Winning the war of attrition a good start for Bears on road to Super Bowl
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Taylor Gabriel, who has been there before and knows of what he speaks, said it best.
“Getting to the Super Bowl is more [about] who’s not injured — who can get to the Super Bowl healthy,” said the Bears wide receiver, who played in Super Bowl LI with the Falcons in 2017. “And I feel like that’s one thing we harp on here, making sure you take care of your body.”
For a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and is coming off seasons of 5-11, 6-10, 3-13 and 5-11, the Bears are as ready for the moment as anyone could’ve hoped for. An 8-8 season with the arrow pointing up heading into 2019 would’ve sufficed. Instead, the Bears are NFC North champions and legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Coach Matt Nagy was hired to develop Mitch Trubisky, but his exponential impact on the Bears’ culture has them primed for a deep run. This team feels its time has come. And Nagy knows it.
“You hit it right on the head — our team is loose in a good way right now,” Nagy said. “We’ve been that way all year long. It’s not a cockiness. It’s not an arrogance. It’s just a confidence. It’s controlled. We have just enough vets on this team — even though we’re young — to control how high or low you get. All week long we’ve been loose in a good way, and that’s the exciting part.”
Though the future looks bright, the Bears seem keenly aware of the importance of seizing the moment. The Bears figure to have better teams under general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy. But they might not have a better chance. Things can change in a hurry.
And the Bears have one other factor in their favor today that might not be there tomorrow: They are remarkably healthy for an NFL team after 17 weeks of the regular season.
Last year, the Bears had nine Week 1 starters available in Week 17. This year, they’ll have 18 for the wild-card game against the Eagles if safety Eddie Jackson is able to start despite a sprained ankle. And that doesn’t include non-injury-related upgrades: Khalil Mack in place of Aaron Lynch, Roquan Smith — who played only eight snaps in Week 1 — in place of Nick Kwiatkoski and rookie guard James Daniels in place of Eric Kush.
A year ago, the Bears ended the season with 15 players on injured reserve. This year, they enter the playoffs with three — nickel back Bryce Callahan, tight end Dion Sims and linebacker Sam Acho. Last year, they lost 115 games to injury among regular contributors. This year, 33.
The football gods have been kind to the Bears, but Nagy also gave credit were it’s due: trainer Andre Tucker, strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo and sports-science coordinator Jen Gibson all should take a bow for contributing to one of the most surprising seasons in Bears history.
“You have to give credit, No. 1, to our strength coach and him being responsive to how our body feels throughout the season,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said.
The return of guard Kyle Long was another unexpected bonus. Long looked like he might be gone for good when he was carted into the locker room during the Jets game in October. He played well in a 28-snap stint against the Vikings last week and looks ready to go against the Eagles.
That’s the kind of late-season boost only the Patriots seem to get — with Chandler Jones in 2014, Julian Edelman in 2015 and Danny Amendola in 2016. That’s when you know things are going your way. And all the more reason to strike now — you never know when things will turn.