Throughout all the losing, all the heartbreak, all the squandered opportunities, the Bears have always said they believed better times were ahead. They believed they were on the right track. It’s something all players say when their team is down and out, but you can usually tell when a player is saying it just to say it and when a player really believes it. In the Bears’ case, it always felt like they truly believed they were just a couple of plays away from a win and a breakthrough.
Now, for the first time since Matt Eberflus took over as head coach, the team has won two games in a row. And Eberflus and the players alike took the development as a sign that they’re doing things the right way.
“It’s just like anything. You want to see the proof of it,” Eberflus said. “To have a win like this, it’s proof for (the players), it’s proof for the staff, it’s proof for Chicago Bears fans.”
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“It basically just shows us the formula of winning,” said Justin Fields. “Takeaways, explosive plays, third down conversions, stuff like that… As long as we focus on those aspects, those situations, we’re more likely gonna win a game than lose a game.”
The biggest improvement has come on Eberflus’ side of the ball: the defense. The team has gone from fielding one of the worst run defenses in the league to one of the best in just one season. The team still allows some of the most points scored in the league, but it’s improved from 27.2 points per game in 2022 to 23.8 points per game this year. Over their past four games, they’ve been much better, surrendering just 16.8 points on average.
“The last three or four games that we’ve played, the defense has played really freaking well,” said Justin Jones. “Obviously, last time we played Detroit, we just didn’t finish. That’s a helluva team over there. A helluva team over there. We just gotta make sure we play 60 minutes.”
That was the prevailing thought in the locker room after their loss to the Lions in Week 11. The Lions didn’t do anything special to win that game. The Bears let them off the hook with mistakes they made. They were supremely confident in their ability to beat the Lions, they just had to do their jobs well and avoid self-inflicted wounds.
That’s exactly what they did on Sunday, and after the game Jaylon Johnson said the defense’s confidence is at an all-time high.
“We’ve been doing a heckuva job keeping teams out of the endzone, a heckuva job on third downs getting off the field, getting sacks, getting turnovers,” Johnson said. “Overall, we’re confident.”
Ryan Poles deserves his share of the credit for the turnaround with his gutsy trade for Montez Sweat. The new defensive end has made a remarkable impact on the unit with his effective pass rush and high-pressure rates. Sweat’s presence not only allows Eberflus to call a game to his liking with fewer blitzes and more guys dropping back into coverage, it also creates better opportunities for his teammates on the line and in the secondary.
Since teams need to focus on Sweat, others on the DL draw more one-on-ones. His pressure also pushes quarterbacks and ball carriers into other Bears players. Further, he speeds up the clock for opposing quarterbacks, which forces more bad throws and gives the guys playing behind the line more chances for interceptions. Before the Sweat trade, the Bears had six interceptions over eight games. Since the Sweat trade, they have had nine interceptions over five games.
“The players that we brought in, everybody is trusting each other, playing for one another, loving each other,” said Jaquan Brisker. “The coaches have been great. They’ve been locked in. The buy-in has been pretty good.”
“I think it’s a big deal,” said Eberflus. “It’s been a long time coming to win two in a row, and it’s two division opponents, which is big. The guys are super excited, and we could feel this coming. With the improvements that were happening over time, I was telling them, ‘If you keep doing it right, it’s gonna be right, and good things are going to happen.’”
Good things finally did happen after plenty of bad things over the past year and a half. That’s not to say that the Bears have just flipped a switch and are ready to push for the playoffs from here on out. There will still be bumps in the road because growth is never linear. But Eberflus praised the Bears for sticking together through adversity to reach this humble two-game win streak, and there’s no reason to believe the team will fall apart when they hit adversity again. That’s a real testament to players, coaches, and personnel staff alike.
“The guys always stayed together,” said Eberflus. “There was never a point where the morale was bad.”
Moving forward, the win against the Lions is finally a bit of positive reinforcement for a team that has had close to none recently. Again, it’s giving them confidence that they’re building their young team the right way.
“Keep everything the same,” Fields said. “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. There’s still a lot of spots to improve upon.
“I expect nothing for us but to keep coming together, keep getting better, and just keep working.”