‘The be­lief is there’

How a new vibe at Halas Hall is fu­el­ing the 1st-place Bears

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - WEEK 6 - By Dan Wiederer

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.

Af­ter an­other.

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.

[NUCCIO DINUZZO/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE]

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.

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