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Throughout this surprising 2005 season, the Bears did their talking on the field, playing the us-against-the-world theme to perfection.
That's what made this last week so surprising. That's what made Sunday's 29-21 NFC divisional playoff loss to Carolina at Soldier Field so galling.
Nobody ever will be able to prove any direct correlation between the Bears' posturing and their performance. But a week that began with the Bears acting out of character ended with the Bears playing out of character.
Nobody's questioning the Panthers' credentials anymore.
Wasting home-field advantage and a first-round playoff bye, the Bears relived a playoff nightmare, getting shredded for a season-high 434 yards.
In the last 10 years, only three of 20 NFC teams have lost home divisional playoff games. Carolina upset Bears coach Lovie Smith's 2003 Rams defense and the 2001 Bears collapsed to the Eagles at Soldier Field.
And now this.
"It feels [terrible] right now," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "It's disappointing. You can look at the bright side and say we're a young team and all that good stuff. But this is going to hurt for a while.
"We felt like we could make a run. All week long we felt we had to win in the playoffs to earn people's respect. We didn't do that. So people who doubted us, I guess there's a reason for that."
Some Bears, most vocally Adewale Ogunleye, believed Carolina received too much credit in comments early last week. The Panthers answered with a breathtaking offensive performance that featured Steve Smith catching 12 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
Jake Delhomme, dropped eight times when the Bears won on Nov. 20, threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns while getting sacked just once. His passer rating was 120.6, and he became just the second Bears playoff opponent to throw for 300 yards.
"It starts up front, and we weren't able to get to Delhomme," Ogunleye said. "We weren't covering well. We didn't play well as a defense from top to bottom."
The breakdowns began before some tailgaters packed away their charcoal. Steve Smith streaked past Charles Tillman on the second play from scrimmage, juking Mike Brown at the 10-yard line and scoring on a 58-yard touchdown 55 seconds after kickoff.
Later in the third quarter, when the Bears had closed to within 16-14 on Rex Grossman's 1-yard pass to Desmond Clark, Smith smoked past Chris Thompson, just inserted in the game. Thompson also slipped, allowing Smith to catch a 39-yard touchdown strike from Delhomme in stride.
Thompson was playing because Brown and Jerry Azumah were hurt and Chris Harris was resting cramps on the sideline.
"A cornerback needs to get into a rhythm, and I wasn't able to do that," Thompson said. "I knew they were going to go to him. But covering him is a real task."
Coach Lovie Smith said the Bears were playing a Cover 3 zone defense and cornerbacks needed to play deeper to keep Smith in front of them.
In two games against the Bears, Smith racked up 387 receiving yards. He also beat Tillman for a 46-yard gain to the 2 that set up a John Kasay field goal for a 10-0 Panthers lead.
"We talked about not letting Steve Smith make big plays," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "Obviously, he did that."
The Bears closed to within two points again at 23-21 when fullback Jason McKie scored his first career touchdown on a 3-yard run with 12 minutes 23 seconds remaining.
For the league's top-ranked scoring defense and one that allowed just 61 points in eight home games, 21 points is typically enough. But Carolina responded to that Bears drive by marching 62 yards in seven plays. Steve Smith's 22-yard rush on an end-around provided momentum. Delhomme capped it with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kris Mangum.
The Bears appeared disorganized before the snap, with Tillman sprinting onto the field and gesturing for help as to his assignment. Lovie Smith downplayed the need for a timeout.
"We had enough time to get on the field," he said. "When they snapped the ball, we knew what we were doing. We just didn't execute."
That could sum up several performances that were completely uncharacteristic of a typically sound fundamental team. The typically reliable Brad Maynard shanked punts. Thomas Jones dropped a screen pass. The crowd of 59,127 booed.
Grossman missed his first five pass attempts but settled into a second-half rhythm and finished 17 of 41 for 192 yards and a 54.1 passer rating. The offense went three-and-out on four of its first five possessions but scored enough points to win.
The defense, so valiant all season, failed the Bears in their quest to reach the NFC championship game for the first time since 1988.
That left Lovie Smith to address a downcast team in a pin-drop quiet locker room.
"I talked to them about the progress we made this year and to look at the season as a whole," Smith said. "We went from 5-11 to 11-6. And we talked about the feeling we have right now. All we can do is do something about it. We're going to have to wait awhile. But we'll be back."