PHILADELPHIA — When kickoff arrived Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bears found themselves 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.
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 startling 54-11 thrashing.
"We were ready to play this game," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "And we played a terrible football game. I'm not going to use any word other than that. We were terrible in all three phases."
Now the Bears slide into a 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's face plant was an aberration and not a sobering reminder of their many weaknesses.
The silver lining: This loss was so ugly and lopsided, the Bears have no plans to study its horrors.
"We'll throw this tape in the trash can," Trestman said.
Added quarterback Jay Cutler: "There's not much to study. We got beat down. It's a different type of game. We were playing a bit of street ball there, just trying to crawl back in. … To go back and study this is going to be a waste of our time."
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. The Bears were pummeled across the board — even with the return of Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs.
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, with Cutler sacked a season-high five times and failing to find a rhythm.
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.
The Eagles were so dominant all night, they delivered a flurry of exclamation points — 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 TD run with 6:14 to play, giving the Eagles two 100-yard rushers.
Against the NFL's 30th-ranked defense, the Bears reached the end zone only once — on the final play of the third quarter — and accumulated only half of the yardage (257) as the defense gave up (514).
With the early deficit snowballing, the opportunity to retain a run-pass balance evaporated.
"It's hard to get in a rhythm," Cutler said. "Because it's pass, pass, pass. We're putting the offensive line in bad positions with a lot of one-on-one blocks."
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, capitalizing on all the looks and open space Chip Kelly's offense gave him.
"I don't think it would matter what offensive system he plays in," Trestman said.
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.
Cutler 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 they surrendered a season high in yards and blew a chance to lock up the division title.
"This game's wiped clean," Cutler insisted. "I think the rest of the locker room is the same way."
Time will tell. Now the Packers are coming to town. And they could be bringing former MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers as their starter.
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