DENVER, NOV. 17 -- There is no such thing as a simple defeat for the Chicago Bears anymore; not even by two points on the road against a Super Bowl team with a hot quarterback.

There was Bears Coach Mike Ditka, a very few moments after his team's 31-29 Monday night loss to the Denver Broncos, warming the cold Mile High night with a stream of steamy words aimed at his regular players who had lost for the first time this season. If they should somehow lose two straight, which they haven't done since 1984, Ditka might have to be confined. After three straight come-from-behind victories, a month of living dangerously finally caught up with the Bears.

"All we're doing right now is existing," he began a five-minute tirade, aimed at virtually everybody in a Chicago uniform, and defensive end Richard Dent specifically. "I've never been this embarrassed before. This is a very undisciplined football team.

"What we've built here {a 36-5 regular season record in the last three seasons, and a Super Bowl victory}, we've lost. We've lost discipline and the will to excel. We only have the will to exist. We'll be one of 28 teams in the NFL now, and we'll just play out the schedule, I guess."

His voice was growing firmer; he was just getting started. When someone suggested there was plenty of time to get back to form, he said: "There's no guarantees we'll ever get back what we had. I don't see how we're going to get it back. No, I don't think we will. It has to come from the individuals, and these individuals, I found out tonight, are not willing to give it."

The Bears led, 14-0, after two offensive series and took a 29-21 lead into the fourth quarter on the strength of Jim McMahon's best passing game (21 for 34, 311 yards and three touchdowns).

But it was a bad goal-line decision by McMahon to hand off to William (The Refrigerator) Perry, who fumbled away another touchdown, and a lack of defensive pass rush that had Ditka's hair on end. Also, the Bears missed two extra points in the second half that could have sent the game into overtime.

Denver quarterback John Elway completed 21 of 40 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, and wasn't sacked all night. "We took the first step at immortalizing Elway and putting him in the Hall of Fame," Ditka fumed.

Much of his anger was directed at Dent, an all-pro right defensive end, who got hold of Elway several times but never brought him down. Dent also jumped offside five times. "Who do we have that's a good pass rusher now? You gonna tell me Richard Dent?" Ditka asked, daring a response.

"He's not a very good one right now. He's a very undisciplined player. He's hurting us more than he's helping us, and he's offside half the game."

Dent answered: "I'm not going to let anything he says bother me. I can pass rush. I'm not going to cry about it or get mad. And as far as that Hall of Fame stuff, hell, Elway's going to the Hall of Fame anyway. Doesn't the guy make $2 million a year? Anybody who makes $2 million a year oughta be in the Hall of Fame."

Some of the Bears were in no mood to hear Ditka's tirade, some were angry, and others, such as Mike Singletary -- probably Ditka's favorite player besides Walter Payton -- looked completely depressed.

Dave Duerson, an all-pro safety, was miffed. He knows the defense has played poorly enough since the strike ended for the team to be 4-5 instead of 7-2. Duerson, in fact, could be replaced by Gary Fencik if Ditka really goes through with his threat to bench some starters.

But Duerson added: "For what it's worth, we're 7-2 and this wasn't a do-or-die game for us. Obviously, some things have to change. But we're still a good football team, although we didn't prove it against Denver."

McMahon blamed himself for the loss, largely because he shouldn't have handed the ball to Perry in the first place, and also because he threw the interception in the fourth quarter that led to Denver's winning touchdown. "I screwed up," he said, "and I should take the heat."

But when he was asked to comment on Ditka's statement about the Bears having "no discipline," he rolled his eyes to the sky and said: "Next question."

The Bears certainly need some answers in the next two weeks before games against Minnesota, San Francisco, Seattle and the Raiders. Since the strike, they have given up an average of 27 points per game, after allowing an average of less than 12 points last season.

Their offense has played well, and it appears Payton (12 carries for 73 yards) is rejuvenated. But it won't mean a thing if the defense can't stop somebody.

Meanwhile, the Broncos (5-3-1) improved their wild-card standing and stayed within shouting distance of the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos have no rushing to speak of, and aren't overwhelming defensively. But they have Elway, and the advantage of playing in the AFC, where Indianapolis and Houston are as threatening as anyone.