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Bears snap monthlong skid, top last year’s record

TAMPA, Fla. — For a team that has measured success in relative terms — by upticks in attitude and environment, by near-misses and simply not repeating the dumpster fire of last season — Sunday produced at least one tangible statistic.

At 6-9, the Bears are guaranteed to finish with a better record than the one that got GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman fired.

That’s no reason for a champagne toast, but, after Sunday’s 26-21 victory against the Buccaneers, it’s better than the alternative. The Bears hadn’t won a game in over a month — “Damn! That long?” tackle Jermon Bushrod said — dating to the Packers upset on Thanksgiving.

“Obviously you want to do better than you did before, but it that regard, that matters,” tackle Kyle Ling said. “We want to build something here. We’re trying to establish an M.O. I think our guys have done a good job of that, even though it hasn’t been the smoothest road for us.”

Rocky road? The Buccaneers turned the ball over three times and recovered their own fumbles three more times. Their second-quarter interception of Jay Cutler came back because of a facemask flag. A 43-yard Hail Mary to Austin Seferian-Jenkins added seven aesthetic points with one second remaining.

The Bears’ steady run game — 39 tries for 174 yards marked their highest total since the opener — held off old boss Lovie Smith for the second-straight season.
Ka’Deem Carey scored twice, Robbie Gould made four field goals and Cutler ran a dink-and-dunk offense against a Cover 2 scheme he’d practiced against for years.
With Alshon Jeffery out with a hamstring injury and Eddie Royal weakened by illness, it wasn’t pretty — that was Adam Gase’s plan, Cutler said — but it was mistake-free.

“I think Adam did all day long, not getting greedy at all and just saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be methodical,’” said Cutler, who went 20-for-27 for 156 yards, one score, one sack and no interceptions. “And just, if it’s boring, it’s boring.”

Finishing with a better record than 2014 was merely a small victory, Cutler said, in part because the team has had “so much turnover — in a good way.”
Coach John Fox told his team he didn’t want to finish with 10 losses, a fate that can be avoided by beating the Lions in the finale. That’s no “Gipper” speech, but it shows the Bears are still reaching for goals, even manufactured ones.

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who said “you can’t tell if someone’s truly laid down on you until the season is over with,” called Sunday’s game a test after a blowout loss the week before.

“How we’re going to respond is going to define our character,” he said. “Who we are as a man.”

There’s no sugar-coating the reality of the Bears’ final seven days, though it’s a better fate, by statistics and other measures, than last season.

“We feel it — those guys feel it,” Fox said. “We’re getting there. They need to improve, and they know it. But they’re still trying to finish the year well.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley
Email: pfinley@suntimes.com