Be­drock be­liefs

Faith in sys­tem makes Bears cer­tain they can beat Pa­tri­ots

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - Sports - By Rich Camp­bell rcamp­bell@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter@Rich_Camp­bell

Kyle Long was on the field in Foxbor­ough, Mass., on that sunny late Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon four years ago when the earth shook un­der­neath the Bears.

Rob Gronkowski’s “Gronk Spike” after each of his three touch­downs had some­thing to do with it. So did Tom Brady’s five touch­down passes.

Re­mem­ber La­marr Hous­ton tear­ing his right ACL while cel­e­brat­ing a sack? It was the in­jury after the in­sult. The Pa­tri­ots scored 21 points in a hu­mil­i­at­ing 57-sec­ond span be­fore half­time. The 51-23 beat­down be­gan to re­veal how Marc Trest­man’s Bears were built on sand.

OK, so that’s an­cient his­tory. But that’s the point. Only re­cently have the Bears got­ten back on solid ground. And just in time for the qua­dren­nial game against the Pa­tri­ots, who have won two Su­per Bowls since the last meet­ing.

The Pa­tri­ots — the model of sus­tained suc­cess in the NFL — have a way of ex­pos­ing teams’ weak­nesses, strip­ping them down to what they re­ally are. That’s what hap­pened to the 2014 Bears.

It’s also why this year’s team, a group con­sist­ing of so many im­por­tant new parts, says bring ’emon.

“This is the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, and there’s a lot that comes along with that,” Long said. “But we get an op­por­tu­nity to prove to our­selves and to the league that we can play with any­body.”

Long didn’t need to de­tail the Pa­tri­ots mys­tique. But for those into count­ing tro­phies, they have five Su­per Bowl ti­tles, eight AFC ti­tles and 16 di­vi­sion ti­tles since coach Bill Belichick took over in 2000.

Maybe the Bears will win Sun­day; maybe not. But en­ter­ing the sixth game un­der coach Matt Nagy, they are vow­ing they won’t flinch.

That’s be­cause there’s a grow­ing, gen­uine sense of be­lief within Halas Hall. Be­lief in their pro­cesses. Be­lief in their tal­ent. Be­lief in their schemes.

And for a team with so many new­pieces— a first-time coach, a young quar­ter­back, a new de­fen­sive star, new re­ceivers, etc. — be­lief is cru­cial fuel for their as­cent.

Nagy, in fact, senses sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween his cur­rent team and last year’s Chiefs. In Week 1, with Nagy as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, the nine-point underdogs stunned the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl champs 42-27 in Foxbor­ough. The Chiefs’ 537 yards were the most the Pa­tri­ots had sur­ren­dered un­der Be li chick un­til the Ea­gles gained 538 in Fe­bru­ary’s Su­per Bowl.

“When you have a be­lief in your­self and your team­mates and ev­ery­body, it’s crazy how that can help you in so­many dif­fer­ent ways,” Nagy said. “So that’s where I’m try­ing to see where we’re at as a group right now.

“And we’re ham­mer­ing that home: That it’s im­por­tant to have re­spect for your op­po­nents, but also the be­lief in your­self, too, of … what we can do and what the fu­ture holds for us.”

Mind games

To fully un­der­stand Sun­day’s chal­lenge, Long could ask his brother, Chris, to see his Pa­tri­ots Su­per Bowl ring. He has the new­est is­sue, the one with 283 di­a­monds, an homage to how they over­came a 28-3 sec­ond­half deficit to beat the Fal­cons 20 months ago.

Or there’s a more im­me­di­ate way.

“Put aside the cham­pi­onships,” Long said. “You can look at the film from last week, and it shows you who they are. My own lived ex­pe­ri­ence is such that if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you can get em­bar­rassed. You bet­ter pre­pare. Be­cause you knowthey are.”

They starts with Belichick and Brady, of course, the most dec­o­rated coach-quar­ter­back tan­dem ever. This will be the 260th game of their part­ner­ship. Nagy and Mitch Tru­bisky are tad­poles in com­par­i­son.

Belichick long has been a mas­ter at tak­ing away what an of­fense does best and vary­ing the align­ments of his de­fense to cause con­fu­sion.

That, more than the Pa­tri­ots’ clout, has the Bears’ at­ten­tion this week. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily that teams shake in their cleats be­cause they’re play­ing the vaunted Pa­tri­ots. It’s that Belichick makes the Pa­tri­ots damn good.

As a de­fen­sive strate­gist, he cre­ates chal­lenges that are as much men­tal as they are phys­i­cal, said Bears re­ceiver Allen Robin­son, whose Jaguars lost to the Pa­tri­ots in last sea­son’s AFC cham­pi­onship game while Robin­son­was in­jured.

“The big­gest thing is try­ing to slow you down, try­ing to make you think,” Robin­son said. “Try­ing to take you out of your groove as far as play­ing. It is a chal­lenge for us to be able to see ev­ery­thing, take on that men­tal chal­lenge pre-snap and still be able to play our brand of foot­ball.”

That brand has been es­tab­lished as a di­verse at­tack. The Bears, then, have a chance to le­git­imize the gains they have made of­fen­sively in the last two games.

To seize it, Tru­bisky is trust­ing how Nagy’s Chiefs moved the ball against the Pa­tri­ots last year and how the Chiefs and their sim­i­lar of­fense did it again Sun­day in a 43-40 loss at New Eng­land.

“He has given me a lot of con­fi­dence that we’ll be able to move the ball and put up points against these guys,” Tru­bisky said. “We justhave to­take care of the foot­ball, be smart, while stay­ing ag­gres­sive.”

Look­ing in­ward

Tru­bisky was 7 when Brady won his first Su­per Bowl. (“It’ll be cool to com­pete against him,” Tru­bisky said.) And while this prob­a­bly will be his only shot at beat­ing Belichick and Brady, the Bears have a few play­ers who have done it on a grand stage.

Tight end Trey Bur­ton has a newly minted Su­per Bowl ring to prove it. Line­backer Danny Tre­vathan beat the Pa­tri­ots twice in the AFC cham­pi­onship game as a mem­ber of the Bron­cos. Cor­ner­back Prince Amuka­mara was a rookie with the Gi­ants in 2011 when they beat the Pa­tri­ots in the Su­per Bowl.

Whenit comes to pre­par­ing to de­fend Brady, Amuka­mara puts it in terms his Bears team­mates can un­der­stand.

“It’s just like No. 12 up north,” Amuka­mara said, re­fer­ring to the Pack­ers’ Aaron Rodgers. “You just know these guys are dif­fer­ent. Youwatch Brady’s Face­book se­ries, you know this man pre­pares. He’s go­ing to be ready. He’s go­ing to have his guys ready.”

Brady’s mas­tery of the quick pass­ing game is a timely test for a de­fense that sud­denly broke down last week against the Dol­phins. The Bears missed 12 tack­les in blow­ing an 11-point lead in the sec­ond half

The Bears ac­knowl­edge the dif­fi­culty of Sun­day’s matchup, but they aren’t con­ced­ing any­thing beyond healthy re­spect for a quar­ter­back and team that re­set the bar for NFL great­ness.

Within that mind­set is an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the climb up the NFL moun­tain, and the Bears feel self-as­sured on that as­cent.

Tre­vathan said Thurs­day that this year’s Bears are “prob­a­bly the top con­fi­dent team I’ve ever been around.” It’s a lofty claim con­sid­er­ing his two Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ances and one vic­tory with the Bron­cos.

“We’re all to­gether,” he said. “We’re young but we’re still con­fi­dent. We’re learn­ing to­gether.”

NUCCIO DINUZZO/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Mitch Tru­bisky says the Chiefs’ suc­cess against the Pa­tri­ots last year un­der Matt Nagy gives him con­fi­dence.

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