Bears’ fight building into an identity as finishers


Bears’ fight building into an identity as finishers

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.

[MORE: John Fox and Co. do all the right things]

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.”

[MORE: Cutler leads another fourth-quarter comeback]

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!”

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox


Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

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If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly fazed by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

If there was any doubt that the Bears are the most popular team in Chicago, allow the events of Wednesday to serve as further evidence.

After hitting the upright an astonishing four times in Sunday's win against the Lions, Bears kicker Cody Parkey practiced at Soldier Field Wednesday night. That's not the crazy part.

The Bears kicker taking to Soldier Field to practice on a weeknight drew multiple news helicopters. Both WGN and ABC 7 got footage of a kicker practicing.

Earlier in the week, Parkey said practicing at Soldier Field "can't hurt." Now that he went through with it, we can find out if he thought the extra reps ahead of Sunday night's game against the Vikings were worth it.

Who knows how this Bears this season will end, but the Bears are certainly back in the spotlight of the Chicago sports scene.