DJ Moore

Bears share bittersweet feelings knowing they're on right track, but change coming

The Bears want to keep as much of their team together as possible, but change comes for every team, every year

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The Bears were riding high into Lambeau Field on Sunday. They had put the horrendous 0-4 start to the season behind them. They were playing better football and making fewer mistakes, and that translated to a 3-1 record in December. The Bears were ready to make a statement against their bitter rivals and ride the momentum into the offseason.

But the team fell flat.

The offense didn’t score a touchdown. The defense couldn’t stop Jordan Love through the air or Aaron Jones on the ground. The final score said 17-9, but it felt the margin between the two teams was wider.

The loss stung, but as players cleaned out their lockers on Monday they were not despondent. They remained steadfast in their belief that the team is on the right track. Sunday night’s loss didn’t rattle their confidence, it just gave them another hurdle to clear over the course of the 2024 season.

“I mean, you've seen it,” said Montez Sweat, whose arrival at the trade deadline sparked a huge uptick on defense. “You've seen how the defense performed when we're on all cylinders. You've seen how the offense could perform when they're on all cylinders, too. There's definitely a foundation here that we're building upon.”

“It stings, but you’ve always got next season to piggyback off what you did this year,” said DJ Moore, who thrived as the Bears’ WR1 in his first season with the team. “We had seven wins, so why not go for — Let’s put high expectations: Let’s go 10-plus for next year and finish out games better and be a better team.”

Cairo Santos has spent five seasons with the Bears across two separate stints with the team. His latest and longest stint dates back to 2020. Like Sweat, he pointed to the foundation the Bears have built and shared his belief that the progress the Bears made in 2023 will carry over in 2024.

“We've dealt with adversity. We didn't play our best and then just kind of stuck together and turned it around, and then went into an awesome stretch there in the middle and end of season. We were playing great football. We saw a togetherness come to life and really be the foundation of our success. We've got that belief in the team, so I think everyone is really excited to already start talking about next year and start that development."

The Bears know that this team will not come back together in its entirety. No NFL team does. But it seems that the players want to keep as much of the puzzle together as possible. Obviously players are looking forward to a little R and R so that their bodies can heal up from the long season. They seem genuinely excited to come back to Halas Hall and pick up where they left off, too.

“On the plane ride coming back, I was just thinking about all of the things to build off of coming up next season,” said rookie running back Roschon Johnson.

“I really wanted some more time with the guys in this locker room,” Sweat said.

“It almost feels like the season’s not over,” said Santos. “It’s almost like Premier League, like they play the first 18 games then take a little break. So it feels like we’re just going to take a little break, then continue the work, then finish the second half of that kinda long league.”

If big changes do come– like a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, or a new quarterback– the Bears feel like they now have enough leadership in the locker room to stay on track. Last year, the same couldn’t be said. When the team traded away leaders like Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, it sent the group into a tailspin.

“We have so many pieces that are cornerstones of this team that will keep us upright in whatever changes come our way,” said Santos.

The Bears feel like they’re closer to competing, and they should. Their roster is better, the defense made huge strides and obviously the record was much improved. The loss to the Packers provided a little reality check though, and that could be important, too. It told the team that there’s still plenty of work to do before they’re ready to pull themselves out of the NFC North basement.

“Moving forward we can kind of know what to expect but also just kind of learn what not to do,” said Johnson.

“When you go back and look at all the games that we won, and then go look at the Denver game, the first Detroit game, I want to say the first Minnesota game, there’s games you could pinpoint where it’s like, ‘Dang, if this was a different outcome, you’re talking about an 11-win season right there,’” said Moore.

“It felt like we left a lot on the table,” said Santos. “We could’ve been playing in the playoffs this year. So let’s just take this break, continue that work and hit it running next year.”

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