There's a strange, underlying dichotomy to the Bears' first week of the regular season. On one hand, the opening game of 2020 brings a welcomed sense of normalcy; for the first time in a while, the schedule, focus, and discussions all flow with the familiar rhythm of an NFL week. On the other, there are still countless reminders – testing bays, Zoom calls, empty stadiums, etc – that serve as a stark reminder of the unprecedented place that the league finds itself with the season's start only 48 hours away.
Though they've been game-planning the Lions for a while now, the Bears know they'll be in uncharted territory when they head to Detroit at the end of the week. To start, their traveling party will be much smaller – according to GM Ryan Pace, the team's "streamlined" who will get the green light to be there on game day, and most meetings will still be held at Halas Hall. Family and friends that would normally be in attendance on Sunday will have to watch from a T.V. room elsewhere. There's a mountain of logistics to work through before 12 p.m. on Sunday, and even that's just the tip of the iceberg in what right tackle Bobby Massie called, "a different year of ball."
"Yeah, it will be different," he added. "I don't want to say that a game or two might be slow or slower than it would be in a normal season. Teams will have to knock rust off, offensive and defensive side of the ball."
Massie's quote aside, Bears players who talked on Tuesday expressed little concern about sloppy play to start the season. The absence of preseason games and an abbreviated training camp means that most of the starters haven't played 'live' football since last December, but the Bears' offense feels like they have a unique advantage in that regards: their own defense.
"We may not have had a preseason game but each and every day we go up against one of the best defenses — really, the best defense in the NFL," Allen Robinson said. "So for us, it’s just about going out there and staying locked in and staying focused. We don’t expect it to be sloppy or anything."
"The thing that's helped us on the offensive side is we get to go against our defense," Massie added. "And our defense is one of the top five out there. That's what's helped us, especially up front."
There's also, of course, the adjustment of playing in empty stadiums. Despite the distinct lack of butts in seats, don't expect four silent quarters: the NFL will allow each stadium to pipe in 70 decibels of crowd noise at their discretion. Still –compared to a rowdy Opening Week crowd, 70 decibels isn't much. Even if it were louder, MP3 files pale in comparison to the normal road experience.
"I don’t think anything could really replicate a real crowd," Anthony Miller said. "You could have all the speakers in the world out there and it’s going to be loud, but just having the people out there, nothing can compare to that atmosphere.
"It’s going to be kind of weird, you know, just looking up and seeing a whole bunch of empty seats."
In a way, however, there's an argument to be made that playing in an empty house this week does the Bears more than one favor. Case in point: Jaylon Johnson and Cole Kmet – both rookies who will not only start, but are expected to contribute right away – won't have to deal with many of the disadvantages that would come with playing the first NFL game of one's career on the road. Johnson said that 'in hindsight' it'd be easy for him to admit that the transition might be smoother than normal, but at the end of the day, he's still lining up against Matt Stafford, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones.
"For me, it’s still about communicating," he added. "... it’s still about pushing through and just being able to stay within yourself and know what’s going on and stay focused.”