ST. LOUIS -- Playoffs?
With all due respect to former NFL head coach Jim Mora Sr., the Bears have a more optimistic view of their chances to reach the postseason after beginning the year 0-3.
“As you see [Sunday] in the NFL, anything can happen,” Bears right tackle Kyle Long said.
Long, of course, was referring to Detroit’s shocking win in Green Bay, which put Chicago (4-5) just two games behind the Packers (6-3) in the NFC North following the Bears’ 37-13 win in St. Louis. The 7-2 Vikings currently sit atop the division, but the NFC wild-card chase is wide open.
Now, the Bears’ path to the postseason is rife with obstacles. Chicago is a dreadful 1-5 in conference play, but a quick glance at the schedule reveals winnable NFC games versus San Francisco, Washington, Tampa Bay and Detroit over the final two-plus months.
Head coach John Fox prefers to keep the focus week to week, but those in the locker room are not ready to abandon their playoff hopes.
“Absolutely. That’s why we play the game. We don’t play to end the season on Jan. 3,” Bears tight end Zach Miller said. “Hey, there’s a lot of football to play still. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve got to do.”
Miller said there is a different energy around the Bears after winning four of six.
“I could start to feel it three weeks ago even when we had those close losses,” Miller said. “There has just been a different feeling of confidence. We went through stretches where we didn’t finish well, but I feel as we move forward we are in a good spot. The confidence is building.”
The tipping point for the Bears’ season, however, happens in the next two weeks when Chicago hosts Denver, followed by a trip to Green Bay on Thanksgiving night.
You can forget about the playoffs if the Bears tumble to 4-7. But let’s say Chicago somehow salvages at least a split against the Broncos and Packers; the schedule softens up to where eight, perhaps even nine, victories is not out of the question.
“I think every team should have that goal [of reaching the playoffs] at the beginning of the season,” Long said. “As the season goes, you get a better indicator of what you need to do in order to get there. You’d be lying to yourself if you didn’t say you noticed improvement in this team from a toughness standpoint and from an X’s and O’s standpoint. But we have our work cut out for us. We have a lot of good teams coming in to play us. We have to prepare our butts off for [Denver].”
Welcome to the NFL, where mediocrity is the norm. The Bears fit right in. And for once, that’s not a bad thing.