While heavy snow caused the Metrodome roof to break apart early Sunday morning, about 10 hours later and 410 miles to the southeast, the Bears looked as if they had never played in snow before, as they were trounced by the New England Patriots, 36-7.
"We were beaten by a good football team today," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "They dominated us in all three phases (of the game."
Indeed, New England racked up nearly 500 yards in total offense, while the Bears didn't even muster 200 yards. Chicago coughed up the ball four times; New England none. Even the wind didn't bother New England as Shayne Graham kicked three field goals, while Chicago kicker Robbie Gould didn't even get one attempt all game.
While Minnesota, the Dakotas and parts of northwestern Wisconsin were pummeled with up to 20 inches of snow, Chicago had a relative dusting of maybe a couple inches. And even though the temperatures produced a sub-zero wind chill factor along the shores of Lake Michigan -- which heretofore has typically been referred to as "Bears weather" -- the Bears can't blame the conditions for their embarrassing performance.
Pure and simple, the Patriots were a better team ... a far better team, while the Bears didn't even look close to the team that came into Sunday's game riding a five-game winning streak.
"The reality is we got our butts kicked," a dejected Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "The Patriots are the best team in the AFC. They came in here, our field, our weather and pounded us."
While workers used leaf blowers during stops in play to dust snow off the five-yard line markers, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and company didn't even need to see the line markers to know where they were at, brushing off both the snow and Chicago with relative ease.
Brady looked more than comfortable in the bitter conditions, completing 27 of 40 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns, while Chicago counterpart Jay Cutler was a mediocre 12 of 26 for just 152 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL. We knew it coming in and this game just confirmed it," Urlacher said.
Cutler and the Bear offense never seemed to be able to get into a consistent rhythm throughout the game. The Bears spotted New England a 33-0 halftime lead, and while a reinvigorated Bear defense rebounded to allow the Patriots just one field goal in the second half, only Chester Taylor was able to find the end zone for Chicago in the entire game, scoring on a one-yard run with 8:43 left in the third quarter.
Four Bears turnovers in the contest didn't help, but when all was said and done, it was Brady's performance that was by far the ultimate difference.
"That's why he's the best in the league right now, no doubt about it," Cutler said of Brady. "The way he commands that offense, the line has been together a long time, their skill positions probably aren't as good a group as he's had in the past, but he's still completely dominating. It's tough to watch when you're going against him because he is so good."
If there was anything that was good for Chicago in a contest many Bears players termed an "embarrassment," it was that their standing in the NFC North really didn't take that much of a hit, all things considered. With Green Bay falling at Detroit, the Bears remained atop the North with a 9-4 record (Packers are 8-5).
But in the whole big scheme of things, that's little consolation, as both the Bears and Packers are faced with must-win situations in each of their three remaining games respectively, particularly since the Bears and Packers close out the regular season in Green Bay on Jan. 2.
If both teams win their next two games (Bears play at Minnesota next Monday and host the New York Jets on Dec. 26, while Green Bay plays at New England this Sunday and hosts the New York Giants on Dec. 26), it would set up a classic duel between the long-time rivals on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field on Jan. 2.
If Chicago wins its next three, it wins its division and makes the playoffs, hands down. In fact, it can clinch the North as early as next weekend if Green Bay loses at New England and the Bears beat the host Vikings.
But if the Bears lose both of their next two and the Packers, who lost 20-17 at Chicago earlier this season, win their next two and then pull the upset in the season finale, that would leave Chicago as a potential wild-card ... or worse, completely out of the playoffs, depending on what other teams in the NFC like Philadelphia, the Giants, the defending Super Bowl champ New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also do during the next three weeks.
"We can't count on other teams. We have to take care of our business," Cutler said. "We have to win games. We don't want to slide in the back door. We want to be playing our football right now so we can make a serious run at this."
But if they have more games like they did Sunday night in their remaining three, the Bears might slide out the back door rather than in it.
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