‘The belief is there’
How a new vibe at Halas Hall is fueling the 1st-place Bears
An obvious energy pulsed through the Bears locker room Monday afternoon. A bye week will do that for a team. Still, this felt different. And new.
This wasn’t just a group returning from a week off feeling mentally recharged and physically refreshed. This was a first-place team understanding the perks of its 3-1 record. More so, it was a team understanding the collective hustle it took to climb here.
“You can feel it,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “It’s a competitive energy. Every day. This is a group full of guys trying to outwork one another, everybody fighting for those opportunities to make the big plays on Sunday.”
At long last, playoff hopes seem to be alive again in Chicago.
“The confidence has shot up,” center Cody Whitehair said. “The belief is there. The team morale is just way higher than it was. Everybody here has a smile on their face. And it makes it fun to come to work.”
For perspective, a year ago at this time Whitehair was part of a 1-4 Bears team that was again fighting to stay immersed in the grind, pushing to believe in the growth process despite an itinerary that left them with two-and-a-half-months of relatively meaningless games.
The year before that, when Whitehair was a rookie, the Bears also reached Week 6 at 1-4. Which — memo to the Raiders, Colts, Giants, Cardinals, 49ers and Falcons — is an imprisonment of irrelevance.
But this? This ambitious vibe pumping through Halas Hall? This is a refreshing feeling of belief.
And not the hollow kind that the Bears have tried to grab hold of in recent years only to see it crack in their hands like an egg that has been squeezed too hard.
This is a belief that’s justified, that’s now backed up by a legitimate streak of regular-season success. Three wins in a row. A plus-six turnover margin, second best in the NFL. Only 23 penalties, a league low.
There’s evidence now that a sharp attention to detail matters, that a team-first mindset in the locker room is paying dividends.
“I feel like we’re very hungry,” Whitehair said. “We’re a young team that has been disciplined. And we’ve seen how taking care of so many little things helps.”
Added cornerback Kyle Fuller: “At this point, our belief comes from what we’re seeing on film. We see what we’re doing week in and week out. And it’s been fun to see the work we’ve put in since April equate to the success we’re having.”
Fuller has been with the Bears since 2014. He’s on his second contract now. And yet, before the Bears’ surprising September surge, all he had known were last-place seasons in the NFL. One after another.
This though, Fuller senses, isn’t that. Not with the talent, depth, focus and cohesion he has seen from a group that he says features “a lot of team guys who bring it every day.”
On defense, Fuller can feel an already strong unit jelling with an energized understanding that they’re far from their ceiling. An already tenacious and productive defense has a chance to get better. Much better.
Bears defensive back Eddie Jackson, left, celebrates with teammates after his interception during the first half against the Buccaneers on Sept. 30 at Soldier Field in Chicago.