MINNEAPOLIS—You were scared for them at first. Seriously frightened that for the first time in the annals of organized sport, a team might actually be ground into the artificial turf and disappear.
Minnesota's offense operated as if running its pregame walkthrough, a dress rehearsal in which there is no opposition. And given the fact that their fake-field-goal stunt had been exposed last week, there was no reason to think the Bears could penetrate midfield Sunday night, much less reach the end zone.
Dwayne Rudd closed out a 48-22 rout by gracelessly tip-toeing into the end zone backward to conclude a 94-yard return of a Steve Stenstrom fumble, all the better to rub the visitors' noses in an already humiliating evening.
If it didn't put a knot in the stomach of every Chicago fan still watching, it was only because the knot was already there, burning a hole in the memory of Bears teams that used to inflict such damage.
Now 12-1, the Vikings may well be on a Super Bowl odyssey, just cocky and obnoxious and talented enough to pull it off. They clinched the NFC Central with Sunday's easy victory.
But the Vikings' gifts, the shiniest among them prize rookie Randy Moss, who had eight catches for 106 yards and three touchdowns, did nothing to offset the Bears' ultimate humiliation.
"It hurts deep in your heart," rookie tight end Alonzo Mayes said, his initiation into the league surely a scarring experience. "(The Vikings) disgraced the uniform I'm wearing; they disgraced me."
The Bears' fifth straight loss since their off-week dropped them to 3-10 while hastening a downward spiral that seems to know no end.
"We got our butts whipped almost to a man today, and there's really no excuse for that kind of performance," tackle Mike Wells said. "It's one of the worst ballgames I've ever been involved with."
At the half, the Bears had a mere 4 yards rushing and 10 yards passing to the Vikings' 341 total yards--275 passing. Minnesota was well on its way to a blowout with a 27-0 lead at intermission.
"The frustration level is at an all-time high right now," guard Chris Villarrial said.
There was no warning of things to come. The Vikings were without running back Robert Smith and receiver Jake Reed, and Cris Carter barely played. But the onslaught began on the first play of the game with a 64-yard screen pass from Randall Cunningham to running back Moe Williams. Two plays later, Cunningham threw a 6-yard touchdown strike to Moss, and the rout was on.
"I think it was pretty obvious to everybody that you can't come up here and fall behind a good football team and expect to overcome it," Bears coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They outplayed us in all areas."
Proving they could score pretty much however and whenever they wanted, the Vikings embarked on a methodical nine-play, 66-yard drive that featured two Cunningham-to-Moss completions before Cunningham hit Leroy Hoard with a 24-yard TD pass.
Considering that the Bears had scored only two touchdowns in the previous 16 quarters, a 14-0 lead looked good enough at that point. And with the Bears managing only two first downs and never advancing past their 29-yard line in the first half, Gary Anderson's field goals of 30 and 20 yards truly put the game away.
The only weapon the Bears had was halftime, and that didn't come soon enough. Another Moss touchdown catch--from 3 yards out, his league-leading 13th of the season--gave Minnesota its 27-0 halftime lead.
Even Viking fans seemed bored at that point.
The Bears' offense had zero net yards (4 rushing and minus-4 passing) in the second quarter. Fourteen rushing yards in the first quarter accounted for all their first-half movement, and they had the ball for 9 minutes 59 seconds compared with the Vikings' 20:01.
Cunningham was 18 for 22 with three touchdown passes at halftime, then added a fourth with a perfectly thrown 34-yard strike to Moss less than four minutes into the third quarter.
So helpless were the Bears against Moss that on that drive, veteran safety Marty Carter simply turned and knocked Moss down, resulting in a 45-yard pass-interference penalty on a third-and-15 play from the Bears' 17.
Stenstrom was sacked "only" three times, but he took a fearful pounding from the John Randle-led Vikings front four. His lone highlight was a 47-yard touchdown strike to Bobby Engram early in the third quarter.
Engram continued to be a rare bright spot with five catches for 118 yards in the third quarter alone as he attempts to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Engram set up Edgar Bennett's first touchdown since the season opener with 26- and 17-yard receptions on the Bears' most effective drive of the evening, which began after a Walt Harris interception.
The Vikings would add the final touches to the embarrassment with an eight-play, 66-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. Cunningham used his full arsenal before handing off to Hoard for an 8-yard touchdown dash.
"This game is about competition and about manhood," Mayes said. "And tonight, Minnesota stole our manhood. But one day every king falls."