A prime-time horror show

A zombie-like Bears team reacted with neither anger nor disgust nor any real emotion at all to the events that had transpired before them Sunday night.

They were, in fact, numb. Worn from an effort that was not good enough. Drained, no doubt, by their two-week free-fall. And seemingly weary about the task that lies ahead as they try to salvage a quickly disintegrating season.

"I told them we've got to get ready for Atlanta," Bears coach Dave Wannstedt said following his team's 26-3 loss to Detroit, which dropped the Bears to 3-7 and into a tie with the Lions for the NFC Central Division cellar. "Our players came out there trying to do everything they could to win this football game. I don't question that one bit. We had some opportunities and didn't get it done.

"It's just exhausting, that's all."

It was still another horrific performance at the Pontiac Silverdome, where the Bears have lost five straight games. In a game that was superior only in comparison with the 55-20 Lions massacre last Thanksgiving Day, the Bears looked positively afraid of the goal line on offense and dizzied by Barry Sanders and a rejuvenated Lions quarterback Charlie Batch on defense.

Sanders, who was supposedly nursing sore ribs, turned in his fifth straight 100-yard game. The rookie Batch snapped out of a three-game slump. And fullback Tommy Vardell mopped up with three touchdowns as the Lions snapped a three-game losing streak.

That's two losses in two weeks to teams that had a combined record of 4-13 going in. Two teams, in the Rams and Lions, that were deemed beatable. And two young quarterbacks, in Tony Banks and Batch, that were made to look gifted.

"Down in New Orleans (Sunday), Banks fumbles and they get a touchdown, and he throws an interception for another touchdown, and last week, he was like Dan Marino against us," said Bears special-teamer and linebacker Jim Schwantz. "And tonight, Batch is (10 for 13) at halftime and making plays and not doing anything stellar, just keeping the drives alive."

So doomed were the Bears on this evening that even a fourth-and-44 by the Lions in the third quarter did not stop them from eventually scoring as they avenged a heartbreaking loss in Chicago in early October in which the Bears overcame five fumbles and a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Wannstedt somehow took solace in the fact that Sanders' longest run of the day went for "just" 15 yards. But the future Hall of Famer, who was held to just 28 yards on 14 carries by the Bears in October, was potent enough with 114 yards on 24 carries for an average of 4.8 yards per run.

"We really didn't stop him all night," said Bears tackle Mike Wells. "Their offense was like a machine moving downfield almost at will, and it's frustrating to have a team do that to you."

Playing without starting quarterback Erik Kramer and rookie tailback Curtis Enis, the Bears may have been a heartbeat away from Curtis Conway at quarterback after a brief sequence early in the fourth quarter sent Steve Stenstrom to the sideline, replaced for three plays by rookie Moses Moreno.

Kramer, who missed his second straight game with a sore rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, was the designated third quarterback and presumably could have gone in the game if only to hand off. But he didn't look like he was anywhere close to shedding his headset.

Preliminary X-rays on Stenstrom's left shoulder were negative, and he wound up finishing the day 13 of 25 for 159 yards as the Bears turned consistently poor field position into stalled drives.

"We moved the ball between the 20s pretty well," reasoned Stenstrom, who once again was the victim of poor protection in his second career start, sacked five times Sunday and nine times in two weeks. "We generated three or four good drives and couldn't get into the end zone."

The Lions struck first after a sloppy opening for both teams that included five penalties on the first 12 snaps, punching it in on a 12-yard pass from a scrambling Batch to Vardell to make it 7-0 with 4 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The Bears crossed midfield for the first time on their next possession, the big plays in the drive a 19-yard pass from Stenstrom to Bobby Engram in traffic and a 29-yard end-around by Conway. But upon reaching the Lions' 14, the drive stalled after a 5-yard sack of Stenstrom on a third-and-4 from the Lions' 8.

Jeff Jaeger's 31-yard field goal would account for the only Bears points of the day.

The Lions would go into halftime with a 17-3 lead on Vardell's second touchdown of the half--a 3-yard run off tackle on a first-and-goal following a pass-interference call on corner Terry Cousin that cost the Bears 17 yards.

The Bears would penetrate Lions' territory again on their next possession, thanks mostly to the work of Engram, who corraled passes of 19 and 22 yards. But again, the Bears could not capitalize on the effort; Jaeger had a 43-yard field goal attempt deflected by tackle Marc Spindler.

Batch wound up throwing for 253 yards on 16-of-21 passing to eight receivers, his favorite being Johnnie Morton, who caught five passes for 109 yards against decidedly soft coverage.

"We played a lot softer this game," said a dejected Walt Harris, "mainly because we were trying to stop No. 20 (Sanders). You sacrifice trying not to give up the big plays."

The death blow for the Bears was a roughing-the-kicker call against Ricky Bell, who appeared to be blocked into Lions punter John Jett, wiping out a fourth-and-44 following a series of penalties, a 5-yard loss by Sanders and an 8-yard sack of Batch by Jim Flanigan midway through the third quarter.

The resulting first down gave the Lions all the momentum they would need. Runs of 11 and 15 yards by Sanders, sandwiched around a brilliant 24-yard catch by Morton over the head of Harris, led to a 1-yard plunge by Vardell and a 23-3 Lions lead following the missed conversion with 4:17 left in the third.

But if it left the Bears particularly frustrated, it would come out afterward in only fits and starts.

"These were two games we should have won," said defensive end Mark Thomas. "We're not even putting ourselves in position to compete. . . . But this team, it seems to pull together the harder things get."

No time like the present.

"It seems to me," said Conway, "that it's been the same thing year in and year out."