Bears undaunted by Super Bowl hype

“We wouldn’t want it any other way,” Allen Robinson said. “I think we’re prepared mentally and physically for this.”

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Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson is well aware of the challenge the Bears face in meeting high expectations after a 12-4 playoff season in 2018. “It’s much harder to go from first-to-first than from last-to-first,” he said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

BOURBONNAIS — On a feel-good day at Bears training camp, Khalil Mack winced a bit when asked about the high expectations facing the Bears in 2019. 

“That’s all, ‘He said/she said’ — all that different type of stuff. I don’t pay attention to that type of stuff,” Mack said. “I know what I want to do and I know what I want to do to contribute to the team and I know everybody else feels the same way. 

“That’s what it’s really all about — coming in here and getting better, not really paying attention to all of that sky-high [expectations] and all that type of stuff. We know our goals, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Mack is the ultimate authority on the Bears when it comes to the pressure to perform and meet high expectations, and it’s hard to quarrel with his disdain for the notion. Mack arrived at Halas Hall last year as one of the top defensive players in the NFL, with the expectation of taking a top-10 defense to another level. He was better than expected from the start. 

Mack not only made an immediate impact with a memorable performance against the Packers in the season opener — a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception return for a touchdown — but raised the bar for the rest of the Bears’ defense, propelling it to elite status with 36 takeaways and a league-low 16.4 points allowed per game. 

Dismissing expectations works for Mack, but for the 2019 Bears as a team, this season is all about embracing Super Bowl expectations without being consumed by them. The Bears are the biggest show in town, but the whole world is watching now. Every bump in the road is going to seem that much bigger and elicit an even bigger degree of skepticism that players disdain today more than ever. 

“It’s much harder to go from first-to-first than last-to-first,” said wide receiver Allen Robinson, who has been a part of seven-game improvements in back-to-back years with the Jaguars in 2017 (3-13 to 10-6) and the Bears last year (5-11 to 12-4). “It’s tough, but we understand that. And the expectations we have for ourselves, we wouldn’t want that any other way. So we’re already prepared mentally and physically for this.” 

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is well aware of the challenge ahead and his responsibility — along with coach Matt Nagy and other team leaders — to keep this team on point and avoid the pitfall of high expectations. 

“Nobody expected us to do what we did last year, and now it’s kind of flip-sided where there are all these expectations,” Trubisky said. “So we have to do a good job of staying focused, blocking that out and just doing exactly what we did last year that helped us win those games — and do even more so we can accomplish more than we did last year.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. We’ve just got to continue to do the little things so that we can win more games and accomplish the goals ahead of us.” 

If it’s a matter of mental toughness, the Bears come into 2019 with pretty good credentials. Following Nagy’s lead, they answered several challenges as they climbed the ladder of success last season. They overcame a devastating Week 1 loss to the Packers. They won on the road. They rose to the occasion in nationally televised games. They didn’t let success spoil them. They kept winning when everyone was telling them how great they were. They won on the road. When they had to play three games in a 12-day span in November, they won all three. 

For the Bears, that all starts at the top. 

“That’s what makes coach Nagy such a great coach,” Robinson said. “He holds everybody accountable to what our main expectations [are] and our main focuses going into the season. So I know he’s on that. He’s going to be on that every day, reminding us what our goals are and how we can reach [them].” 

Nobody caught the full force of outside expectations this offseason than Pro Bowl defensive end Akiem Hicks. On a panel at the Bears100 convention with Hall of Famer Dan Hampton, 1963 championship star Ed O’Bradovich and former All-Pro tackle Tommie Harris, Hicks was passionately exhorted by all three to take advantage of the opportunity and take this team to the next level. 

“I accept all your challenges,” Hicks said in response. 

He reiterated that upon arriving at camp. 

“I have a great deal of respect for all those defensive linemen — Hall of Fame guys that believe in us,” Hicks said. “They see an aggressive, champing at the bit, solid defense. And they see a team that is coming together that has great chemistry and they understand how hard it is to get all those things together. So they want the best for us and you can’t do anything but respect it and accept the challenge and try to meet it and exceed it.” 

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