Here are four things we learned in Thursday's 34-17 loss to the Detroit Lions:
1) The Bears are virtually assured of missing the playoffs again. If they were in the historically-bad NFC South, the Bears would be in first place at 5-7. But geography is far from the only reason it appears that they will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year, their longest drought since failing to earn a postseason berth for six consecutive seasons from 1995-2000.
The Bears are three games behind the 8-4 Cowboys, Lions and Seahawks with four remaining in the race for the two NFC wildcard spots. But a more immediate concern is trying to jump-start a mistake-prone offense and improve a defense that has allowed the most points in the NFL.
"It's just frustrating because as a team, the talent we have on our team, we definitely are underachieving," running back Kyle Long said after Thursday's loss. "A few guys have to do some soul searching for the rest of the season and plan how they want to play the rest of these games."
Quarterback Jay Cutler is not worried about the team's motivation over the final four weeks.
"I think with the guys we have and the character and integrity of the guys, I don't think anybody's going to quit," Cutler said. "I don't think the coaches will let us. They're going to stay on us and the leaders of the team will make sure that we finish things the right way."
2) The Bears struggled to cover Calvin Johnson. With cornerback Kyle Fuller on injured reserve with a torn triceps muscle and watching from the sideline, Calvin Johnson torched the Bears secondary. The Pro Bowl receiver caught 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
"We had coverage on him hip-to-hip," said coach Marc Trestman. "Throws were accurate. He made the catches. He made some run-after-catch. He's as good as there is in this league."
Bears defensive end Willie Young played with Johnson on the Lions the previous four seasons.
"That guy is something else," Young said. "When he goes up for the ball we might just have to start grabbing him out of the air, taking the pass interference and dealing with the rest later. He does it week-in and week-out. It's always a battle with that guy."
The Bears assigned rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller to cover Johnson most of the game.
"We had an aggressive game plan when it came to that," said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. "They had showed it on tape. They were going to do what they were successful against Tampa doing, rushing with five guys and getting after the quarterback.
"Our guys up front did a heck of a job and every time we dropped back to throw it seemed like good things were happening. We just continued to do that and guys executed well."
3) The Bears finally started fast, but it didn't matter. After getting outscored 41-0 in the first quarter in their previous six games, the Bears scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time since Week 4 against the Packers. They added a second TD later in the first quarter after Jared Allen forced a Stafford fumble with a strip/sack and recovered the ball at the Detroit 5.
Alshon Jeffery produced both touchdowns on receptions of 10 and 6 yards from Cutler.
But the Lions dominated from that point on, outscoring the Bears 31-3 over the final three quarters to turn a 14-3 deficit into a 34-17 victory. The Lions outgained the Bears 474-269 and have now won three straight meetings over Chicago for the first time since 2003-04.
4) The defense is beginning a major transition. With five veteran starters out of the lineup with injuries—Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Jeremiah Ratliff, Lamarr Houston and Chris Conte—the Bears had six rookies on the field on defense at times in Fuller, cornerback Al Louis-Jean, safety Brock Vereen, linebacker Christian Jones and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.
How that group develops over the next four games and into the offseason program will play a key role in what type of 2015 season the Bears will have.