Full steam ahead: Bears control their own destiny, this time with staying power
When the Bears traded for Khalil Mack in early September, you knew the facelift was going to change the complexion of their future. You understood that the move would be remembered in NFL annals as one of the most shocking, galvanizing trades in professional sports history. What you couldn’t properly ascertain was the extent as to which the Bears’ future had changed, and whether the Mack trade would be more remembered for the deal itself, or his actual impact on turning his new team into a championship contender.
12 weeks later, and we have a definitive answer: the Bears have arrived, are relevant, and will likely feature in the NFL’s postseason picture and more. After a scintillating 25-20 win over the Vikings on Sunday night, there’s no other reasonable conclusion for a rambunctious team sitting in an advantageous 7-3 position with six weeks left on the docket. That’s after a result where the Bears socked the reigning NFC North champions in Minnesota in the mouth, and never received retribution in return because of how relentless they were.
Thanks to the addition of Mack and the steadying modern presence of a head coach in Matt Nagy, these Bears are here to stay. They’ve booked their hotel room among the NFL’s elite, and they plan on extending their stay for quite awhile. Why not get comfortable? They have everything going for them. It’s time to live a life of luxury. A tension-filled but resounding victory over the previous class of the Bears’ division enlightened as much. It was all the information we needed to know how good and how real these Bears are.
“We grew stronger,” Nagy said in his Monday press conference of the unifying experience for his team. “We became closer in so many ways.”
That’s what happens when the Bears finally meet expectations. Nay. When the Bears exceed all preordained expectations and are now capable of dreaming big and reaching for the stars of the NFC. Anything is possible when talent, discipline, and chemistry work in beautiful, synchronized harmony.
“I wanted them to soak it all in and have that feeling,” Nagy said.
What was previously impossible in a playoff berth for the Bears, will now be disappointing if it doesn’t come to fruition. A team riding high on it’s first four-game winning streak since 2012 has loftier goals than just making it into the dance. They’ve been taking some classes and want to show off their moves after an extended (seven-year) absence.
What was previously impossible in Pro Bowl berths and national recognition galore, now has NFL pundits all around taking notice of the core of the Bears have built. It’s not just Mack in this bunch.
It’s Eddie Jackson – who had a game-winning pick-six against the Vikings – that is increasingly becoming one of the most terrifying defensive backs for quarterbacks to deal with. It’s Akiem Hicks who decided to impose his will on the Minnesota offensive line as long as he felt like it. Spoiler alert: he felt like it the entire night. It’s Leonard Floyd, finally living up to expectations of a versatile and beyond talented former first-round pick.
The names and lists could go on and on and it’s not because the Bears are overachieving through any stretch of the imagination. It’s because there’s a belief in their process. They know what they’re capable of. They understand how long it took and the amount of work involved in becoming this prominent of a contender again. They’re not about to waste a precious opportunity. One could argue this hungry team is still improving, waiting for another primetime moment to show off in front of the entire country.
The last time the Bears started a season 7-3, it was the beginning of the end for the Brian Urlacher and Lovie Smith era. A team that started the season 7-1 overall would lose five of it’s last eight games in a deflating and flawed collapse at all levels. A disappointing end to a revitalizing era.
The year before that, the Bears started 7-3 on the heels of a five-game winning streak. Their optimism didn’t last long as a Jay Cutler broken thumb in the midst of that seventh victory over the Chargers ended a promising season before it only had just begun. Caleb Hanie a prominent black mark of a name in the context of Bears’ quarterbacking failure as Chicago would lose five of it’s last six games.
Two flawed Bears rosters and philosophies both failing in spectacular but crushing fashion.
There’s something different about these revitalized Bears, and it isn’t just the talent. There’s unity and energy in every phase. Everyone is playing for each other, with each other, and having fun doing it. Everyone’s on the same page, with nary a stray soldier or mind in the ranks as focus hasn’t been this high on the lakefront since, oh, 12 years ago. The Bears’ process has merit, and there’s a strong foundation as to what the Ryan Pace-Matt Nagy Bears can do both in the short term and long term. The league’s best defense in a surplus of categories and an offense that still hasn’t completely broken through says as much. Who’s going to stand in their way?
If the Bears win out the rest of their schedule – unlikely, but certainly possible if you’ve been paying attention – they will have earned a first-round bye in the NFC. An unthinkable proposition to utter a mere three months ago, but that’s the state of affairs in this meteoric rise for the Bears. They keep breaking through the metaphorical ceiling while everyone around them exasperatingly asks, “how much higher?”
At this blistering pace, everything is up in the air for the Bears, in a good way. They can clearly accomplish anything they put their mind to. One step at a time.
It’s on to Detroit and a very thankful Thanksgiving Bears showcase at a million miles per hour.
“We’re sending home the message of ‘here we go’,” Nagy said Monday. “We’re right back at it.”
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.