Turnaround shows Bears’ resilience
He was a popular man and it was easy to see why.
After all, he came through with a late interception, and his team moved closer to a first-round bye, further distancing itself from earlier struggles.
With seven wins in eight games, the Bears sure are looking better as they wind up the regular season at Green Bay this week.
“I think that the team has done a tremendous job,” Harris said. “We kind of had everything against us. Nobody really believed except the guys in the locker room, and we still expect it to be that way. We’re happy (with) the position we’re in. We’re happy (with) the position we put ourselves in to get a first-round bye in the playoffs.”
It’s something few outside their locker room envisioned as they dropped three of four heading into their off week. But a team that appeared to be in disarray has, if nothing else, shown it is resilient.
The Bears (11-4) could have a bye locked up by the time they arrive at Lambeau Field, if Philadelphia loses to struggling Minnesota tonight. If not, a rivalry game will get some added intrigue, with Green Bay aiming for a playoff spot and Chicago eyeing avoiding the wild-card round.
“I figured there would be some things on the line when we played them the last game of the season, and there is—for us,” coach Lovie Smith said. “They’re dealing with their own scenarios on how they’re getting in and things like that, but for us, we would like to get the bye.
“To have an opportunity to sweep our division would be (good). We realize that things could happen and we could have the bye before that. We’re not thinking that way. We feel like we have to beat the Packers to accomplish our regular-season goals, and that’s that we’re going to go to work to do.”
Smith wouldn’t say if he’ll rest players should the Eagles lose, but that’s what he has done in the past, with mixed results at best.
With a bye locked up in 2005, the Bears rested quarterback Rex Grossman among other players in the final regular-season game against Minnesota and got knocked out at home by Carolina two weeks later.
They rested players the following year in a meaningless game against Green Bay and barely squeaked by Seattle in the playoffs, beating the Seahawks in overtime on their way to the Super Bowl.
“I think we kept the pedal down then,” Smith said. “In ’05, we lost. In ’06, we went through the same schedule and we won. Either way, you can get the job done. I think the ’06 team was better and that’s why we won. I think it still comes down to that. I don’t think if guys get 20 less plays in a game then all of a sudden they stop playing good football. I just don’t see it that way.”
What he sees is a team in good shape, one that has stayed remarkably healthy and is peaking down the stretch.
Sure, they’ve seen their share of weaker teams and third-string quarterbacks during this run. The defense has also struggled in two of the past three games, getting run over by New England in a 36-7 loss and bailed out against the Jets, but the offense and special teams are clicking.
Devin Hester is back to his old tricks on returns, forcing opponents to either avoid him or risk a touchdown by kicking to him.
Quarterback Jay Cutler isn’t taking the sort of pounding he was earlier in the season. They’re getting more out of the running game, with Matt Forte averaging 5.7 yards per carry over the past five games. He now has 978 yards on the season after going for 113 against the Jets.
“We’re playing the way we expected this offense to be,” Forte said.