It would be easy to say the wheels have come off for the Bears.
But that would be patently unfair to the doors, the hood and the engine, all of which were left scattered throughout the field in Minnesota.
Yes, the Bears are now officially in free fall after losing for the fourth time in five games.
Not only are the playoffs in danger, but so is Lovie Smith’s future and Jay Cutler’s health.
No one is safe on the field, and off it the Bears are going to have some serious decisions to make if they lose out or fail to reach the postseason after starting the season 7-1.
If George McCaskey and Phil Emery were looking for an opportunity to make a change at head coach, they won’t get a better one if the Bears continue to self-destruct.
And if Smith is the greatest players’ coach of all time, as we often hear, his players should find a way to get this train back on the tracks.
On the surface, the Bears will say that’s an overreaction to a bad month, but kick some dirt off the pile and you see a complete disintegration of a football team many had in the Super Bowl five weeks ago.
“It’s just now all about this three-game season and the next game. That’s gonna dictate what happens with us,” Smith said. “We’re still in a position to accomplish all of our goals we set out to accomplish.”
That’s certainly an optimistic view, because it wasn’t just the 21-14 defeat Sunday for the Bears (8-5) in Minnesota (7-6) that was so disconcerting.
It’s the way they lost Sunday.
It started in pregame when Robbie Gould suffered a calf injury and got progressively worse from there, with players leaving the game in droves.
Nothing causes greater concern than Cutler — a couple of weeks removed from a concussion — after he was hit in the head again and suffered a supposed neck injury and didn’t finish the game.
And while he’ll be criticized for holding the ball too long a few times Sunday, and for a couple of picks, this had little to do with Cutler and much to do with his receivers, every one of whom dropped a pass Sunday.
There were at least a half-dozen dropped passes, none worse than Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery giving away touchdowns on perfect throws.
“The (drops) hurt, but there were a lot of things that hurt, (like) the slow start and getting down on the road like that,” Smith said. “And when you’re in a hole, you have to make every play count, and we didn’t.”
There were the 10 penalties, often in crucial situations, more Hester return mistakes and defensive injuries piling up to the point where fielding a decent team is a concern, especially with Aaron Rodgers on his way to town.
Then, there were the odd play calls.
The worst was on third down and a little more than a yard to go from their own 39, down a touchdown and about five minutes left in the third.
With third-stringer Armando Allen in the backfield, the Bears chose to throw, and with Cutler pressured and unable to follow through, the pass sailed well over Brandon Marshall at midfield and into the arms of Minnesota’s Harrison Smith standing alone at the Vikes’ 44.
When Smith stopped running it was 21-7 Minnesota and the game was pretty much over.
Equally puzzling was the Bears taking their ever-loving time with the football in the fourth quarter down a pair of touchdowns. They got the ball with 9:13 left in the game and never went no-huddle as they patiently took five minutes off the clock before failing to score.
“There’s a lot of problems offensively,” Cutler said. “I didn’t play well. It all starts with me.”
Generous of Cutler, but not at all true. He did all he could with a patchwork offensive line — bravely using his feet to keep many plays alive — and receivers incapable of catching rain with an inverted umbrella.
His short-term survival is as questionable as the Bears’ long-term future.
“It’s a short season and there’s a handful of games left,” Cutler said. “We have to win them all.”
The seems unlikely as the Bears looked like a high school team for most of the first half, going down 14 in the first six minutes when they let Adrian Peterson run wild, and Jeffery slipped creating another interception that left Minnesota with a very short field.
Perhaps the ugliest moment came after Hester dropped a sure TD pass on third down with a little more than four minutes left in the game. When the Bears failed to convert on fourth down, Hester took off his helmet and fired it to the ground.
As the helmet exploded, pieces came flying out, from the mouth guard to the padding and everything in between, leaving quite a mess in its wake.
As metaphors go, that would pretty much sum up where the Bears are today.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.