CHICAGO - They played more like they were avoiding traffic on Soldiers Field Road than playing football at Soldier Field.
But the words they used to describe their play in a 24-17 loss to the Chicago Bears on this legendary football battleground - “embarrassing,” “horrifying,” “pathetic,” and “putrid” - were hard to top with any other facts, rants, or sarcasm.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick let his team have it when the players entered the locker room after being emotionally and physically run over by the Bears. He told them that progress should be occurring in Week 15 of the season, not regression.
He ripped them for taking penalties, dropping passes, missing tackles, and making other mistakes that just can’t happen in the NFL.
They were playing the Bears in one of the most meaningless games of the week - and they made it even more meaningless.
“I’m speechless,” said wide receiver Terry Glenn. “I don’t know what else you can say. By this time we should have figured out what we need to do to be successful. Obviously we haven’t.”
They allowed Shane Matthews, a backup quarterback with a 46 rating and one who had completed 49 percent of his passes, to complete 15 straight to set a team record. The Bears had scored just one offensive touchdown in 18 quarters entering the game.
Five times Bears receiver Eddie Kennison caught slant passes over the middle.
“I thought we were past the type of performance we saw out there today,” said Belichick. “But obviously we’re not. We spent a lot of time this week talking about what it takes to play on the road, maturing as a team, and the things you have to do to win. It really didn’t get through to them.”
Linebacker Ted Johnson said of Belichick’s tirade, “The coach is . . . sick and tired of what’s going on. That’s what he reiterated in his postgame comments to us. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s not happy.
“We don’t have a sense of urgency. We don’t know how to respond to adversity. I don’t know why. That’s been our Achilles’ heel. I didn’t expect this. Even though we have enough character, we keep making the same mistakes.”
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, sitting at his locker, just buried his face in his hands. When he made his way to the podium, he had the look of a man who had just lost his best friend.
He blamed himself for missing some throws that might have pulled the game out. He came close to blaming young offensive linemen Adrian Klemm and Greg Robinson-Randall, who had trouble competing. Left guard Klemm was called for three penalties and often was beaten by his man, and right tackle Robinson-Randall also struggled.
“It’s a difficult task, but they have to answer that,” said Bledsoe.
“I can relate,” said center Damien Woody, “but you have to learn fast. Nobody waited for me. You’ve got to be able to go. That’s the whole mentality.”
The game ended rather fittingly. Bledsoe was in the shotgun and on second and 10 had hit Curtis Jackson for a 9-yard gain to the Chicago 31. He then threw 10 yards to Troy Brown, but the Patriots were called for illegal motion because Bledsoe had called for the snap before Jackson could set himself at the line. It was ruled no play, and the officials ruled that the remaining 10 seconds should run out.
“On the last play . . . I didn’t give him enough time to get set,” said Bledsoe. “That was on me. It was my fault. We should always be able to get a shot in the end zone on the last play.”
But the game - New England’s 10th loss in its last 11 road games - was gone far before that.
The Patriots believed the officials had just as bad a day as they did. New England appeared to take a 13-3 lead when Bledsoe found tight end Jermaine Wiggins for a 9-yard pass. Officials ruled Wiggins dropped the ball and replays appeared to confirm their decision. The Patriots challenged the ruling, but to no avail.
“I’ve got to make that play,” said Wiggins. “I have to make that more noticeable. I felt like I did catch it. I felt I had control of it on the ground. Maybe there was something that the referee saw that made him rule the other way. Maybe I can do it better the next time.”
Adam Vinatieri’s 40-yard field made it 10-3, but the call seemed to take something out of the Patriots.
“That can affect you, but it shouldn’t,” said Glenn. “We still had the lead, and we were in control. We just let that slip.”
The Bears began the scoring with a 24-yard Paul Edinger field goal at 6:06 of the first quarter.
The Patriots took a 7-3 lead on a 12-yard Bledsoe pass to Glenn, which capped a 12-play, 83-yard drive. After Vinatieri’s 40-yarder, the Bears tied it at 10 on the next series as Kennison caught a slant for 9 yards with 10 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter was a disaster. The Patriots ran six offensive plays for 3 yards. It could have been worse, as J.R. Redmond fumbled following a 9-yard run deep in New England territory, but Sale Isaia recovered.
The Bears marched 64 yards on seven plays to start the second half. It became 17-10 on running back James Allen’s 16-yard jaunt off left tackle.
And on the first play of the final quarter, Matthews tossed a 6-yard pass to Allen to make it 24-10.
The Patriots then mounted a 13-play, 73-yard drive, including 12 passes. Bledsoe threw to Brown for 7 yards to pull New England within a touchdown with 10:53 remaining.
Two subsequent drives produced nothing, so it came down to New England at its 38 with 1:05 left. This is where Bledsoe has pulled off great comebacks in the past, but yesterday there was something missing.