It was more than a must-win situation. This was the game that would set the tone for the Chicago Bears coming out of bye week, lifting their season from a disappointing 3-5 start to possible playoff contention.
Instead, as the Bears slowly gathered their belongings in the post-game locker room, preparing for the long trip home, all that was left was the shock and disappointment of a 55-14 loss to the arch-rival Green Bay Packers.
“I don’t know what happened. I am not sure where we go from here,” Jared Allen said after the game. “This is a group of very talented guys, top players in the league, but for some reason we aren’t playing together as a team right now. Even a great team with great players can go through something like we are experiencing right now. I still feel that we can turn this around in time. It’s happened with other teams and it can happen here.”
Jay Cutler, who posted a dismal 68.8 quarterback rating and was finally pulled from the game midway through the fourth quarter, was as confused about the situation as Allen, citing “an excellent week of practice” leading up to the trip to Lambeu Field.
“To play like that after a bye week is embarrassing,” Cutler said. "I felt confident coming here, we all did. Practice this past week was excellent. The game plan was sound."
A subdued Cutler was puzzled by the recent lack of production on offense.
"I need to look at the film. Right now I can't tell you exactly what is wrong," he said.
On Sunday night, he completed 22 of 37 attempts for 272 yards, one touchdown, a lost fumble and two interceptions, the latter of which was returned for a touchdown.
“Not a good enough performance” Cutler said. "I have to improve."
Both the Bears and the Packers had 21 total first downs, but Green Bay came away with six scores in the first half alone, all at the hands of Aaron Rodgers, who tied an NFL record for touchdown passes in a half. The Packers took a 42-0 lead into halftime, the most points allowed by a Chicago defense in the first half of any contest in franchise history.
Defensively, Bears opponents continue to rack up points and yardage against a once-highly regarded unit. Green Bay enjoyed 100-percent efficiency in the red zone and had 451 total net yards. Rodgers finished with a 145.8 passer rating, completing 18 of 27 attempts for 315 yards, with 152 of those yards going to Jordy Nelson, who was twice allowed to roam free in the secondary for deep touchdowns.
“We don’t want to lose confidence,” Tim Jennings said. “This is the reality of what life is for us right now. We’ll figure it out. We’ll work through it. I don’t understand it, really. We had a good game plan and we practiced hard. I’d say at this point we’ve got to look at each other. We’ll watch the film, practice things out and go from there.”
Jennings had no easy answer for why the Packers were so easily able to reach the end zone.
“I felt we were strong going into the game,” he said. “We devised an approach that seemed to be very successful this past week in practice. Once we got on the field tonight, things began to fall apart rather quickly. Once that happens, it’s a difficult trend to turn around no matter how hard you try.”
So who deserves the blame for a defense that has allowed 50 or more points two weeks in a row?
“I’d say each of us has to go look in the mirror,” said Jennings. “I know the media will be saying this guy or that guy has to go, but it isn’t any one individual. This is a group effort but that group is made of individuals. What we need to do right now is to figure out how to work together effectively. This is what we do. This is our livelihood. This is what we have to take pride in. Any time another team can score 54, 55 points on us, there is a lot of work that has to be done both as individuals and as a team.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.