By Chris Emma--
TAMPA, Fla. (CBS) -- Say goodbye to those slight glimmers of hope that filled Halas Hall in the week leading up to Sunday's battering of the Bears.
Certainly bid farewell to the short-lived conversation of a comeback in this bad NFC North race. Stick a fork in any sort of Bears prospects for 2016. They couldn't even compete with the Buccaneers, falling 36-10 at Raymond James Stadium.
Oh, and adios to the good vibes that were felt in Lake Forest leading to the Bears' trip to sunny Florida. The Bucs rained all over their parade. It was Chicago's worst loss since 2014, a season that spiraled out of control.
"I didn't see this coming," Bears coach John Fox said after his most embarrassing loss as the team's coach.
One couldn't have predicted the NFC North would be so bad, but the fact that it is kept the Bears' hopes for a push alive. They entered Sunday at 2-6, three games back of first place, and were facing a Bucs team that entered at 3-5 and winless at home.
Then, everything went wrong for Chicago.
Jay Cutler made a mindless throw that went to the hands of former Bears safety Chris Conte, who high-stepped his way to the end zone for a pick-six.
Early in the second quarter, Bears Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long was carted off with what appeared to be a potentially serious right ankle injury. The next play, Cutler fumbled it away for his third turnover of the first half.
Minutes into the third quarter, Leonard Floyd whiffed on a sack of Jameis Winston, who scrambled and found receiver Mike Evans near midfield. On the next play, Winston beat the Bears deep on a 43-yard touchdown strike to receiver Freddie Martino. Was that rock bottom for the Bears? Not quite.
Late in the third quarter, Eddie Royal nearly picked up a safety on a punt return inside the 5-yard line. Three plays later, Cutler fumbled in the end zone for a safety, his fourth turnover of the game. He handed nine points to the Bucs' defense himself.
Cutler had one of his worst performances in a Bears uniform and helped his team get closer to a high draft pick -- and potentially a new franchise quarterback.
This simply wasn't the same Bears team that beat the Vikings two weeks ago.
"Great observation, it wasn't," Cutler replied to that premise. "We didn't play well. I didn't play well."
Congratulations to the Lions, who gained on every team in the division and ascended into a first-place tie ... in their bye week. This so easily could've been the Bears this season if they were just average in John Fox's second season.
They were a long ways from that Sunday. Year 2 for Fox leading the Bears has been rough. The final seven games, which will feel like a death march to fans, will be about developing young players. Fox is now 8-17 as the team's head coach. Reported friction between Fox and the front office could force change at season's end, and general manager Ryan Pace would win that war.
Pernell McPhee wanted the Bears to be pissed off for the second half of the season. Virginia McCaskey certainly must be pissed off again.
There have been tough breaks for the Bears, with Long's injury the latest, and some individual bright spots -- Howard and Floyd to name a few -- but it's hard to quantify this season as anything other than a major disappointment. Perhaps the Bears can mark collective progress in the end, but it was hard to fathom that Sunday in Tampa.
Fox has to wear this one. He was brought to the Bears with a track record of developing teams into contenders. That trend was supposed to begin in Year 2, and Pace has done what he could in trying to overhaul this roster in a long process.
"It falls on all of us," Fox said.
The Bears' blame game starts with Fox, whose seat is likely getting hotter with the organization.
What was maddening about this Bears on Sunday was that even at 2-6, they still had some semblance of a chance -- beat the Bucs, try to stack some wins and creep back in the race. They were hardly even in the game.
Gone is any hope for this Bears season. It's on reserve for an offseason that needs to bring serious change.
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