No one in or around Halas Hall would dispute Bill Parcells’ classic declaration, “You are what your record says you are.” The Bears are 3-5 in 2015, so they are a 3-5 team, pure and simple. That is exactly where they stood after eight games last season.
But there are 3-5 teams, and then there are 3-5 teams. And the difference between the 3-5 of 2015 and last year’s is palpable.
At this point of the 2014 season, the Bears had commenced unraveling at 3-5, nosing over into a death spiral. Now at 3-5, “We’re going to make a run at the playoffs,” tackle Kyle Long told CSNChicago.com. He paused: “And if anybody doesn’t think that, then get the (expletive) outta here.”
Talking playoffs doesn’t get anyone into playoffs. But having won three games with fourth-quarter comebacks, a season on the brink has become anything but, for reasons significant beyond 2015.
Some, but hardly all, of the change has been personnel. Of the 22 position players starting at San Diego, 12 were Bears last season, and that didn't include injured regulars Matt Forte and Shea McClellin.
The changes within that personnel are as, if not more important than the new bodies. Sometimes holdovers from a previous regime retain some of the negativity that underlay the problems that necessitated the changes in the first place.
The opposite has been the case to this point.
“We have guys who want to get that taste out of their mouths,” Long said.
A driving motivation among returnees is “to get rid of what was wrong in the past and show that none of that was really us,” said Will Sutton, who was drafted last year to be a 4-3 defensive tackle but has started twice at nose tackle in the 2015 Bears defense.
“We’re the people out there playing, and we have to take it upon ourselves,” Sutton said. “We have almost the same amount of guys here from last year, and those guys, we don’t want that feeling of ‘we gave up last year.’”
The Bears went into the 2014 season with heightened expectations after reaching 8-6 before collapsing in their final two games, which turned out to be something of a foreshadowing. They even started better last year than this, 3-3 as of a road win in Atlanta, then fell apart in multiple ways at home against Miami and then went into free-fall the next week with that 28-point loss in New England.
After the off-week to regroup, the Bears fell behind 42-0 at halftime in Green Bay and the disintegration was in full flower.
This season the Bears, with dramatically lower consensus expectations, lost by 26 at Seattle to hit 0-3. Since then, however ...
“You know, as I look back, obviously disappointment in our record at this point,” coach John Fox said. “I think you look back and you start the season 0-3. You look at progress. Whether it’s the O-line, the receiving corps, our whole football team.
“The good news is that if you look over the last five games we’re 3-2. So I think we’re trending hopefully to do better in the second half of the race.”
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'Progress?' Not so fast
The Bears still have not defeated a team outside the AFC West, and their three wins have been over teams that are a combined 9-16. They’ve lost to the 1-7 Detroit Lions.
The 2015 Bears at 3-5 are scoring fewer points per game (20.0) than the 2014’ers (22.5). The 2015’ers are giving up 28.9 points per game, up from last year’s 27.8. The current 3-5 team is averaging 333 yards per game; the 3-5 team of 2014 was rolling up 354 on average.
But considerably less important that any stat, the mindset of this 3-5 team is starkly different from the one of a year ago.
“It starts at the top starts with Foxy and the way he approaches each week and the way he talks to the team, the guys in the locker room, the type of players that we have,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We've got guys who no matter what the score is they're going to play hard and we know that the fourth quarter we have to play a little bit better than we did the first three quarters, so it's stuff that he talks about all week and stuff he's talked about all year long and it's kind of coming to fruition.
“I think if you’re all in with the coaching staff in what you’re being taught, you just kind of start repeating what they say and I think a lot of guys in that locker room believe in coach Fox, believe in their position coaches and how we’re being taught and it just kind of goes downhill from there. Everyone starts talking the same language.”