A Real Downer

CHICAGO - The Green Bay Packers were only half-interested; the Bears just looked that way.

Losing 31-14 to a Packers team Sunday that didn't use Brett Favre the last 2 1/2 quarters provided a disturbing sendoff for the Bears in coach Lovie Smith's first season.

"It was one of those days, and we happened to have a lot of those days this year," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said.

Their desire for the finale had been an upbeat effort on offense and continued strong defensive effort as a prelude to 2005.

They got the exact opposite. In the process of finishing 5-11 the Bears' defense porous pass coverage, an offensive line that couldn't protect quarterback Chad Hutchinson matched a team record with nine sacks allowed and it all led to at least as many question marks as they had heading into Smith's first season.

"Disappointing ending, really, to a season," Smith said. "You know, if we had pulled out this win some kind of way, we would feel a whole lot better about where we are with the season.

"But I really think we were able to get some things accomplished this year. But, of course, right now we have a bad tasted in our mouths."

The Packers have left the Bears with that taste now 11 straight times in Chicago or Champaign, and this time the Bears couldn't even blame it all on quarterback Brett Favre as in most past instances.

Favre played only four possessions before giving way to Craig Nall, as the Packers (10-6) blended a mix of starters and subs the second half in preparation for next weekend's playoff game with the Minnesota Vikings.

"Nobody really knew the substitution pattern that I was going to use today," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "Before the game I didn't mention anything except to Brett and Craig that there may come a time that Craig may go into the ballgame.

"They are the only two that I shared anything with. So he (Nall) didn't really get a whole lot of (practice) reps. He practiced on Thursday and then we went to Reggie White's funeral and those were the only reps he got."

Favre led the Packers back from a 7-0 deficit resulting from a Chad Hutchinson-to-David Terrell 63-yard completion and Thomas Jones' 2-yard touchdown run on the Bears' first possession.

In a 10-play, 86-yard Green Bay touchdown drive, Favre threw for 84 yards and tied the score on a 17-yard TD pass to tight end Bubba Franks.

Favre, who completed 9-of-13 for 196 yards, left after a two-play, second-quarter TD drive: passes of 48 yards to Donald Driver and then 38 to fullback William Henderson. Bears safety Mike Green slipped covering Henderson, making the TD a relatively simple one.

However, Nall didn't enter the game with a 14-7 lead. It was 21-7.

Darren Sharper intercepted Chad Hutchinson's pass three plays later and returned it 43 yards for a Packers touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after Henderson's score.

"Just thought I had it, he (Sharper) undercut it and he picked it off," Hutchinson said.

It was the second of two critical third-and-two plays that offensive coordinator Terry Shea cited as paving the way for early offensive failures and a blowout. The other was a third-and-two first-quarter run of 1 yard by Thomas Jones.

"We couldn't convert those third-and-twos," Shea said. "We ran it once and we threw it once. That's probably what disrupted us more than anything.

"I thought we had good momentum built up after the touchdown, but we lost it after those third-down conversions. From that point we didn't play very well in the second quarter."

They found themselves down 28-7 by halftime because Nall came in and performed immediately like Favre. Nall had never played prior to the fourth quarter until entering in the second quarter Sunday. He finished 7-of-13 for 131 yards.

The Packers threw for 327 yards. Nall had a 25-yard TD pass in the second quarter to Javon Walker, then led a third-quarter, 70-yard drive to Ryan Longwell's 20-yard field goal.

"You've to give credit when credit is due," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "They went out there and threw and caught the ball. They whipped us. It's plain and simple. There's no sugar-coating it."

Hutchinson completed 20-of-29 for 196 yards and led a 78-yard third-quarter march to Jones' second short TD run, a 1-yarder. Jones finished with 108 yards on 26 carries.

Any thoughts of a comeback, though, were dashed by poor pass blocking and a Packers pass rush which equaled its own team record with nine sacks and the Bears' team record of nine sacks allowed in a game. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had three sacks lining up against Marc Colombo.

"It's been a tough year the whole year," center Olin Kreutz said. "It's been tough. Some games have been a little tougher than others. They came out and they took it to our O-Line today.

"Obviously we weren't ready and they were."

Hutchinson didn't blame it all on the line.

"There were a couple coverage sacks, where it was third down and I wasn't just going to throw the ball away," Hutchinson said. "I was going to try to do something with it.

"There were a couple there that I was trying to make a play and there was nothing open."

The Bears finished last in the league in converting third downs, and converted only 20 percent Sunday (3-of-15). They finished their season with a team record 66 sacks allowed. Their four penalties Sunday broke the team record of 122 and set the mark at 124. They came up four punts shy of their team record of 114.

Now Smith will evaluate if he'll make any changes on his staff. Personnel will sit down with coaches to evaluate what's needed for next year.

"That's all we have is next year right now and we're looking for a positive season," said defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

It would have been much easier to be positive with the right kind of sendoff for the 2004 season.

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