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Statement game: Three-game sweep puts upstart Bears in position to think big

DETROIT — Bears right tackle Bobby Massie was feeling no pain after playing his third NFL game in 12 days on Thursday.

“I feel good now,” the 6-6, 317-pound Massie said with a laugh after the Bears’ 23-16 victory against the Lions at Ford Field gave them a sweep of a difficult three-game stretch against NFC North opponents. “I’m ready to go home and eat and enjoy this Thanksgiving Day. So no complaints on my end.”

But left tackle Charles Leno Jr. couldn’t deny it.

“I feel like [crap] right now,” Leno said. “But I couldn’t care less, man. We got a good break coming up. And I’m gonna get my body back, so I can hit these next five games.”

The Bears' defense celebrates after Kyle Fuller's interception all but clinched a 23-16 victory over the Lions on Thursday at Ford Field. | Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The Bears' defense celebrates after Kyle Fuller's interception all but clinched a 23-16 victory over the Lions on Thursday at Ford Field. | Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Playing three games in 12 days is not exactly the Bataan Death March. NFL teams do it all the time. Even the unique challenge of playing the 11:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day game on the road after a Sunday night game was more of a trivia note than an insurmountable obstacle.

But for a team that struggled to win three games in a month last year and three games all season in 2016, winning three NFC North games in a 12-day span was the biggest statement that coach Matt Nagy’s Bears have arrived. Especially the way they did it against the Lions — winning with their backup quarterback in a close game they would have lost in previous years.

Trailing 13-9 in the fourth quarter on the road, the Bears scored touchdowns on offense and defense and outscored the Lions 14-3 to win their fifth consecutive game.

“Us closing has definitely been new for us,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I’m glad we’re starting to get that in our toolbox.”

Coming into this game, the Bears were 3-19 when trailing by a touchdown or less after three quarters since 2014 — including 0-10 the previous two seasons.

“This team is nothing like the first two seasons I was here,” Massie said. “We’ve got something special brewing here. Hats off to these guys because it could have gone south today. But we didn’t allow that. Guys stepped up and made plays.”

“We know how to play these big games,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We’ve learned how to put ourselves in the right position to win at the end of the game. It’s just all coming together.”

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The Steelers, Rams and Texans have pulled off the three-victories-in-12-days trick previously this season. But it’s unlikely any of them were buoyed by the accomplishment like the Bears, who are developing the physical and mental toughness it takes to be a contender in the postseason. They aren’t going to hold a parade for beating the Lions, Vikings and Lions again in less than two weeks. But this is what the good teams do.

“We’re a good team,” wide receiver Josh Bellamy said. “But fighting through stuff like this makes you a great team. We want to work toward being great, not just good. We played three games in 12 days. We just fought our way through it. We’re not worried about what’s hurting or being sore or whatever is going on. When it’s time to line up, it’s time to line up and play.”

The physical challenge was real for Hicks.

“Pregame warmups, I did a couple of get-offs, and I felt my quads a little fatigued already,” Hicks said. “And I said to myself, ‘How is this possible? Just played three or four days ago.’ ”

Hicks found a way to get through it. They all did.

“It says we can play through any situation, that we’ll fight for each other,” Hicks said. “We believe in ourselves, and we believe in this team. And I think if you have that type of belief, we can take this pretty far.”