Justin Fields

Bears vibes are through the roof, and that's important heading into 2024

The Bears feel like they're building something special, and they might be right

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There was a distinct smell in the Bears locker room after their 37-17 rout of the Falcons on Sunday. It was the smell of determination, effort and hard work. It was the smell of victo–

–Wait, no. That wasn’t it. It was the smell of cigars.

That’s right. To celebrate a blowout win in their home finale, and to ring in the year, the Bears enjoyed some celebratory stogies. A popped bottle of champagne was spotted too.

To say the least, vibes are high for the Bears right now.

“With the wins and the team camaraderie that we have going on, everybody’s just loving on each other,” said Justin Fields. “Having that relationship with guys in the locker room, it feels like high school or college again… That’s what it feels like and it’s a great feeling.”

If the 2022 Bears season was about tearing things down at the beginning of a rebuild, then 2023 was about putting up the structure for the future of the franchise. The Bears were without a doubt the worst team in the NFL last season, but things never felt glum in the locker room. Sure, the team was appropriately dejected after bad losses, but in the following weeks of practice it always felt like there was hope for better days ahead.

The Bears won’t make the playoffs this year. Only a Vikings-Packers tie on Sunday Night Football can keep their dreams alive for one more week. Nor are the Bears close to contending for a conference title, but those better days are here.

Without a doubt, the Bears are far from being the worst team in the league for a second year in a row. They are playing solid football, bring a more competitive product to the field more consistently, and they’re winning games. They’ve already more than doubled their 2022 win total, going from three wins last year to seven wins this year. They’ve won five in a row at home, something they haven’t done since 2018. And they can close out the season with another big win at Lambeau Field next week.

“I’m just happy that it’s finally paying off and everybody’s getting to see it,” said Eddie Jackson. “This defense, this team in general, it’s special. The plays Justin (Fields) and the offense is making, it’s unreal. Us coming out here and keep getting these turnovers. It’s showing you what we got, the type of things we’ve got on the team, the type of people we’ve got on the roster.”

Jackson is one of the longest-tenured Bears now, and remains one of the swaggiest. He’s been with Chicago through all sorts of ups and downs, from the 14-game losing streak between last year and this year to that impressive 12-4 season in 2018. He said that team morale now is by far the highest it’s been since 2018 when the team felt they were one missed kick away from a Super Bowl berth.

“It’s crazy because it’s kinda similar to that (season),” Jackson said. “The vibe definitely feels like that.”

“Everyone knows where we’re going,” said Justin Jones. “This is what we’ve been working for, this is what we’ve been talking about. Everybody’s been talking about staying the course and just chipping away. When you’re talking to the media or fans that’s white noise, but that’s really what we’re standing on here. I’m just glad that we’re finally showing it’s not lip service to the world.”

Montez Sweat kept his assessment simple: “We’re building something special.”

Many folks credit Sweat’s addition as being a tipping point for the Bears this season. The effect he made on the defense is undeniable. He’s been the bonafide pass rusher they’ve needed since trading away Khalil Mack and raised the profile of the entire unit. He makes everyone’s job easier and impressive results have followed.

But Sweat was impressed by the spirit of the Bears locker room when he arrived and said the team helped him to be himself and play his game.

“I really adapted to these boys’ culture,” Sweat said. “They really already had a good culture and when I got here all I had to do was fall in line.”

If 2022 was about tearing these down and 2023 was about building things up again, then 2024 is about taking the next step as real competitors. The Bears know it. They feel it. That’s important.

Heading into the offseason with momentum cannot be discounted, and you don’t have to look far for examples. Take this year’s Lions team for instance, or the 2021 Bengals.

In Detroit, things looked bleak after a 1-6 start to the 2022 season. The team found more ways to lose than win and people started to wonder whether biting kneecaps was enough to win with Dan Campbell at the helm. But the Lions had a breakthrough near the halfway mark and finished the season on an 8-2 run. Now they’re NFC North champions and look like they have a real chance to fight for a conference title.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals hoped to build around Joe Burrow in 2020, but stumbled to a 2-10-1 record in his first season. But they won two out of their last three, drafted Ja’Marr Chase the following year, and made it to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2021 season.

“We’re doing our thing right now,” said Jackson. That chemistry is really clicking right now, everyone’s back healthy, everyone’s flying around and making plays. Everyone’s stepping to the plate and stepping up to the challenge of being the best version of themselves.”

Of course a step forward isn’t guaranteed next season. Nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. But the Bears are headed into the new year with feelings that happiness and prosperity are ahead.

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