Shocked. Stunned. Confused. Those are the emotions that were oozing out of the faces of the Bear players in the locker room after Sunday’s dramatic 13-10 overtime loss to Denver.

DENVER — Shocked. Stunned. Confused.

Those are the emotions that were oozing out of the faces of the Bear players in the locker room after Sunday’s dramatic 13-10 overtime loss to Denver.

“It’s beyond shocking. I mean, wow. Oh, man,” said Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, boarding on tears as he sat next to his locker just minutes after it all ended. “At the end there, when I was getting into my stance, I turned to (Julius Peppers), and I was like: ‘How the heck did we get in this position. Why are we about to lose this game.’ I was beyond shocked.

“Then after, I was like: ‘What just happened?’”

What just happened was that the Bears were most likely knocked out of the playoffs with their third straight loss. Victories by Detroit (8-5) and Atlanta (8-5) put Chicago (7-6) behind in the chase for the final wild-card slot, and the Bears are clearly reeling after they fell to 0-3 without their offensive leader, Jay Cutler.

What looked like a title contender just a month ago now appears to be a team just waiting for the inevitable.

“This is tough to swallow,” said safety Craig Steltz, who had five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. “It’s going to be tough to move past this one.”

If anything can be learned by the demeanor of the Bear players after Sunday’s Tim Tebow-led comeback, it’s that Chicago’s season ended at about 6:40 p.m. Sunday night. Even Melton, who had a great game with a sack and two tackles for losses, just shook his head and sighed when asked how they can rebound from a loss like this.

And the frustration is not just stemming from Sunday. This is the third straight week that the Bears let one slip away. However, it was clear that this one stung worse than any others.

“We definitely gave this one to them,” Bear quarterback Caleb Hanie said.

This time they were leading 10-0 with just over two minutes left when it all began to unravel. And after Tebow had racked up five fourth-quarter comebacks in the past seven weeks, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Mile High Stadium began to come to life late in the day.

But still, even though they knew what was coming, the Bears couldn’t stop it. Running back Marion Barber, sharing time with Kahlil Bell while Matt Forte heals from a knee injury, made two key mistakes late that damaged the Bears’ chances of hanging on.

He stepped out of bounds instead of going down shortly before the two-minute warning, giving what Denver head coach John Fox estimated to be about 35 extra seconds to get into field-goal range to tie the game at 10. That’s what they did: On a Matt Prater 59-yard field goal with three seconds left.

Then, as the Bears were charging down the field in overtime, already in field-goal range themselves, Barber’s final gaff proved to be the dagger. He coughed up a fumble on a third-and-seven from the Broncos’ 38-yard-line, and nine plays later Prater finished it off with a 51-yard kick.

Tebow was 3-for-4 through the air in the overtime drive, and was 10-for-12 with a spike from the 4:34 mark of the fourth quarter on. And on the third straight Sunday, the Bears watched as their playoff hopes slipped away with a fourth-quarter turnaround that ended in a Chicago loss.

Why? It’s quite clear Bears don’t know.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I just don’t know,” said Peppers, who had another of the Bears’ five sacks. “We didn’t play well enough to win; that’s all I know at the end of the game. It hurts a lot.”

That much was clear. The pain that was felt from Sunday’s loss was evident in the facial expressions of every Bear in that Mile High Stadium locker room. What’s not clear is whether or not the team will be able to turn that pain into joy with their own Tebow-like turnaround over the next three weeks.

Jay Taft covers the Chicago Bears for the Rockford Register Star. He can be reached at 815-987-1384 or jtaft@rrstar.com.