Never underestimate the benefits of a swift kick in the rear end.
When the Patriots were inexplicably beaten 34-14 in Cleveland the first weekend in November, it served as a wakeup call. New England hasn't lost since, winning five straight, including Sunday's 36-7 pummeling of the Bears, who hope to use lessons learned in that loss as the impetus that propels them into the playoffs.
Coach Lovie Smith believes it will be easier for his 9-4 team to focus knowing that it still controls its own destiny and still leads the second-place Packers in the NFC North by one game.
"We're undefeated in our division, and that's hard to do," Smith said. "Not many teams (only the Bears and Falcons) can say that in the National Football League right now. We're in perfect position, with a little luck, to possibly accomplish another one of our goals this week."
That goal would be winning the NFC North title, which would belong to the Bears if they defeat the Vikings on Monday night and the Packers lose at New England on Sunday. That would give the Bears a two-game lead on Green Bay. Even if the Packers defeat Chicago in the season finale, the Bears would get the nod based on the second tiebreaker, after head-to-head results, which is record within the division.
"That was the message right after the game," Smith said. "We acknowledge what happened, but it's a quick turnaround. We wanted to get this behind us as soon as we possibly could and just know that every once in a while, it does happen, but let the guys know we're a good football team and we have to play up to our standards each week."
The Bears can also take solace in that, since 2008, they have a 4-1 record in games immediately following a loss by 20 points or more.
As difficult as it may have been for players to relive Sunday's calamity in the film room Monday, Smith isn't one to ignore a poor performance.
"I don't believe in not watching tape," he said. "It has to be a learning experience whether it's good or bad. But believe me, that wasn't part of our master plan for that to happen Sunday. Just watching the video, we know more things about our football team than we did [a day earlier]."
Veteran center Olin Kreutz learned this much: "They kicked our ass," he said. "We knew that [Sunday]. They out-executed us. They did everything better than us and deserved to win the game by that much."
Tight end Greg Olsen's assessment was a little more subtle.
"We did a few things well, but not even close to enough to be competitive, let alone win," Olsen said. "As bad as things looked, we're fortunate that we're still in a position to achieve everything we wanted."
Regardless of the buildup the Patriots game received nationally, the Vikings game is much more important to the Bears' playoff hopes.
"We're still first in our division, and that's all that matters right now," said running back Chester Taylor, who was a Viking the previous three seasons. "So we'll just focus on Minnesota right now."
Neither the Bears nor the Vikings can focus on a game location because that hadn't been decided as of Monday. Metrodome officials were hopeful that the hole in the dome's inflatable rooftop caused by last week's heavy snowfall can be repaired by next Monday night.
Possible alternate sites include Detroit's Ford Field and the University of Minnesota's outdoor TCF Bank Stadium. The Bears say it doesn't matter.
"Wherever we play them," Kreutz said, "that's where we'll show up."
"It don't matter," Taylor said. "We know what we've got to do."
NOTES AND QUOTES
"It wasn't just Major," Smith said. "We could've gotten a better pass rush, and there were a few other things we could have done in there. But, yes, he has to be back there. It was his responsibility on that one." ...
The defense has not forced a turnover in back-to-back games for the first time this season. In the past four games, the Bears have not forced a fumble, and they made just two interceptions after getting 14 picks in the first nine games.
"We had an opportunity to take the ball away," Smith said. "We had our hands on quite a few balls and couldn't make plays with it."
On the play immediately preceding the Patriots' first touchdown, linebacker Brian Urlacher tipped a pass that Harris lunged for in the end zone but was unable to secure as it grazed off his hands. In the second half, Urlacher leaped for a Brady fastball, but it slipped through his outstretched hands. ...
Maybe the end of the Bears' five-game winning streak wasn't all bad.
"Sometimes you need a good whipping, and that's what we got," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "A good whipping helps us get ourselves back to where we need to be. A loss like this can be good if it comes at the right time."
Matt Forte's least productive day in seven weeks (25 yards on nine carries) was typical of the Bears' day.
"Sometimes you go on a five-game win streak, and everybody starts to think, We've made it. We've arrived. We're the best team," Forte said. "We have potential to be the best team, but this goes to show you we can get better." ...
With repairs in progress on the collapsed roof of the Metrodome, it's still uncertain if the Bears will be able to play the Vikings there next Monday. But that isn't an issue, according to Julius Peppers.
"We don't care about that," said Peppers, who had one of the Bears' three sacks. "We're getting prepared to play this team. We're not worried about the stadium just yet."
Peppers moved into the team lead with his eighth sack, and he now has at least one sack in four straight games and a total of six sacks in those games.
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