Let's start off by making absolutely no bones about it: that hurt. Imagine, if you will, the hero of an 80s teen movie. He's an outcast, a nerd, a loser. No one likes him but for his friends, who are also outcasts in their own right. He's got a crush on the most popular girl in school, and he is bound and determined to win her heart, even if the odds of him doing so are between zero and not a chance in hell. No one believes in him; hell, everyone expects the jocks to pick on him and beat him up. Even most of his friends, though they like him and count him as a friend, thinks he's kind of an idiot. But something happens. He starts to prove everyone wrong. He's not just a nerd, an outcast. He can be kind of cool. He can join the cool kids club. And he does. He beats the odds, and somehow, the most popular girl in school has noticed him.
In case you're wondering, the Bears are the nerdy kid in this scenario. But unlike those cheesy 80s movies, in this movie just when the kid is starting to build up his cred and become more popular and cool, the jerk/bully comes up and kicks him square in the nuts in front of everyone in the school.
That's sort of what happened this Sunday. The Bears were hot after a five-game winning streak. This season only the most die-hard of fans had the Bears even ending the season with a positive record. Most media outlets and fans of other teams considered the Bears bottom-feeders. So when, after 3 quarters of the season were said and done and the Bears were the second-ranked team in the NFC, well, something couldn't be right.
We've all heard the excuses and lines of reasoning for why the Bears are worse than their record. From the injury bug biting other teams, to other teams beating themselves, to just luck in general being on the side of Chicago, the team has generally gotten little to no credit for their success. Because they were supposed to be bad this season. They were supposed to be league-wide jokes.
And along comes New England, a team that has prided itself on bullying others for years now, and kicked the Bears square in the testes. They didn't just beat the Bears, they embarrassed them. They knocked them down and then rubbed their faces in the cold sod of Soldier Field.
Of course, two days later and I've read the same links many of you have. I've heard the same talking heads saying the same things. Things that are surprisingly similar to those said after another embarrassing butt-whooping in Week 4, after the Giants scrambled Jay Cutler's brain and made the Bears offense look like a junior varsity high school team. I don't feel like repeating those things here, because by now we've heard them, read them, or thought them all.
What I am going to do is the same thing I seem to do after almost every Bears loss this season. I'm going to both play cheerleader while remaining as grounded in reality as I can.
The reality is the loss this past Sunday hurt, yes. But only morale, and hopefully, only morale of the fanbase. The Bears players are professionals and we have to hope they will move on instead of dwelling on how bad they were.
The loss didn't hurt the Bears in the standings and it didn't hurt their chance at making the playoffs, thanks to the Detroit Lions. It simply didn't hurt beyond the bruises to ego.
We did learn a few things. Some of those things we didn't want to learn, and some of those things we already knew but had blocked out.
1) We cannot stand with the elite of the NFL. That sucks, truly it does, because after that five-game winning streak even the most pessimistic of Bears fans were starting to think this team had IT. The Patriots brought us back down to earth in a hurry and showed us that we are not on the same level. But that's OK for two reasons: a) it looks like the Patriots may be the only "elite" team in the NFL this season (and even they were destroyed by the lowly Browns) and b) it's not the "elite" that always make it to the Super Bowl.
I think last season was the first time in a long time that both #1 seeds made it to the final game. Being the "best" team in the conference does not mean a team is guaranteed the Super Bowl or even a playoff run.
2) We no longer have a great home-field advantage. Considering that three of the Bears four losses have come at home this season, and two of those losses were to inferior teams, it certainly doesn't seem like Soldier Field gives the team an edge. It helped against the Eagles, but it hindered against the Patriots. What does that mean? Well, unless Chicago is hit with a mini-heat wave or has weather as perfect as Chicago weather in January can be should we earn a home playoff game, look for our offense to be as ineffective as the word "No" is coming from the mouth of a college girl when locked inside a room with Ben Roethlisburger.
The team is built around speed, both on offense and defense, and Sunday every aspect of the game- except for Manning and Hester in the return game- looked like they were a step slower than usual. We need to hope that either Sunday was a fluke for the whole team and they can play in "Bears weather", that we play in better weather next time, or that we end up playing in a Dome throughout the playoffs.
3) Any given Sunday. It's an old saying that's been run into the ground. But it's true. The same people who said the Bears owe luck to their season claim that it was just the Patriots being so great and awesome that made them beat the Bears. While the Patriots were the better team, they weren't without their own amount of luck as well. Maybe it's not luck when a perceived good team gets the breaks. After all, maybe it wasn't luck that caused both Chris Harris and Brian Urlacher to drop what should have been easy interceptions. Maybe it wasn't luck that caused Johnny Knox's bum to come to rest perfectly on McCourty's foot as the ball was stripped out. But maybe it was.
And maybe next time, the luck will be back on the side of the Bears. Maybe it won't. It's any given Sunday (or Monday night). A team has to be able to take those breaks and turn them into an advantage, or get over them and move on. The Bears have already proven they can move on. They need to prove it again.
4) The Bears practically have the NFC North locked up. Thanks to the Detroit Lions both putting Aaron Rodgers on the shelf and handing the Packers a loss, the Bears are actually looking good after a drubbing by the Patriots. Considering that a Packers loss in Foxborough this Sunday and a Bears win against the Vikings on Monday could clinch the division, well, it's hard to really stay upset about this past Sunday.
There is still a lot of season left. The Vikings are pretty bad on offense if Adrian Peterson can be stopped, and we've proven that we can either stop him or at least not allow him to dominate. The Vikings defense is still stout, but that team knows they're done. We have to hope that both a) they aren't determined to play spoiler and b) our offense can rebound enough to put up some points.
After that we have the reeling Jets, whose blitz-happy defense is sure to give our offense fits, but whose own offense has looked pretty bad in its own right.
And finally, the Packers. For weeks now, many considered this game a determination of who wins the NFC North. It may still turn out that way, but we may also end up resting our starters against a team that's going to be angry that their season went off the tracks so badly.
Either way, no matter what happens, the Bears are in a great position to make it to the playoffs. Let me say that again: the Chicago Bears are in a great position to make it to the playoffs. And how many people really, truly thought that was a possibility way back in the pre-season? This season has been a win already. It's had its ups and it has had its downs, but it's been one helluva ride. And it's not over yet. There are at least three more weeks to go, and, hopefully, about a month more after that.