When several Bears players began talking “playoffs” over recent weeks, it wasn’t idle chatter. The Bears are in virtual playoff mode, where a single loss can effectively ensure that the 2015 season will cap at 16 games.
But of all the teams currently not leading divisions and consequently looking at wild-card status, the Bears have been building momentum that none of the others have been, and now have a chance to reach .500 for the first time since October 2014 (3-3).
“It’s a big point,” Bears cornerback Tracy Porter said. “A chance to get to .500. It’s an opportunity to stick our foot in the playoff race.”
The NFC has seven four-win teams and two six-win teams (Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers) not leading their divisions. Of those, the Bears are the only team riding the small crest of a two-game win streak, both on the road.
Nothing is really “won” in November but the Bears have moved themselves into position for an accomplishment that seemed laughably unreachable through September.
Back then the Bears were coming to the end of an 0-3 start that included losses of escalating severity, by eight points to Green Bay, by 25 to the Arizona Cardinals and by 26 to the Seattle Seahawks. Special teams were in dire disarray; the offense, at least without Jay Cutler, had been shut out; and the defense was jettisoning players (Jared Allen, Jon Bostic) while showing some improvement over the nadirs of 2013-2014, which was not necessarily saying much. But since the Seattle trip the Bears have won four of their last six.
One reason being offered, which coincidentally was a favorite of former Bears head coach Marc Trestman.
“Resilience, just doing a great job of pushing through adversity,” Bears offensive tackle Kyle Long said. “Obviously we didn’t start the way we wanted to. We knew it was going to be an uphill battle. But the NFL season is a long season. You can write your own book however you want it. It’s a day to day process, though.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]
The mathematical problem for the Bears is that teams that start 0-3 rarely amount to much in that season. Only five have gone on to reach the playoffs, only one recovered to win its division, and only that one (San Diego, 1992) won a playoff game, against a wild-card team:
1998 Bills (10-6) — Lost WC Playoff (at Dolphins, 24-17)
1995 Lions (10-6) — Lost WC Playoff (at Eagles, 58-37)
1992 Chargers (11-5) — Lost Div. Playoff (at Dolphins, 31-0)
1982 Buccaneers (5-4) — Lost WC Playoff (at Cowboys, 30-17)
1981 Jets (10-5-1) —Lost WC Playoff (vs. Bills, 31-27)
John Fox is 3-0 this season against the AFC West. The Broncos are 3-0 against the NFC North.
“Playoffs” are in the Bears’ minds but not to the point of thinking past the moment and opponent at hand.
“Though .500 would be nice, we’re just taking it one game at a time,” Porter said. “We know we can’t chalk a win up on Sunday if we don’t win throughout the week in practice.”