It was not long after the start that the Tennessee Titans were finished.
A dizzying, demoralizing array of goofs and gaffes contributed to a 26-point first-quarter deficit and no real hope for recovery.
When it was over — mercifully — the Titans not only lost a game, 51-20 to the Chicago Bears, they lost their home. For most of the fourth quarter, the overwhelming majority of fans left in LP Field were frocked in Chicago’s colors. They roared with approval as the difference on the scoreboard grew ever larger, booed Green Bay highlights shown in the video boards and reveled in their ability to repeatedly chant “Let’s go Bears” unopposed.
“We didn’t play well [Sunday],” coach Mike Munchak said. “We made it easy on the Bears to beat us. But they took advantage of all the opportunities we gave them. … When you self-destruct like we did in the first quarter it’s hard to overcome all of that.”
Chicago (7-1) was hardly the first team to put up a big point total or win decisively against Tennessee in 2012. In fact, it was the seventh in nine games to score 30 or more and the fifth whose winning margin was three touchdowns or better.
This, however, was not simply a product of deficiencies on defense or a sluggish offense. Every aspect of the game contributed in unison to the highest point total by a visiting team in LP Field history.
The Bears got touchdowns from the defense and special teams, forced five turnovers, including four fumbles, generally did what they wanted, when they wanted and how they wanted. Cornerback Charles Tillman led the way with four forced fumbles, the first when he knocked the ball out of Kenny Britt’s hands after a 23-yard gain on the game’s first offensive snap.
“They made some great plays,” running back Chris Johnson, who fumbled twice, said. “They’re very good at what they do in getting the ball out. They just made a lot of good plays.”
Britt’s fumble was simply a prelude. The demise officially started when Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis blocked a punt and defensive end Corey Wootten returned five yards for a touchdown and the game’s first points. In short order, Chicago’s Brian Urlacher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown, running back Matt Forte scored on an eight-yard run one play after Devin Hester returned a punt 44 yards and quarterback Jay Cutler threw the first of three touchdown passes to wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Just like that, it was 28-2 (somewhere in there the Titans were credited with a safety because of a Chicago penalty in its own end zone) … and more than three quarters remained. The 28 points were the most ever scored by the Bears in the opening 15 minutes, and they got them all in a span of 5:11.
“We did our best to give away that game in the first quarter,” Munchak said. “I think that’s pretty much what we did. … Twenty-eight points in the first quarter were basically self-inflicted. We didn’t even get to the fact that they’re a good football team — we did that on our own. … We’re going to beat anyone when we play that way and put ourselves in a huge hole.”
The Bears ability to do any or all of those things should not have been a surprise to anyone. Their defense returned six interceptions for touchdowns in their first seven games, an NFL record. Hester already was the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns off both kickoff and punt returns and Marshall accounted for 40 percent of all Cutler’s completions this season.
Whatever the Titans did to prepare for Chicago and its particular strengths simply did not work.
“We talked about it,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “Every time I’ve ever played the Bears we’ve talked about it. They’re very, very good at it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them do such an amazing job of getting the ball out. Partly credit them, but right now we’re blaming ourselves and we’re not able to beat anybody turning the ball over that many times.”
Tennessee is now 3-6 with one game to go before its bye. The October optimism generated by two victories and a near-miss defeat in the last three weeks is gone and with the heart of fall at hand it looks s though this team does not have far to go to hit rock bottom.
“I’ve been on teams that are really good teams and you play a stinker,” Hasselbeck said. “You come out and you do that — you lay an egg, you’re horrible. Sometimes what is said is, ‘Hey, that wasn’t us. We’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us.’ But those are good teams that had built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way.
“Our situation is that we gave some opportunities away so we need to capitalize on all the opportunities we have. Coming into this we had eight games to go. We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. So it’s hard to say, ‘That wasn’t us.' ’’