GREEN BAY, Wisc. And then it was justover.
A season that saw the Bears on the brink of the playoffs just a month ago at 7-3 effectively ended Sunday night in Lambeau Field with a 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
It was the Bears fifth straight defeat, the longest losing streak under Lovie Smith. Not since 2002 under Dick Jauron had the Bears lost five straight and this one was particularly painful.
It eliminated the Bears from the postseason that seemed all but assured even as quarterback Jay Cutler was going down with a fractured right thumb against San Diego, the last win for the Bears (7-8).
It just hasnt gone the way we wanted it to, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. The last five weeks we havent played well enough to win and we lost all five games. Im not happy about where we are.
The season will be over next week. Thats good.
The loss was also the fourth in the same calendar year to the Packers (14-1), following a game-16 loss last season, the NFC Championship defeat and the week-three loss in Soldier Field this season. Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Bears put up their biggest yardage total (441 yards) of the year despite using a quarterback in Josh McCown who hadnt started a game since 2007, and running backs in Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen who were third- and fourth-string not all that long ago but who helped the Bears rush for 199 yards on the day.
Its encouraging the amount of yards our offense put up, said Bell, who had 121 on 23 carries. But yards without points dont mean anything. There were a couple times we stalled in the red zone and thats just disappointing.
The Bears indeed had chances, getting inside the Green Bay 35 three times in the first half but netting just three points. And after drawing to within four points at 14-10 early in the third quarter, breakdowns in the secondary turned a close game into a rout, and by the fourth quarter, the only question was Green Bays winning margin.
Aaron Rodgers was out of the game by mid-fourth quarter with 21 completions in 29 attempts, five touchdown passes and 281 passing yards.
It was good to bounce back from last weeks loss to Kansas City and play better and know that the Super Bowl run has to go through Green Bay, Rodgers said.
The bad news
A few actual positives on offense, like the performances of Bell and McCown, were more than offset by problems on defense.
Safety Major Wright was guilty of significant mistakes, including failing to maintain deep coverage on Jordy Nelson that allowed the Green Bay wideout to gather in a 55-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers. That score, coming after the Bears had pulled to within 14-10, seemed to take the life out of the defense.
Zackary Bowman, starting at cornerback over Tim Jennings, was beaten cleanly for two TD passes from Rodgers to James Jones on short strikes. Bowman was beaten by Nelson for a 25-yard completion.
Rodgers is going to put it in places for those guys to catch it, Bowman said. Our job is just mainly to get in front of the receivers and make Rodgers hold the ball. With the quick slants and stuff like that, it cant just be an easy pitch-and-catch.
The Bears have only two cornerbacks under contract for next year (Charles Tillman, D.J. Moore) and the play of Bowman and Jennings over the past two games all but assures the Bears moving to overhaul their corners in free agency and the draft.
Rodgers and the Packers went through the Bears defense with embarrassing ease for an opening-drive touchdown. Then, with McCown throwing an occasional pass to break up the steady pounding by Bell and Allen, the offense made three straight drives into the Green Bay end of the field.
But with an interception and missed field goal, two of those drives produced nothing.
The Bears did many things right in the first half and still went in trailing 14-3. Green Bay scored on the opening possession of the game on a Rodgers pass to Jermichael Finley, then scored on their last possession of the half when Jones beat Bowman on a slant from the 2-yard line.
In between, it was largely a Bears half. Three times they reached inside the Green Bay 35-yard line and only came away with one field goal. They had the ball more than 19 minutes of the half and outgained the Packers 207-162.
The Packers put McCown and the offense under immediate pressure as Rodgers completed all eight of his pass attempts on the opening possession, accounting for 77 yards on an 80-yard drive. That finished with a two-yard touchdown pass to Finley.
It was Finley who destroyed the Bears with three TD catches in game three. And it was a virtual match for the way the Packers started against the Bears in Chicago, when they also went 80 yards for a TD on the opening possession.
The offense answered with a strong drive, nearly all of it on Bells back. But the push to the Green Bay 33 then went the other direction with penalties for delay of game and an illegal shift, and Robbie Goulds field goal try from 49 yards was wide right.