PHILADELPHIA – When kickoff arrived Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bears found themselves sitting on the doorstep of a golden opportunity. A wild afternoon around the league that included dramatic home losses by the Packers and Lions positioned the Bears to win the NFC North with a victory over the Eagles.
Adding to the equation, the Eagles had nothing to play for in the NFC East chase, with a Week 17 title showdown against the Cowboys already set, regardless of Sunday night’s result.
One crisp performance on the road in prime time, and the Bears could have punched their ticket into January’s playoff party.
Instead? They opened with their most inept quarter all season, falling into an early 21-0 ditch and never recovering as the Eagles piled on for a 54-11 thrashing.
Now, the Bears face their own winner-take-all division clash with the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field.
To retain any hope for that one, they’ll first have to convince themselves Sunday night’s face plant was an aberration, and not a sobering reminder of their many glaring weaknesses.
So plentiful were the early gaffes, it was easy to lose count.
There was the quick three-and-out on the opening possession, which was followed by Adam Podlesh’s shanked 25-yard punt. Which was followed by an all-too-easy 43-yard Eagles touchdown drive, leading to Devin Hester’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which allowed LeSean McCoy to finish a 39-yard TD drive with a 1-yard run, which …
Well, you get the point.
Skipped passes. Blown protections. A defense that offered less resistance than a gentle spring breeze.
Even with the return of Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, the Bears were pummeled in every phase.
By the time the Bears offense picked up its first first down, with a minute left in the opening quarter, the Eagles already had 149 total yards and a 21-point lead.
Offensively, the Eagles addled the Bears with misdirection and tempo and well-designed pass plays on their way to 246 first-half yards.
Defensively, the Eagles’ attacking 3-4 also caught the Bears wide-eyed and flat-footed, with quarterback Jay Cutler sacked a season-high five times and failing to find a rhythm.
The only points the Bears scored in the first half came on Robbie Gould’s 50-yard field goal as time expired.
The Bears had entered the night riding the momentum of a two-game winning streak, with encouraging defeats of the Cowboys and Browns giving them sole possession of first place in the NFC North. In those victories, the Bears delivered 13 scoring drives on 19 possessions, while punting just three times.
That, it seemed, was evidence Marc Trestman’s offense had found its groove with an impressive mix of balance and versatility.
Yet against the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense, the Bears reached the end zone only once, on the final play of the third quarter. They went three-and-out on their first two possessions, and didn’t cross midfield until 7:45 remained before halftime.
With the early deficit snowballing, the opportunity to retain a run-pass balance evaporated. The Bears finished the night with 46 passing plays (including five sacks and two Cutler runs), and only 17 running plays. Matt Forte was mostly a non-factor with nine rushes for 29 yards, left to watch as his counterpart, McCoy, turned 24 touches into 162 yards from scrimmage.
Forte’s first run of the second half, from the Bears 1, went for a loss, a safety, and another salt-in-the-wounds score by the Eagles.
The Eagles were so dominant, they delivered a flurry of exclamation points on the blowout – from McCoy’s dervish spin off Julius Peppers on a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, to Brandon Boykin’s 54-yard interception return with 8:00 left, to Bryce Brown’s 65-yard sprint up the middle with 6:14 to play.
Cutler, meanwhile, finished 20-for-35 for 222 yards and a 73.8 rating.
Equally troubling, the Bears defense never figured out the Eagles offense, dizzied by a night in which it surrendered a season-worst 514 total yards and blew a chance to lock up the division crown.
Now the Packers are coming to town. And they could be bringing former MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers with them as their starter.
A rough recovery process must now begin.