Let’s see now … if the Bears win out and finish 10-6 and the Seahawks lose to the Vikings and Cardinals, or the Packers lose to the …
“I’m not going to get caught up in that,” Bears linebacker Willie Young said Monday when asked about playoff talk and everything else that comes with a monumental upset of the Packers, “because the people who are patting us on the back now are the same people who were throwing us under the bus four or five weeks ago.
“We can’t be distracted by what goes on outside of here. The guys in this locker room know what’s going on. Other than that, it’s irrelevant.”
Yeah, but the playoffs sure seem like a more relevant topic now than a week ago. Right, Willie?
“Hell no, that’s not the case,” Young said in protest. “We’ve got to play San Fran [on Sunday at Soldier Field]. San Fran just held their own against Arizona [losing 19-13]. We can’t get get caught up in that. With my experience, I know. we beat a good team. But I know that has nothing to do with this week. Nor does it have anything to do with the following week or the next week or the next week after that.
“It’s got nothing to do with that. You see it week-in and week-out [in the NFL] — you have to stay consistent and stay who you are and everything else will take care of itself. Just because we beat Green Bay doesn’t mean we got over [the hump].”
No, it doesn’t. But it does alter the Bears’ landscape a bit. After beating the Packers fair-and-square — with Aaron Rodgers playing from start to finish — at Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night, the Bears suddenly have the wind at their back: Since their 0-3 start, the Bears are 5-3, with the only losses by three points in overtime to the Lions, three points to the Vikings and two points to the Broncos. In five games since the bye week, Vic Fangio’s defense has allowed an average of 14.4 points — third best in the NFL in that span.
Now they have 10 days to prepare for a 3-8 Niners team that Fangio is well acquainted with and has struggled on the road this season: 0-5 and outscored 276-71 — losing by an average of three touchdowns a game. Following that are other beatable opponents: the Redskins (5-6), Buccaneers (5-6) and Lions (4-7).
The Bears, a developing team all season under John Fox — even when they were 0-3 — are at that point where they believe they can be somebody, but can’t let that much confidence show. Their challenge after beating the Packers is to keep their feet on the ground and their focus squarely on the next game.
“We don’t want to look too far down the road,” said cornerback Tracy Porter, who is getting the star-is-born treatment already this week, “because then we can overlook an opponent and that’s how you get beat by an inferior team.”
Just that the Bears are at a point where they can acknowledge the existence of “inferior” opponents tells you how far they’ve come and how good they feel about themselves. But the signs are everywhere. They opened as seven-point favorites over the 49ers — the first time the Bears have been favored since Week 12 last season against the Buccaneers. The last time they were favored by seven points or more was in Week 1 against the Bills last year. That’s when everybody thought the Bears were an up-and-coming team and it turned out they were headed in the opposite direction.
But that was almost a whole roster ago. A whole front-office ago. And a whole coaching staff ago. This team’s rise appears more genuine. And the Bears are determined not to get too far ahead of themselves. In actuality, even at 10-6, the Bears would need help to push the Packers (7-4) or Seahawks (6-5) out of the final wild-card spot in the NFC.
“I don’t think we have the room to think [playoffs] right now. We’re still 5-6. We have a long way to go,” Porter said. “You have to take are of the opponent in front of you. Yes, Green Bay was a huge win for us — in prime time, playing one of the greatest teams in the NFL. But we’re right back to where we started. We have to regroup and prepare for the 49ers. We know they’re not going to lay down for us by any means.”