DETROIT — After sacking Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford late in the third quarter of Thursday's 34-17 loss to the Lions at Ford Field, Bears defensive end Willie Young started performing for the Thanksgiving Day crowd.
Young cast an imaginary fishing rod the way he likes to do after sacks. He acted through carefully choreographed steps with gusto, oblivious to the penalty flag thrown for roughing the passer.
Oh, the Bears are reeling, all right.
"I looked back and said, 'Oh, Lord,''' Young said. "I didn't see (the flag) till after the play. Whenever a sack is taken away, it's tough. That should be a challenge-able play. The game was on the line.''
Honestly, it wasn't. Technically, the Lions clung to a 24-17 lead at the time but what makes anybody think the defense could have stopped Calvin Johnson on the next play? Bears coach Marc Trestman complained postgame about his official explanation that Young "grabbed the face mask" of Stafford but forget whether it was a bad call. It was a bad look for the Bears to see Young yukking it up after a negative play.
The only good thing was at least Young didn't injure himself celebrating a meaningless sack the way Lamarr Houston did against the Patriots. Young's display served as the perfect metaphor for the Bears' runaway enthusiasm after two straight blase victories and underscored a systemic lack of awareness that ultimately will define the Bears' lost season.
Please stop considering the Bears a playoff team now. Stop with postseason scenarios for 5-7 teams. Start with suggestions for meaningful change in 2015. The Lions showed America the difference between a team with reason to believe in playoff possibilities and a team with reason to consider hitting the reset button — and they did so with a first-year coach. Under Jim Caldwell, the Lions have passed the Bears.
While Detroit discusses wild-card scenarios, Chicago can debate whether the offense or defense failed worse. Settle it this way: The offense rates a bigger disappointment after another 17-point clunker; the defense reveals a deeper problem in talent evaluation. The Lions arrived without having scored a touchdown in two straight games and left after doubling their weekly point average. The Bears were presumed directionless in Green Bay. Spending the holiday in the Motor City confirmed it.
"It starts with me,'' Trestman said. "I'm looking inside and accepting accountability for this loss.''
Only those holding general manager Phil Emery more responsible for the Bears' demise would argue. Penalties again hurt a Bears team prone to concentration lapses. As Trestman said, that starts with him. A franchise with only one playoff berth in the last eight seasons needs to stop kidding itself that all is well. It isn't. Something isn't working. Everything isn't working, evident in the damning words of Matt Forte.
"We definitely are underachieving,'' Forte said. "A few guys have to do some soul-searching for the rest of the season.''
To think the Bears' first Thanksgiving game in 10 years started like it wouldn't ruin so many Chicagoans' appetites. After their sharpest first quarter of the season, the Bears reverted to form on both sides of the ball. Why?
"I don't know,'' Young said.
Believe it or not, the defense missed free safety Chris Conte, who didn't return after leaving late in the first quarter with an eye injury. That's how thin their margin of error is. Conte had been playing with increased confidence, making surer tackles and challenging routes.
His absence left the Bears to rely on rookie Brock Vereen, whose tentativeness was exposed. Vereen appeared so scared of being beaten deep he practically lined up in Windsor, Canada. That cushion allowed Johnson to do whatever he wanted and the wide receiver chose death by a thousand 15-yard cuts. He burned the Bears repeatedly with quick slants to which they never adjusted, catching 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
"We didn't have the ammunition to stop them,'' Trestman said, indicting his roster.
Offensively, the Bears have enough ammo but bad aim. Add two more interceptions for Jay Cutler, forced to throw 48 times executing another Trestman game plan that appeared to be drawn on the back of a cocktail napkin. This one featured the "Horizontal Stretch,'' a series of short passes intended to serve as long handoffs. Forte, a longtime Lions killer, only carried five times for six yards yet surely Trestman will offer an explanation as complicated as splitting the atom.
"It worked early on and then we had to try and push the ball down the field,'' Cutler said.
Now the Bears must push themselves through four games with only pride on the line. History says motivation can be a challenge for NFL teams facing such harsh reality.
"We'd never do that,'' Young said. "I didn't go to history class. I always slept through history class. But somehow I managed to get my degree.''
This loss taught us what we already knew: The Bears are broken. And it's time for the McCaskeys to start fixing them, again.