PHILADELPHIA – Surely, this was a joke.
In a private control room high above the natural grass of Lincoln Financial Field, somebody was howling. Somebody was wheezing. Somebody had tears in their eyes and cramps in their sides.
Because this, my friends, was comedy gold.
“And now for an update from around the league…”
The Bears pretended not to notice the high-resolution images on the scoreboard, the deep-voiced announcer blasting through the speakers. They lined up in a defensive huddle near midfield and pretended to ponder the Eagles’ next play, pretended that their next move would be their best.
It was a valiant attempt by a once mighty group of defenders.
But how could Lance Briggs or Julius Peppers or Shea McClellin or Major Wright not have noticed?
How could they have avoided the noisy highlights, which led off with clips from the New York Giants’ overtime win against the Detroit Lions? How could they have manipulated their eyes and ears as the highlights rolled on with footage from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win against the Green Bay Packers?
How could they not also have taken a moment to glance at their score against the high-powered Eagles – an early 14-0 deficit, soon to become much, much worse?
Somebody was laughing, all right.
Somebody was mocking the Bears for responding to a golden opportunity by laying a non-golden egg.
On a night when the Bears had a chance to be the head of the class, they became the butt of all jokes. They were embarrassed on national television. They had no one to blame but themselves.
And yet they remain in first place.
According to the NFL rulebook, somebody has to win the NFC North at the end of the season. Somebody has to advance to the playoffs and become one of 12 teams in the hunt for the Super Bowl.
So, as for which team wants to step forward and take the crown…
Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
We now know that nine wins will be enough to win one of the NFL’s showcase divisions. Heck, depending on what happens next week at Soldier Field, eight wins might be enough to clinch the title.
Fact I: The Lions are toast. Jim Schwartz might want to start applying to grad schools.
Fact II: The Bears and Packers will meet next week, and the winner will go to the playoffs.
The Eagles’ four-quarter beatdown of the Bears did not represent a red flag as much as it represented a giant, 100-story red skyscraper with red flags in every window. The Bears played a terrific game, really, as long as you disregard everything that happened on offense, defense and special teams.
But whether the Bears lost by 1 or by 50 is irrelevant.
Now is the time for short memories.
Now is the time for redemption.
Now is the time for Packer Week.
Less than 2 months ago, the Bears ventured north into the Land of Beef and Cheese and came away with an improbable 27-20 win.
The game’s signature play – a sack by Shea McClellin that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone – quickly changed the complexion of the division and the league.
And now here we are, back at first down and anybody’s guess.
Rodgers could be back after sitting out the past seven games. The Packers have gone 2-4-1 without their star quarterback, and if Rodgers is unable to play, then Matt Flynn should earn the nod.
Meanwhile, the Bears will turn to Jay Cutler for one of the most important games of his career.
Could Cutler be the hero? Could Cutler be the goat?
Yes. And yes.
Or maybe Cutler’s performance won’t matter because the Bears left their defense in storage and misplaced the key before the start of this season.
Maybe Rodgers (or Flynn) will carve up the Bears’ faulty secondary, or maybe the Packers’ staunch running attack will carry on the weekly tradition of men such as Brandon Jacobs, Benny Cunningham, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy.
Or maybe the Bears will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Maybe Trestman will rally his players to achieve what Lovie Smith could not in five of his final six seasons with the Bears.
Anything could happen.
Because all-new highlight reels will play on stadium scoreboards next weekend.
It’s not a joke.
It’s the NFL in all of its wild, unpredictable glory.