaps and stuff like that. ...
"It was a great speech man, exactly what we needed ... we just couldn't carry it through."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
4hEric D. Williams
1dBy Ian O'Connor