After the Bears moved to 5-3 two weeks ago, coach Lovie Smith admitted it sometimes felt like his team was 2-6. The team made so many mistakes, that a market correction in their record looked inevitable.
A funny thing happened over the last five days, though. The Bears actually look like a playoff group.
Chicago’s 16-0 drubbing of the Dolphins Thursday was a huge step towards making the tournament. The Bears may not always look spectacular, but their 7-3 record is very real.
Jay Cutler, Mike Martz, and the Bears offensive line gets all the attention. But it is the healthy, reborn Bears defense that has keyed their record. Sure, Thursday’s game wasn’t a fair fight. The Dolphins were stuck with their third-string center, third-string quarterback, and no Brandon Marshall in the second half.
That’s not Chicago’s fault and they handled the depleted Dolphins like a good team should. (Miami did beat Tennessee last Sunday, don’t forget.) Even before Thursday’s win, the Bears defense was among the top four NFL defenses in yards, points, yards-per-rush allowed, and yards-per-passing attempt allowed. Those rankings will climb.
For three years after Smith’s only Super Bowl appearance, the Bears defense was average, adrift, and often injured. This year, the addition of Julius Peppers along with healthy campaigns from Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman has turned the Bears defense into a major weapon again.
“Our defense is better than it was back [in 2006],” Urlacher said on NFL Network after the game.
7 wins doesn’t guarantee the Bears anything in a deep NFC. They still have games against the Eagles, Jets, and Patriots, plus three road games in the division. It’s a lot easier to see a path to 10 wins after Thursday’s result.
Jay Cutler is not going to stop mistakes overnight, but the Bears have found a formula that works for them. Martz has stuck with the run of late, even early in games. After a disastrous start to the year, Cutler has converted 28 of 49 third downs (57%) over the last three weeks. They are sustaining drives and letting Devin Hester’s returns and the defense win games for them.
You could say the Bears have an identity. They know who they are, and what weaknesses they have to cover up. Squint real hard and Jay Cutler even looks little like Rex Grossman.