SAN FRANCISCO The hardest part of a blowout loss is sorting out what it says about the defeated, first in the game itself and then about the bigger 16-game picture.
The 32-7 debacle the Bears (7-3) put on against the San Francisco 49ers was one of those. The only problem the Bears gave the 49ers (7-3-1) was a quarterback controversy, whether Colin Kaepernick is in fact a better quarterback going forward than Alex Smith.
One veteran leaving Candlestick Park said, Thats a different team than Ive been watching.
Which one? I asked.
Both, he said.
If there is a positive, it is that this time a year ago the Bears were 7-3 and losing their quarterback. This year they are 7-3 and getting him back, presuming that Jay Cutler is sufficiently recovered from his concussion condition, which is never a given with head injuries.
And if there is a big-picture negative it is that the Bears had just run off five straight wins last year to reach that 7-3 point. Their offensive line had come together and allowed a total of five sacks over that stretch.
This year the line is in tatters, allowing six sacks in Monday nights game alone. The team has lost two straight and now faces a span of three division games in four weeks, and the next four opponents are all 6-4 or better.
One player called the game a wakeup call. The only people or teams that need wakeup calls are ones that are asleep. The Bears were.
The Bears were not ready to play a game that was strategically the most important they have played all season, with a little more gravity than the Packers game in Green Bay because it comes with six games to offset it instead of the 14 remaining after game two.
One member of the defense said the unit anticipated first-time starter Kaepernick to throw a couple to us. That pointed to a letdown once it was learned earlier in the weekend that Smith, who does not turn the ball over, was a scratch because of lingering concussion effects.
Even coach Lovie Smith conceded that we were lucky to be down only 20-0 at the half.
Virtually every member of every unit contributed to the outcome. But at the 10-game mark of the season, an offensive line should not be as humiliated as tackles Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb were by the San Francisco pass rush.
The problem is that there are no quick fixes, with journeyman veteran Jonathan Scott the only rostered option. The guard spot already was tweaked with Chilo Rachal replacing Chris Spencer at left guard. Rachal committed two holding penalties and was crushed in the pass rush along with the rest of the front.
The reason why the concerns are more than simple over-reaction is that while the line held the Houston Texans without a sack last week, even the Bears own defensive linemen were railing privately at the deplorable state of Soldier Field turf. It may not have been home-field advantage but it was an O-line advantage. Without that, the Bears offensive line was, as Comcast colleague and former Bear Hunter Hillenmeyer said on our PostGame Live show, a bunch of wet paper.
Brandon Marshall has been a linchpin of the offense this season, which was fine when the defense was carrying the offense. On Monday the 49ers cracked Marshall.
San Francisco double-teamed Marshall often and hard, and as the first half wore on, Marshalls frustration was amply apparent. He got into physical confrontations with 49ers defensive backs after plays were over and at one point Marshall appeared to be going off on Matt Forte or another player along the sideline. Center and offensive co-captain Roberto Garza stepped in it appeared that wide receiver Earl Bennett also mediated.
Tempers flare on sidelines and on the field. But Marshalls loss of composure started when the game was still salvageable. Worse, the 49ers basically defied the Bears to find someone else to beat them.
The Bears couldnt.
If they cant, the Bears will not be playing more than 16 games. Again.