Piling Up Victories Means More to Bears Than Respect
Respect in the NFL is earned and sometimes receiving it requires more than victories.
Yet, there is a column in the standings for victories and not one for respect.
The Chicago Bears go into Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers (3-2) completely disrespected by odds makers, "experts," media and fans despite a 4-1 record, although their NFL opponents likely don't care.
The Bears have been underdogs in five of their six games but they realize why most NFL power rankings still have them among the league's mediocrities.
"For us to be 4-1 and play really the way we're playing offensively, for us, we just feel like there's some things that we're learning through these games of how we're winning," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "They're not pretty."
The flaws have been as obvious as their 27th ranking as an offense both in yards and scoring, even while they still sit in a playoff position.
"Now you get there, you want it to look better but that's what we're working towards right now and that's what we got to get to as soon as we can," Nagy said.
The Bears usually start games slow on offense, gradually gain a rhythm and lose it completely at halftime, before suddenly finding it in time to save the day. It's happened three times. In the win over the Giants they actually did everything right for one full half then managed to snooze through an entire second half.
"Have they been pretty? No," quarterback Nick Foles said. "But we've found a way to win which is hard in this league, it's very hard."
The healthy thing is the Bears don't necessarily disagree with the negative views of how they've performed.
They all know they can play better. As long as they feel this way, it's a positive attitude.
"I think that's true across the board," wide receiver Allen Robinson said. "I know we played a good Colts defense, but we have to play much better than we did, and you know going forward, we played a good Tampa defense, but at the end of the day, we still have to play much better.
"That doesn't mean it's an excuse. There are good defenses across the league."
They're going to face another one against Carolina, although it's largely defending the pass where the Panthers excelled. They have been as porous all year against the run as the Bears have been ineffective with their own running attack for the past two weeks.
So if Foles is to inflict damage, it may need to be in the shorter passing game.
"Kind of a bend-but-don't-break-style of defense where they try not to give you a lot of opportunities downfield," Nagy said.
This is a good match then on offense for the Bears, who don't seem able to be able to throw it downfield, anyway.
Foles is averaging just 6.0 yards per pass attempt, well below even Mitchell Trubisky (6.5) and nowhere near what's needed to win consistently in the NFL.
Worse than the passing average is the fact the Bears can't seem to score in third quarters. It's maddening how they have failed to put up a single point then.
All their offensive woes wreak of inconsistency, and expecting immediate improvement might be wishful thinking. Foles has always been a streaky quarterback by nature, anyway.
"We want to be a lot more efficient, a lot better," Foles said. "But I also know there's a progression. It doesn't just happen overnight. It's never happened overnight ever in my career."
Their defense hasn't been a great deal more consistent, unless they're defending the red zone or trying to stop third-down plays. They rank first in the red zone, second on third downs but they continue to miss tackles and yield far too many long runs.
"The standard is to be No. 1 across the board, or really just the most dominant defense on game day," outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. "Statistics can say certain things, but each and every week, you just got to be the most dominant defense out there.
"I mean, I think we have a lot of special players here, a great group. As things start to gel together here, the defense can be great. The offense can be, too. I think overall, the whole team can start getting better. It's week by week here."
The progression continues, and as long as they keep winning while they do it then eventually the respect will come.