GREEN BAY—Face down and motionless, Kordell Stewart just lay there at the 5-yard line of a Lambeau Field that delivered the coldest of realities to the Bears during Sunday's 34-21 loss to the Packers.
Stewart lay so still for so long that two Bears teammates even ran over thinking he was hurt. And hurt he was; his pride had just taken a beating.
Mike McKenzie perfectly read a Stewart pass intended for Dez White. McKenzie returned the interception 90 yards for a touchdown that might as well have been a dagger.
In an instant that seemed like an eternity to the Bears, the 19-14 lead they were about to trim or overcome had become an insurmountable 27-14 cushion for the Packers. Within seconds, the 2003 season had all but ended and the 2004 season unofficially had begun.
"We think we'll be, at worst, two down, and all of a sudden the whole thing was turned around," coach Dick Jauron said of McKenzie's interception.
Stewart had tried in vain to tackle McKenzie near the 10 but was knocked off his feet. Afterward he was still feeling the effects of that blow, emotionally more than physically.
"That one play hurts me more than anything else," Stewart said. "[McKenzie] broke on the play pretty good. It was an anticipated play and he made it. It kind of stunned me for a minute."
Its ramifications will last much longer for the Bears.
The loss, coupled with the Vikings' victory over the Seahawks, mathematically eliminated the Bears from this season's playoffs and marked the start of the quest toward next season's. Now the best the Bears can hope for is an 8-8 record, and that won't be good enough to win any tiebreakers with the eventual NFC North champion or possible NFC wild-card qualifiers Dallas and Seattle.
In light of that, the Bears likely will take a long look at their quarterback of the future, first-rounder Rex Grossman, over the final three games.
A handful of Bears admitted they expect to see Grossman taking more snaps with the No. 1 offense in practice this week and wouldn't be surprised if he started at home Sunday against the Vikings.
"We'll talk about it on Wednesday and won't make any decisions before then," Jauron said.
That the Bears might have been only a few plays away from delaying Jauron's decision another week will nag them all off-season. But playoff teams don't turn the ball over five times on the road against a Hall of Fame quarterback like Brett Favre.
The crafty Favre completed 22-of-33 passes for 210 yards and helped offset a subpar day by the NFL's top ground game of only 97 yards rushing.
"We gave them enough opportunities, and they took advantage of them," Jauron said.
The game started oddly, as the Bears led 14-0 after their offense had run only 11 plays. But two big plays by the Bears in a 64-second first-quarter flurry sent chills of fear through Lambeau Field that had nothing to do with the 35-degree temperature.
With 1:54 left in the first quarter, Stewart threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Marty Booker, who had beaten McKenzie down the right sideline. Three plays later, Favre uncorked an ill-advised pass trying to throw the ball away that linebacker Lance Briggs picked off and returned 45 yards to make it 14-0.
"We were right where we wanted to be," said Briggs, who also tipped a pass and made nine tackles.
But untimely turnovers ultimately put the Bears where they belonged.