Bill Parcells’ maxim, “You are what your record says you are” is considered an NFL truth in a league where the difference between winning and losing can be paper thin and everybody thinks they’re better than they are.
But the 2-6 Bears are trying to defy that. Linebacker Sam Acho, in fact, struggled to even just say “2-6” when discussing the Bears’ first-half plight and second-half opportunity Friday at Halas Hall.
“I don’t think of us as … that kind of record,” Acho said. “It’s still hard for me to even say it. We’re so much better than that.”
The Bears have a golden opportunity to prove that, starting with Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — another rebuilding team that thinks they’re oh-so-close to becoming somebody in the topsy-turvy NFL. Though the Bears indeed are 2-6, they are coming off a convincing home victory over the NFC-North leading Vikings on Oct. 31. They also are coming off a bye week and in will have played just one game in the previous 23 days when they take the field at Raymond James Stadium.
So they are not only well-rested, but as healthy as they’ve been since Week 1 — with guard Kyle Long and Josh Sitton returning from injuries and nose tackle Eddie Goldman a game-time decision after missing the previous six games with a high ankle sprain. Jay Cutler will be playing his second game after missing five games with a sprained thumb. Pernell McPhee will be playing his third consecutive game after missing the first six games while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Rookie Leonard Floyd has three sacks in two games since missing two games with a calf injury.
We’ll see if the Bears are ready to take the next step. Last year they were in an even better situation following a huge victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field — 5-6 after an 0-3 start, with three victories in four games and two home games against beatable teams coming up.
But whatever momentum they had was frittered away in losses to the 3-8 49ers (26-20 in overtime) and 5-7 Redskins (24-21) at Soldier Field and the Bears slogged their way to a 6-10 record, with four losses in their final five games.
Now we’ll see how far they’ve come. “It is a good measuring stick,” coach John Fox said. “It’s hard to compare seasons. Our whole football team is a completely different team.”
Actually, that’s part of the point. “We are just more talented across the board [this season],” Long said. “We’re a better football team. We’ve got better players.”
Acho takes it a step further. “You can watch the film — this team is a better team than last year’s team,” he said. “I see what we can do, whereas last year you … just look at what we did — the preparation wasn’t there. The competition during the week wasn’t there. Now the competition during the week — the commitment to excellence; the desire to be the best —all that stuff keeps growing.
“You could see it in OTAs [in the offseason]. Guys were competing. They were like, ‘I’m trying to win everything.’ Whereas last year with a younger team, it was more like, ‘Let me just make sure I’m doing my job right.’ Now I’m out here to win.”
Long can see it coming together. “I think we’ve been thrown in the fire and we’ve had to kind of meld together,” he said. “We were a bunch of metal scraps and now we’re turning into a big sheet and getting stronger and stronger. The more pieces we get thrown into the fire — I’m talking about guys getting back from injury —the stronger our armor will be.”
In the NFL, you are what your record says you are. But the Bears still are allowed to talk and feel like they’re better than that. They just have to back it up on Sunday.
“It’s a good vibe,” Long said. “There’s no reason to not feel like that. We’ve become more talented —the coaches and management have brought in the right people. We’re just in a better position to win games now.”