LAKE FOREST – Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't subscribe to the theory that his team's 7-1 record is more a reflection of an easy first half of a schedule than of an elite team.
Either way, after facing eight teams with a combined 27-39 record, the Bears now face a much harder task that begins Sunday night against the Houston Texans in Soldier Field. After the 7-1 Texans, the Bears head west for a Monday night game against the San Francisco 49ers (6-2). The Bears' next eight opponents have a combined 42-27 record.
"You are what your record says you are," Smith said Monday, one day after a 51-20 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans. "We're a 7-1 football team. We're a good football team. We're excited about playing the Texans.
"Each game as you continue to win, the stakes go up a little higher each week. We realize that and we're going to embrace that. We're going to embrace this national stage we have this Sunday night."
The Bears have fared well under the lights this season, going 2-0 on Monday nights, 1-0 on Sunday night and 0-1 on Thursday.
"This is a veteran group that has been in these situations before," Smith said. "We're not going to get too high, they're just going to be real with their play."
Their play has been nothing short of dominant, especially on defense where the Bears created five more turnovers on Sunday to increase their total to 28. They have 17 interceptions, including seven returned for touchdowns, and a plus-16 turnover/takeaway differential. The Bears have yet to face an opponent with a positive differential, but six of the final eight opponents have more takeaways than turnovers.
"This is the NFL, no game is easy," said Bears defensive lineman Corey Wootton, who scored a touchdown on a blocked punt Sunday. "This isn't like college where you play your nonconference games against I-AA teams.
"These people all get paid, and everybody in the NFL is a good player. Anyone can beat anyone on any given Sunday."
Having said that, Wootton understands the challenge facing the Bears on Sunday.
"Definitely, 7-1, great record, great run game," Wootton said on "The Carmen, Jurko & Harry Show" on ESPN 1000. "We know how important this game is, setting the tone and really showing people what we can do."
Smith is taking a more relaxed approach, at least publicly.
"You look at each opponent as they come in," Smith said. "It's as simple as that. We're looking at one play at a time.
"I know we have the Texans next and I have an idea of some of the other teams coming up. We have enough veterans in the room to stay focused. We're not looking too far (in advance). One play at a time."
That's as far as Smith would go in terms of looking ahead.
"We haven't peaked yet," Smith said. "Assuming once you peak, if you peak, you may start thinking that (looking ahead) way. But not us."