LANDOVER, Md.—This was a loss of a supposedly bygone era, when humiliation could spring up on any given Sunday, morale always a fragile proposition and the whole lot if it's serving as more evidence of a disintegrating season.
If the Bears' 48-22 loss to the Washington Redskins did not go quite that far, it is certainly a step back. A day when neither their regular starting quarterback, a generally reliable defense or a fighting spirit could save them.
"Up until now, it was such a positive thing to say, `Hey, we can compete with anybody,' " said tackle Mike Wells. " We could always point to one or two plays and say if we had just had those back . . . but today, we needed the whole game back."
Two plays into the game, it was 7-0 Redskins. Washington had the ball a total of 2 minutes 50 seconds in the first quarter and led 14-0. It was 17-0 after four Washington possessions, 31-0 at the half and 45-0 in the third.
This was a game of large proportions. A 76-yard touchdown run by Stephen Davis, his first of two TDs, to start it off. An 88-yard interception return for a score by the lumbering 6-foot-5-inch, 313-pound Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson. And a 99-yard drive by the Redskins, punctuated with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brad Johnson on a broken play, to put the Bears officially on ice at 24-0.
If the Bears (3-5) ever had a chance, it was squandered early and in demoralizing fashion--their second drive stopped short on a Curtis Enis run on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 22-yard line. Their third drive--with Cade McNown rotating in for Shane Matthews--began at the Redskins' 35 following a 39-yard punt return by Glyn Milburn and ended with a three-and-out that included two McNown-induced sacks.
The Redskins, up 14-0 at the time, scored on six of their next seven possessions--four touchdowns and two field goals. And though McNown later contributed three consolation touchdown passes in relief of an injured Matthews in the second half, it was clear any momentum the Bears may have had ended when Matthews left the first time.
"We all realize he's going to play at that point of the game," Matthews said of McNown's one series at the end of the first quarter. "It's kind of frustrating but that's what the coaches want to do and I don't have a problem with it."
Bears offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said the decision to stick with the plan of inserting McNown when he did was "a tough thing." He wanted Matthews, who was returning from a two-game absence with a pulled hamstring, to get a break. Crowton said he also wanted to run some plays, like a quarterback draw, that required a mobile quarterback and he was anxious to see if a good week of practice for McNown would translate into an improved performance.
It all backfired, however, when the drive failed and momentum halted, and Matthews was never effective again. He reinjured the hamstring on the third-to-last play of the half and said afterward it was "wishful thinking" that he can return for the Packers game Sunday in Green Bay.
"It was very embarrassing," Matthews said of the loss. "I've never been a part of anything like it. We've got to do something to change it."
Interestingly enough, aside from Davis' 143 yards rushing on 12 carries and two TDs, the Bears did not take a beating in most major statistical categories, though some of that can be explained by the Redskins' loose defense in the second half. And in the end, obviously, it did not matter.
"We felt like we were on our heels the whole day," said Wells. "They were mixing everything up so well and everything was working for them. When you can take away a phase of their game, you can (stop them). But they were running this way, that way, passing this way, dumping screens. When you don't take away those aspects and they can do anything they want, you can't defend it. That's what happened."
If there were any bright spots, the continued development of Marcus Robinson qualifies. The Bears receiver had nine catches for 161 yards and two second-half touchdown catches from McNown of 30 and 52 yards, both against Redskins first-round pick Champ Bailey.
In all, the Bears' quarterbacks threw 63 passes with McNown heaving 40 and completing 23 for 272 yards with three interceptions, including one on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. His other touchdown pass was a 3-yarder to Ryan Wetnight with 1:12 remaining following a 15-play, 59-yard drive.
"When you're backed up in a corner like that, you've got to come out still swinging," McNown said of his second half. "You can't just turn and cower and let the clock go by."
"There's not much good to say after a game like that," said coach Dick Jauron. "If there is any good news . . . the second half, they hung in there. They could've quit but I'm not sure there is any quit in these guys, which is one positive thing."
Even the cliches weren't convincing after this one. And most of the Bears players did not try, abandoning even the "a loss is a loss" routine to de-emphasize a blowout.
"A loss is a loss, but this is embarrassing," said offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer. "This is worse because we got our butts kicked today and there wasn't really one area that stood out. . . . Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. But we just have to move on. We have eight games to go and it's only going to get harder from here."
But will Sunday, in particular, have a demoralizing effect on a team that has lost three in a row?
"It can if you're not careful, but we have a lot of character on this team," insisted Todd Perry. "I don't see any quit in this team. We wouldn't allow it as players. Coaches wouldn't allow it. I expect us to come to work, pick ourselves up, learn from it and get ready for the Packers."
Wells even took it so far as to say Sunday can have a positive impact.
"It's going to make us focus," he said. "If we're winners, we're going to bounce back from this as hard as ever. That's the only way to approach it. We have to have a sense of urgency now."