Whoever created the popular axiom that tough times build character probably hasn't watched the Chicago Bears play offense in the last 30 or so years. This is an experience enriching to no one. For the Bears, abysmal offense is practically a team hallmark, or at least it was prior to the trade for Jay Cutler before the 2009 season. On Sunday at Soldier Field, the good old days came roaring back.
The Bears' 10-3 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs sparked a lot of emotions, but perhaps the most prevalent was a feeling of familiarity. For under-30 Bears fans who missed the franchise's mid-1980s dominance, Chicago's Week 12 loss to the Chiefs may as well have been sponsored by John Shoop, Craig Krenzel, and all of the other unfit players and coordinators who helped make the Bears synonymous with ugly offense for a rising generation of NFL fans.
"Monsters of the Midway"? Not in this lifetime. The modern day reputation of the Bears is staked in interceptions, dropped passes, and three-and-outs. Against the Chiefs, with stars Jay Cutler and Matt Forte sidelined by injury, the old Bears came out of hibernation.
While times have been looking up since the Cutler trade, Sunday's loss to Kansas City harkened back to the days when having a legitimate top ten quarterback in Chicago seemed like a thought based purely in fantasy. The Bears have trotted out an incalculable amount of punchless offenses over the last two decades, and they can add another to the list after the debacle against the Chiefs. If there's a wing in afterlife reserved for pathetic Bears offenses, Shane Matthews and Curtis Enis will one day be able to play a game of pool with Hanie, Roy Williams, and Kahlil Bell. PREDICTION: No game will end until one team mercifully scratches on the 8-ball.
Resignation officially set in when Hanie -- Cutler's once-popular backup with a gunsligner's mentality -- air-mailed a throw to Earl Bennett in the second quarter on what should have been an easy touchdown. At that exact moment, all hope that Hanie might be more competent than Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn and the rest of the bozos that came before him was lost for good. Hanie may have some admirable physical traits, but the attack -- insert your own air quotes -- he led on Sunday was as limp as possible.
For as much of an abomination as the game was, it's almost unbelievable to think that victory was still right there for the taking. This is what happens when you're playing a Chiefs team also missing its starting quarterback and running back. The problem on Sunday is that Kansas City never got the memo that they were supposed to roll over. And even if they tried, a little dumb luck prevented them from fully achieving it.
Football is said to be a game of inches. The NFL is very much a league of moments. On Sunday against the Chiefs, several bad breaks in crucial situations cost the Bears a win. There was Hanie's touchdown pass to Marion Barber that was called back on a penalty and the Roy Williams drop that turned the game-tying TD into a back-breaking end zone interception with four minutes left. But the play of the game -- the *only* play in the game, really -- came on a KC Hail Mary as the first half expired. Brian Urlacher jumped up to swat down the pass just as he has done so many times before, only this one ended in Dexter McCluster's hands for Tyler Palko's first career touchdown pass. Like that, it was over.
A game as bad as this one required a little bit of magic to be decided. KC got it and the Bears didn't.
Aside from all the scorched retinas left across Chicagoland, the most enduring aftermath from the loss looks like it will be a knee injury to Matt Forte. The Bears' budding star carried only five times before a helmet-shot to the leg ended his day. One premature diagnosis said Forte could be gone for 2-4 weeks. We should know more tomorrow.
The one benefactor of a loss this bad is that it helps you appreciate what you once had. If there was a winner on Sunday in the Bears-Chiefs game, it might have been Jay Cutler. After watching Hanie hack-up consecutive games, it's almost unthinkable to consider Cutler remains one of the most embattled quarterbacks in the league over the last three years. Who else this side of Chris Bosh gets called out by their peers? But with Cutler starting, the Bears would have coasted to victory in the last two games. Next time you're thinking about criticizing his facial mannerisms, remember how much worse it can be.
Astonishingly, the Bears remain in the top Wild Card spot in the NFC after a wild Sunday ended in losses for Detroit, Atlanta, and Dallas. The consensus was that the Bears would have to reach 3-3 to make the playoffs and hopefully be rescued by a returning Cutler, and remaining games against Denver, Seattle, and Minnesota means the dream is still alive. Fading but alive. It means every game (save for a Christmas date with Green Bay) is a must-win, starting next Sunday in Denver.
Will these Bears be the next victim in Tim Tebow's dumbfounding reign of terror, or can they regain their swagger and find a way to win? After their effort against Kansas City and another Tebow-fueled comeback for the Broncos, it seems very likely that the Bears will be road underdogs. Remember, it's a role this team cherishes. But even a nobody-believes-in-us mindset might not be enough with Cutler and Forte sidelined.
For Chicago to pull out three wins in its last four games, they'll need to run the ball, avoid offensive turnovers, and force a host of takeaways. Yes, this has always been the formula, but without Cutler and Forte, the margin for error just got considerably smaller.
Ricky O'Donnell is a writer and editor in Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. He is always very much available for hire. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.