From coach Lovie Smith down to the last man on the roster, the Bears held their heads up in front of the hordes wanting to know how they had committed so many sins against football on the game’s biggest stage. The only direction in which any player pointed his finger was at his own chest. And the lesson they said they all learned is what they have to do to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
They knew they blew it, especially the defense, which did a lot of good things, including forcing three Colts turnovers in the first half, but also did a poor job of tackling and blew a coverage that left Reggie Wayne as uncovered as a Playboy centerfold and handed the Colts their first absurdly easy touchdown.
“We just remember this feeling,” said outside linebacker Lance Briggs, “and let it sting until we get back here.”
When teams get here, they always say they know it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When they lose, they always say they’ll be back. The Bears said it as if it is as inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise.
They have reason to be optimistic. For one thing, they play in the NFC, which hasn’t been a nest of powerful teams. For another, they’re young and they have one of the best defenses in the game. Also, they’re well-coached by Lovie Smith, and in this game, nothing is important as that.
“I told the team how proud I was of them,” said Smith, as dignified in defeat as he had been all year in victory. He’s been coaching the team for just three years, and in each one of them, they made progress toward every team’s goal of winning the Super Bowl.
So, Smith said, Sunday night in soggy Dolphins Stadium may have been a loss, but it wasn’t a defeat.
He dished up loads of credit and respect for the Colts, who are coached by his mentor and good friend, Tony Dungy. And he refused to blame his quarterback, the much-maligned Grossman, who threw the deciding interception early in the fourth quarter, for what happened.
He said the interception, which Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden returned 56 yards for the score that put the Colts up 29-17, was “the big play” of the game, and he said Grossman, who finished 20-for-28 with two interceptions and a touchdown, made a mistake by trying to force the ball.
But Smith wouldn’t condemn Grossman, who finished his first full year as the team’s quarterback. “It is a growing experience for Rex,” Smith said. “All of us will handle the situation a lot better the next time out.”
They will have to, because it would be hard to handle it worse. They opened the game with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Devin Hester and forced the three turnovers. But they also gave the ball away on fumbles three times, destroying any momentum they may have built.
The turnovers, an inability to run the ball other than one long run by Thomas Jones that led to their lone offensive touchdown, and a failure on third down combined to give the Bears just three first downs in the first half and 19 total plays.
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