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Had the Bears shown as much spunk during Sunday's 12-10 loss to the Detroit Lions as they did after it, they might not have left as losers of their 12th straight road game.
Before walking off Ford Field after Jason Hanson kicked a game-winning 48-yard field goal with 39 seconds left, Bears center Olin Kreutz involved himself in a postgame melee that resulted in an angry exchange with veteran Lions guard Ray Brown. Emotions soared high enough to require the intervention of Kreutz's teammates.
"It was just us being bad losersnothing big, I don't think ... just frustration," Kreutz said. "It hurts. It's football. You lose and it's the heat of the moment and you talk a little trash. It's nothing personal. It just happens."
Maybe Kreutz lost his head so easily because he knew the Bears may have lost more than a football game to a bad team Sunday. They lost the momentum built during a modest two-game winning streak and any true hope of realizing a playoff goal that now seems like folly.
"We're disappointed," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We thought we had a chance to get to 4-5 and maybe [then to] .500. But we have seven to go, and we're not throwing in the towel."
Perhaps not, but when the Bears look back at this year, the Motor City figures to be where their season officially was branded a clunker.
"We've got to get a road win sometime this yeargo into someone else's stadium and win it, and we didn't," Kreutz said. "We put a lot of emotional investment in this, into every game."
Not everybody in the visiting locker room agreed that the Bears' intensity matched the day's urgency. Facing what amounted to a must-win game, several Bears noted a lack of fire for which they had no explanation.
"We didn't have that energy and that spark," wide receiver Marty Booker said. "There was no real emotion. We were just out there, and that's tough."
Added running back Anthony Thomas: "I thought we were flat the whole game. I don't think there's as much as intensity as we need."
That nagged the Bears on the way home almost as much as the reality that, despite their lethargy, they still could have beaten the Lions if kicker Paul Edinger had enjoyed a typical game.
But Edinger uncorked a low-trajectory kick on a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter that the Lions' Jared DeVries blocked, and he pushed left a makable 41-yarder in the fourth quarter. It was the first time Edinger had missed a kick that wasn't blocked in 17 tries this season.
"That's the way it goes; there are ups and downs," Edinger said. "I'd like to have the [41-yard] kick back, but I can't."
Urlacher offered support of the guy who had bailed out the Bears with a big kick against Oakland, among other games. "It's not his fault," Urlacher said.
While the highlight of Edinger's miss was deeply ingrained in Bears fans memories by Sunday night, the third-down play before the field-goal attempt bothered the coaching staff more. On third-and-1 from the Lions' 23, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers stuffed Thomas in the hole for no gain. It forced the futile field-goal try.
"That was the key play," offensive coordinator John Shoop said of the third-down stop.
It encapsulated an uneven day for an offense that regressed in the way it called plays as much as in the way it executed them. Coaches have acknowledged since the first day of training camp that the offense functions better the more Thomas carries the football, especially early in games.
Yet Thomas carried the ball just once in the Bears' first three series and only five times in the first half. He finished with 21 carries for 61 yards.
Asked if the Bears abandoned the running game a little early for his liking, Thomas didn't hesitate. "I think we did," he said.
"You'll have to ask the offensive coordinator; he makes all those decisions," Thomas said. "Nothing surprises me around here. Anything can happen anytime. They call the plays. We just have to go out and execute."
Shoop responded by explaining, "We wanted Chris [Chandler] to come out and get a hot hand." Shoop credited the Lions' stout run defense. But even members of that defense expected the Bears to commit to the running game more than they did.
"It kind of surprised me that they didn't [run the ball more], and then they tried to come back to it," rookie linebacker Boss Bailey said. "By then it was probably a little too late."
By then the Lions had taken advantage of an off day by Chandler. The veteran quarterback completed a respectable 16-of-28 passes for 149 yards and a 12-yard TD to tight end Desmond Clark, but Chandler's performance was defined by his final two incompletions.
With the Bears needing to hold on to the ball with a 10-9 lead and 2 minutes 40 seconds left, Chandler and Clark appeared to have their signals crossed and couldn't connect on a third-and-3 pass at the Bears' 28. The Bears had to punt, and seven plays later Hanson booted his game-winner.
When the Bears got the ball back, Chandler sailed a pass intended for rookie Justin Gage that Lions strong safety Corey Harris intercepted to set off a little Motown madness.
"We just never seemed to get on track offensively," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "Credit does go to them, but it's disappointing on our side."
Bears veterans, especially on defense, vow not to let that disappointment fester into dissension. Despite not making a key stop on the Lions' final seven-play, 35-yard scoring drive, conventional wisdom says a defense that allows just four field goals and 17 rushing yards played well enough to win. Yet Sunday there was no finger-pointing at an offense that didn't.
"Me worrying about the offense ... that's beyond my control," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said. "This is not a [Charles] Woodson and Oakland deal. (Woodson publicly criticized his head coach and game plan last week.)
"We held them to four field goals, [but] we were up in the game and let them come back. So we played well, but we didn't play well enough. There's no animosity against the offense. I think they did a good enough job for us to win the game. I can't blame the offense for anything. We're all in this together."