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Riding high at 3-1, Bears veterans warn against ‘letting that thing slip away’

Bears veterans brought a message back from the bye week:

Don’t be satisfied.

A 3-1 record doesn’t mean much in a long season, even if it is the Bears’ best start since 2013.

“That’s the whole motto right now,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “Not letting that thing slip away, and staying hungry.”

Khalil Mack rushes the passer against the Arizona Cardinals last month. | Rick Scuteri, AP photo

Khalil Mack rushes the passer against the Arizona Cardinals last month. | Rick Scuteri, AP photo

Whatever satisfaction the Bears enjoyed during their Sunday off ended at practice Monday. They had a bounce in their step but were prepared and businesslike. Coach Matt Nagy pointed to positive signs: a fast tempo in and out of the huddle that indicated a comfort with the plays, and balls not hitting the ground on offense.

“Monday kind of proved that this is a mature team,” linebacker Khalil Mack observed.

Sunday in Miami, though, is the real test. Did the Bears’ success make them fat and happy in the 14 days between their 48-10 spanking of the Buccaneers and the game against the Dolphins? Do they have the wherewithal to calmly step over a trap?

“Everyone can feel it — I feel like the energy and focus level is something we are trying to sustain,” Mack said. “We just want to keep getting better. We’re in a good spot, but you have to keep looking forward. That’s what you need from the veterans on this team.”

Nagy preached to players from experience this week. Last year, his Chiefs started 5-0. Two months later, they were 6-6. In 2013, the Chiefs started 9-0, went 2-5 the rest of the way and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

But it’s one thing for a coach to warn against being satisfied and quite another for veterans to say the same.

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“There’s nothing better than having ownership and having it come from your leaders on the team,” Nagy said. “That’s better than coming from a coach. So when that comes from players, that goes usually further than it would from me saying it.”

On defense — where the Bears lead the NFL in sack percentage and interception percentage — that responsibility has fallen to Trevathan, Mack and defensive end Akiem Hicks. Trevathan won a Super Bowl with the Broncos. Hicks played in an AFC Championship Game with the Patriots and an NFC divisional-round game with the Saints. And Mack might be the best defensive player on the planet.

“We have been tagged as a young team, but we’ve got some veterans around here that know how to win — and have done it before,” Hicks said.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara quoted his former Giants coach, Tom Coughlin: “Always be humble enough to prepare and confident enough to perform.”

Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith has listened. He said the Bears’ attitude is similar to the one at his alma mater, Georgia, which lost in the national championship game last year.

“The main thing is more staying focused and not getting complacent,” Smith said. “And just doing our jobs to the best of our ability.”

Every NFL team is taught to compartmentalize emotions each week. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who has coached in the NFL every year but one since 1986, doesn’t even feel the joy of winning anymore. It’s some combination of relief and satisfaction.

“The pain of losing does not equal the excitement of winning,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong. The wins are hard to come by. You guys have been here the last 3 ½ years. They’re hard to come by.”

That’s what makes Sunday’s game so unprecedented in recent Bears history.

And why it will be such a compelling test — and a telling one for forecasting their future.

“It’s all about how you finish now,” Trevathan said. “So we can write that end story and have a great fairy tale ending at the end.”