Now comes the hard part for the Bears — dealing with prosperity.
As coach John Fox — channeling his inner Rudyard Kipling — has said many times already, “Every day you’re dealing with adversity or prosperity. They’re both hard to deal with for most people.”
After their 17-13 upset of the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night, that indeed will be the challenge for the Bears —still in a formative stage in their first year under general manager Ryan Pace and Fox. The Bears are winning with belief and good coaching more than a great roster. That makes upsets possible, but leaves a lot of room for a reversal of fortune.
The Bears have the league’s attention after a prime-time upset of a Super Bowl contender on the road. They’re not going to sneak up on anybody. And the expectations are sure to get ramped up with a manageable schedule in the final five weeks against the 49ers (3-7), Redskins (4-6), Vikings (7-3), Buccaneers (5-5) and Lions (4-7). There will be a lot more questions about the playoffs — and if they don’t think playoff chatter can impact their performance, they’re not as ready to win as they might think.
“The sky’s the limit for us, based on where we’ve come from Day One,” linebacker Willie Young said. “[Beating the Packers] just reassures us that we can win big games. We can beat a playoff contender and a winning team.”
This is where veteran coaches Fox and Vic Fangio will have to do their best work —keeping this team’s feet on the ground. In Fox’s first season in Denver in 2011, the Broncos won seven of eight games after the bye to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the AFC West title and the playoffs at 8-5 after almost improbably beating the Bears at Mile High Stadium. They lost their final three games to the Patriots (41-23), the Bills (40-14) and Chiefs (7-3), but still made the playoffs at 8-8.
The Bears have grown up quickly in Fox’s first season. But the work has just begun.
2. Jay Cutler didn’t put up big numbers against the Packers, but his efficient performance in inclement conditions might have been as important as the Bears’ defensive performance against Aaron Rodgers. It was the first time in 13 games against the Packers since coming to the Bears in 2009 that Cutler did throw an interception. His 90.4 passer rating was his second-highest against the Packers.
3. The Bears actually defended Rodgers better than most when Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were playing at a high level — Rodgers once went six consecutive games without a passer rating of 100 or better from 2008-11. And Rodgers had a 55.4 rating (no touchdowns, two interceptions) against the Urlacher/Briggs Bears in the NFC Championship Game after the 2010 season.
But Rodgers’ 62.4 rating on Thursday night (22-of-43, 202 yards, one touchdown, one interception) was his lowest against the Bears in the regular season. In the second half of a close game, he was 9-of-21 for 87 yards, no touchdowns and an interception for a 35.2 rating.
4. Vic Fangio’s impact on the Bears’ defense can’t be overstated — particularly his knack for getting production from unheralded players: undrafted rookie cornerback Bryce Callahan, undrafted rookie linebacker Jonathan Anderson, Packers cast-off Bruce Gaston and Eagles cast-off Chris Prosinski all contributed to the victory over the Packers.
5. Prosinski, who was picked up off the street in Week 4 to shore up special teams, started in place of injured safety Antrel Rolle and had six tackles and two key plays — forcing an Eddie Lacy fumble after Lacy’s 15-yard gain in the second quarter; and interfering ever so slightly with Devante Adams on a pass pattern, leading to Tracy Porter’s interception in the fourth quarter.
“I know I’ve been put in a lot of good situations with the coaches,” Prosinski said. “No disrespect to other coordinators or any coaches I’ve had before, but I feel like this coaching staff is the first that’s really had that kind of confidence in me, to put me out there in these situations. It gives me confidence and the ability to play free … and you play better.”
6. You know things are going your way when Rodgers comes up empty on “free” plays. After drawing Gaston offside in the fourth quarter, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb in stride for what looked like a sure touchdown. But the play was blown dead at the point of the infraction. Rodgers previously had drawn Pernell McPhee offside, but threw incomplete to Cobb.
When Rodgers was red-hot in the first three games of the season, he completed five passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns and drew a 52-yard pass interference penalty on free plays (burning the Bears for a 34-yard pass to James Jones in Week 1).
7. Huh? According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears’ composite defensive rating against the Packers on Thursday night was minus-18.8. It was minus-3.2 in Week 1, when Rodgers had a 140.5 passer rating and threw three touchdown passes in a 31-23 victory.
8. After not being penalized against the Broncos — the first time in 20 years the Bears had zero penalties in a game — the Bears were penalized eight times for 85 yards by Ed Hochuli’s crew against the Packers. For what it’s worth, Hochuli also was the referee when the Bears set a franchise record with 17 penalties against the Raiders in 1999.
9. From Kevin White to Ryan Mundy to Alshon Jeffery to Eddie Royal and others, the Bears have struggled with injuries in their first season under Fox and Pace. But it’s worth noting that Willie Young (Achilles) and Lamarr Houston (ACL) have recovered nicely from major surgery last season to become productive players at new positions. With rare exception, the Bears have had little luck with players coming off major surgeries prior to Young and Houston.
10. With three consecutive road victories — against the Chargers, Rams and Packers —the Bears (5-6 overall) are 4-2 on the road this season. The five teams with better road records are a combined 45-6 overall: the Panthers (11-0 overall/5-0 on the road), Patriots (10-0/4-0), Broncos (8-2/5-1), Cardinals (8-2/4-1) and Bengals (8-2/4-1). The Bears road losses are to the Seahawks (26-0) and the Lions (37-34 in overtime.)