KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As the victorious Bears streamed into their Arrowhead Stadium locker room Sunday afternoon, their 18-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in hand, Jarvis Jenkins threw his head back and let out with a roar that rattled windows in Des Moines. “I’m a happy dog, man,” Jenkins said, laughing. “That was some finish.” (More on that last word shortly)
Kyle Long, still wearing his game face, strode by with his own roar: “CHICAGO BEARS, MAN!” Coach John Fox, he of 2013 open-heart surgery, had himself under control…to a point, then let loose: “Way to FIGHT, men! THAT’S what I’m talking about!” (one nearby staffer later remarking, “Thank God he had his heart fixed before THIS one!”)
Winning does bring out that sort of thing. But it was the way of the Bears winning that was and is the real point.
For the second straight week, the Bears shook off problems, some admittedly of their own making, and came back to win a football game. In the process, the identity of the John Fox Bears came into sharper focus, and it was far more important than an “identity” as a running football team, a defense-based team or anything football-specific.
Losing doesn’t build character; losing reveals character. And the start of the 2015 season under Fox has revealed much about Bears character and identity. Losing the first three games didn’t reveal how bad the Bears were or were going to be; it was revealing something else.
Fox had made winning an emphasis during a 3-1 preseason, looking to take another step in eradicating a losing culture and replacing it with something quite different. Back in the Green Bay game, in which Clay Matthews’ interception of Jay Cutler ended what was a potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, signs were there. After the Packers scored to seemingly put the game away with a 15-point lead, Cutler simply went back out on the field and directed a 72-yard drive for an answering touchdown. Not enough, but an identity was forming.
In the locker room at halftime Sunday, with the Bears down 17-3 and doing little in any phase of the game – “We had so many excuses that could’ve been there, with the injuries and everything,” said Matt Forte – talk among players was only in one direction.
“You could’ve rolled over,” said defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff. “If you looked at that point deficit [17-3], you could’ve said, ‘Let’s just come back next week.’ But nobody had that mentality, nobody took that approach.”
“In the beginning everybody says they want to go to the Super Bowl. All that talk. Some teams start off real hot. Other teams start off with adversity. We’re one of those. We just have to keep going, one week at a time, because that’s the good thing.”
The underlying point was even deeper than one week at a time. The Kansas City game would have been lost if the Bears defense had been satisfied with stopping the Chiefs on three plays inside the Chicago 10 at the end of Kansas City’s first drive of the second half, that already had pushed the Bears backwards for 71 yards. Forcing the Chiefs to settle for three points would have been generally classed as a success.
But – getting back to Jenkins’ “finish” word from earlier – Pernell McPhee crashed through to block Cairo Santos’ 27-yard attempt, a “finish” for special teams in keeping with what the Bears see as their true identity. Finishers.
“We always talk about ‘finishing,’ at practice, in the weight room, everywhere,” Jenkins said. “And you could see it at halftime when we’re down 17-3 and we’re saying, ‘We got to finish this game.’ Believe and finish.
“The defense gets a third-down stop. Finish. The offense goes down and scores. Finish. That’s what we tell ourselves. Finish. Then at crunch time, you make plays and finish.”
Talking about finishing is easy unless something else is part of the character: “Man, this team’s got a lot of fight, a lot of fight,” Jenkins added, shaking his head. “We put ourselves in some bad situations but there’s so much fight in this team.”
As Fox himself had said on his way into the locker room: “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”