Why, playoffs or not, Packers Week will define Bears' season

Aaron Rodgers and Roquan Smith
USA Today

The Bears played what appeared to be another professional football team on Sunday, but between you and me, it's hard to tell. At some point during a delightfully nap-able Sunday afternoon, David Montgomery reached 1,000 yards, Allen Robinson reached 100 receptions, and the Bears pulled themselves above .500 with a 41-17 win. There were three 3rd quarter touchdowns, two Roquan Smith interceptions, and (only) one bone-headed throw from Mitch Trubisky. It was arguably the most convincing win in this latest string of them, and the only place with a more jubilant mood than the Bears' locker room may have been Jaguars Twitter. 

"From starting 5-1, to a six game losing streak, to be able to position ourselves to be where we’re at now, I think you can understand that the mood right now is that we’re at an all time high," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "It’s good energy, man. And that’s all you can ask for. Obviously we know the job isn’t done, and I don’t think that anybody is looking too far ahead. But to be able to position ourselves right now to control our own destiny, where we don’t need to tune in and worry about what’s happening with the next team? There’s no better feeling right now than controlling what you can control and doing your job." 

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"Just proud of our players for understanding where we sat going into today’s game and what’s sitting ahead of us," Matt Nagy added. "We’re guaranteed one more game, nothing else." 

Technically, that's true. At 8-7, heading into the final week of the season, the Bears don't have a playoff berth wrapped up. In actuality, this pristinely-time win streak – coupled with the Arizona Cardinals' late season collapse – has all-but-ensured that the Bears will be playing playoff football. For the masochists among you, there are still a handful of doomsday scenarios that the New York Times playoff predictor would be happy to simulate for you – but the straightest path into the postseason has remained the same: win and they're in. Enter the Green Bay Packers. 

"We know what kind of team we're playing against next week, and what kind of team is coming into Soldier Field," Allen Robinson said. "So for us, again, we want to enjoy this for the next couple days and we are going to be locked in strong for next week. Like I said before man, this team knows what's on the line. We know what's at stake so everybody's been locked in, everybody's going to continue to be locked in. I'm looking forward to it." 

At the risk of being hyperbolic, next Sunday's game against Green Bay carries the weight of the Matt Nagy era on its shoulders. Nagy, who's a combined 10-2 against the Lions and Vikings, has only beat the Packers once in three years. Last time these two teams faced off, Aaron Rodgers put 45 points on a defense that, for the first time, faced criticism for quitting on the team. Even if this wasn't one of the NFL's most storied rivalries, there'd be plenty of pride on the line for Sunday's game at Soldier Field. 

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"It's going to be huge," Mitch Trubisky said. "We know what's at stake this weekend. We're going to enjoy the win tonight and then start preparation tomorrow. It just sets up for an opportunity to finish up our season strong against a rival like this. It's a must-win game just like these last couple of games have been." 

So you'll excuse Bears fans for their behavior this week – a month ago they were debating if it'd be 5 or 7 years before their beloved team made the playoffs again. An encore's never quite as long as the crowd wants it to be, but right now the house lights are dimmed and, for at least a couple more weeks, it's showtime. 

"It’s all here for us," Jimmy Graham said. "I love these moments. I’ve been built for these moments. So I’m excited."