- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Bob: If I may shift gears for a moment, gentlemen, Coach Ditka versus the hurricane, who would win?
Todd, Pat, Carl: Ditka, Ditka!!
Bob: Hold on, hold on, hold on. The name of the hurricane is Hurricane Ditka.
-- Bill Swerski's Super Fans, "Saturday Night Live," 1991
CHICAGO -- Coming into the game, the wintry weather was the story, perhaps just as much as the actual game.
After all, nothing gets bigger TV ratings in Chicago, a city with a
meteorologist named Freeze, than a good ol' fashioned storm to scare the public silly.
And it wasn't just bluster in the Windy City. With wind gusts between 30 and 50 mph and a steady snowfall that blanketed the playing surface, Soldier Field looked like a snow globe from up high and the ice planet Hoth from field level.
Bears weather, right? How about Hard to Bear Weather?
While Hurricane Ditka was in a studio in Bristol, Conn., Snow Squall Brady and the New England Patriots encircled, enveloped and embarrassed the Bears in a literal and figurative blizzard.
If I could summarize this game in three words: Lake effect no.
The Patriots dominated the much-anticipated showdown between the AFC leader and NFC contender, delivering a 36-7 message that almost made the Bears' pious head coach, Sunny Days (Lovie) Smith, swear.
"Sometimes you get your butt beat and move on," he said.
For Smith, that's about as profane as he gets. He had every reason to work blue, though. This game was uglier than traffic on the Kennedy Expressway.
It was 33-0 at half, and I have to imagine a good share of Bears fans skipped the second half to do something more exciting, like shovel the driveway or shovel the neighbor's driveway.
I would've offered to take over the snowblower on the field, but I was told I put out enough hot air in the press box.
The Bears came into the game hoping to extend a five-game winning streak and establish themselves firmly as Super Bowl contenders.
Now, well, how about that Derrick Rose, huh?
New England reaffirmed its status as the class of the NFL. Since the second half at Detroit on Thanksgiving, the Patriots have outscored their past three opponents 116-17. That's not a misprint. So you could say the Bears got beat by the best, so you take it on the chin and move on, right?
"The Patriots are the best team in the AFC," Brian Urlacher said. "They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us."
After they watch the film Monday, this game is in the trash. The Bears' next game is truly their biggest of the season and that's no hyperbole. A win over the Vikings, wherever that game is played, and a Packers loss clinches the division.
"The reality is we got our butts kicked and we're still in first place,"
Urlacher said. "We'll watch film and learn from it, but we're still in first place in the NFC North and that's where we wanted to be when the season began."
Chicago's football team played as if it had never seen a snowflake before, while Tom Brady could've sat in the pocket in his UGG boots the way he was firing passes like a quarterback in a 7-on-7 drill.
"It was a chess match and he said checkmate," safety Chris Harris said.
A couple Bears took this loss as a positive. Maybe the Bears were too cocky after winning five straight since their bye week. They weren't taping a Super Bowl Shuffle redux or anything, but plenty of players were talking about making it to Dallas.
"Sometimes you need a good whipping and that's what we got," Lance Briggs said. "A good whipping helps us get ourselves back to where we need to be."
If that's what the Bears need, they should donate half of that prospective Super Bowl check to Brady and Bill Belichick, who didn't spare the rod in a defiantly one-sided first half that made the second a formality.
But if you want a bright spot, the Bears did win the second half, 7-3.
Unfortunately as Jay Cutler reminded us, "there is no 33-point play out there."
Should they make the playoffs, the Bears should tithe their first game's checks to the Detroit Lions, who upset Green Bay and kept the Bears' lead in the division at one game.
If the Bears want to make noise in January, the defense will have to force some turnovers, which it hasn't done in two straight games. That's the base of the defense, and given that the front four failed to get pressure on Brady, the absence of defensive malice was jarring.
"We're trying to get them," Harris said. "They just aren't coming our way. We haven't been able to produce and take the ball away."
New England's high-charged offense demoralized the Bears' stout defense with 475 yards and a 63 percent third-down conversion rate. Was it the Bears facing a Hall of Fame quarterback?
"He also faced a Hall of Fame-type defense," cornerback Tim Jennings said. "Tip your hats to Tom Brady, he did a great job managing the whole game, matter of fact."
With little pressure, Brady abused the Cover 2 with screens, comeback routes, quick slants, pretty much everything. He ended the first half with a last-second, playground-style pass to Deion Branch down the sideline. Branch burned Charles Tillman and ran about 35 yards on the 59-yard touchdown play.
But that was just the exclamation mark.
The game's transition came in the first quarter when Harris couldn't grasp a tipped pass in the end zone. He lay prostrate for several seconds afterward. The next play, Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a 7-yard score. Again, turnovers.
"Any time you have missed opportunities, it's like giving a team four outs in baseball," Harris said. "Something bad's bound to happen."
The avalanche continued in the second quarter. The Bears were outgained in the first half 273-33. Brady threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran 11 times for 61 yards, and the Patriots converted two turnovers into 10 points, including a 35-yard fumble return by Gary Guyton.
At the same time, Cutler went 4-for-8 for 28 yards in the first half, fumbling on a sack deep in his own territory, which led to a field goal. The running game wasn't the answer either, with Matt Forte gaining 13 yards on seven carries.
"We matched up pretty well with them," Forte said. "The score doesn't show that, but it just goes to show you we've got a lot of work to do."
While the Bears marveled at the way New England out-executed them, and felt rightfully chastened at the loss, it doesn't mean their confidence is shaken.
"I feel like we'll see those guys again down the road," Tommie Harris said.
Well, there's only one place that could be, and we all know it doesn't snow at the Super Bowl. Well, not until 2014, that is.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
7hBy Jackie MacMullan
1dEric D. Williams