By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Two days later the bandwagon is most certainly lighter.

For 11 weeks they had the football world -- well, maybe just an overzealous football city -- sold on who they were. And who we thought they were.

The Chicago Bears lost on Sunday. And while it was their second defeat, Sunday's loss to the Patriots doesn't just tell the story of what they are as a football team, it tells where the moral in their story lies.

Rex Grossman
Michael Valeri/WireImage.com
Rex Grossman and the rest of the Bears' offense had a rough go of it on Sunday.

Cue Denny Green please.

All season long the Bears have gotten by playing teams that were not at full strength. The players who haven't played in these games have been (for the most part, arguably) each team's best player. In the win against Seattle, Shaun Alexander (the reigning MVP of the league) was out; in the miracle win against Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald was out; against the Giants, Michael Strahan (and Amani Toomer and LaVar Arrington) was out.

[Note: The Bears have been without All-Pro safety Mike Brown for most of the season, and against the Patriots they were without Ricky Manning Jr. due to a league-issued suspension.]

Every victory against a so-called "top" team that was supposed to offer a challenge, a true test, was always missing something -- someone -- that should have made a difference. The Bears passed every test on a curve that was not bell-shaped; they were -- even despite a loss to Miami -- still making everyone believe it was them and the Colts as the top two teams in the NFL.

Five weeks ago, comparisons to the '85 Bears were being tossed around. There was talk of matching the '72 Dolphins, of a Super Bowl XLI visit and victory.

Elitism had its privileges. Up until New England.

Now is the time to judge the Bears. Honestly. Officially.

Even though future Hall of Famer Junior Seau broke his arm early in the game -- making the Pats yet another Bears' opponent missing someone significant -- the Patriots were the team and this was the game the Bears were supposed to beat and win in order to keep us (Chicagoans, fans, homers) believing, or keep us fooled.

The problem is, we don't know now if we're neither or both.

The best defense in the NFL (no disrespect to the Ravens) got outplayed. Even though it caused five turnovers, it surrendered, for the first time this season, more than 300 yards of offense. It let Laurence Maroney get comfortable in the backfield, and let Tom Brady be Tom Brady.

The way the Pats marched down the field after the Bears tied the score in the fourth quarter (11 plays, 73 yards, three third-down conversions in 6:31) -- well, it seemed (almost) effortless. Almost like the Patriots circa 2003-2004.

Almost like they could march down the field and score anytime they wanted. Almost like any good team could do the same anytime it wanted.

But that's not it, that's not the big concern. What this loss showed us was a flaw that would put the Bears out of the conversation if they were an AFC team: the offense and the quarterback.

Few points … no fear from opposing defenses … no respect. It's last year all over again. "Deja Vu" without Denzel.

Errant passes from Rex Grossman and Joey-Harrington-in-Detroit ball location … three interceptions (14 on the year) and one fumbled snap … a 23.2 fourth-quarter passer rating that is second worst in the league. It's back to the days of Kyle Orton.

What isn't told in the final score of this 17-13 game is that the only -- again, the only -- offense the Bears created in the second half came with the help of the men in stripes. The Chicago offense was saved by three very lucky calls: one phantom 45-yard pass interference penalty against Patriots' defensive back Artrell Hawkins; a phantom holding call during that same drive against cornerback Ellis Hobbs on Muhsin Muhammad that put the ball half the distance to the goal (the Bears scored a touchdown on the next play); and a questionable (not so phantom) 30-yard pass interference call against Hobbs that put the Bears into field goal range.

And you don't need soft eyes to discover what the problem is. What the Bears do when they have the ball is, eventually, what's going to be their demise. The reason they might not see Miami in January. Or does it take a whole city simultaneously thinking: How good would this team be if, say, Brian Griese was taking the snaps?"

Lovie Smith
Jim Rogash/WireImage.com
Might Lovie Smith pull the trigger on a quarterback change?

A thought that moved from the back to the front of brains throughout the city. A thought that Bears head coach Lovie Smith shot down and denied. This story's moral. A thought that, if not addressed with some semblance of seriousness, could be the beginning of the end of the Bears.

And it began with a postgame, pre-Week 13 poll question on NFL.com: Which of these teams could be considered the best in the NFL?

More than 200,000 people already have voted, and of the five teams (Colts, Chargers, Ravens, Patriots and Bears), Chicago is running dead last (8 percent). The Bears also rank fifth according to ESPN.com users in this week's NFL Power Rankings.

The upside? The Bears were the only NFC team included in the poll. So there's hope. Well, only if you ignore how well the Cowboys are playing.

They say a loss in the NFL is just that -- a loss. They say nothing much should be made of one game; there is no BCS, so the regular season isn't do-or-die. Life or homicide.

But in the case of the Chicago Bears, Sunday's loss to the Patriots might have been their do-something-or-die game. This might have been the game where we realized exactly who they are, what they are capable of, and who they're going to be, up until -- if -- they face another AFC team.

It's the difference between being 10-1 and being 9-2. The difference between them and all the other 9-2 teams in the league.

The difference one game can make.

Which makes Cardinals coach Denny Green's tirade about the Bears from a few weeks ago sound, well, not so insane, right? Because in a few months, if the Bears keep playing like this, if they don't do something, we all might be calling Green a prophet.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He appears regularly on "Quite Frankly" and other ESPN shows. He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.




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