Like it or not, and regardless of an outcome Thursday night that has the Bears’ point total in single digits and the Packers’ in the 50s, the Bears already have achieved something meaningful in a season dismissed by many as simply remedial at its outset.
Phil Emery was dismissed as general manager in part because he’d been hired to close the gap between the Bears and Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. The Bears already have lost to all three within the span of their first seven games, and since the NFL doesn’t grade on a curve - just pass-fail - any sense of progress could be dismissed as illusory.
Of the Bears’ 11 losses last season, only one (Week 1, OT vs. Buffalo) was as close as three points. This year three of the last six have been by three or fewer, by a total of eight points, most recently by two to the team (Denver) with the NFL’s best defense.
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The loss to Green Bay in week one was by eight points, with the Bears leading at halftime, being a point down (17-16) after three quarters and forcing the Packers to recover an onside kick with 34 seconds left to preserve a win. The Bears have been that close to the Packers as recently as 2013 but the slide from there was precipitous.
The Packers are the standard in the NFC North, Minnesota’s early surge this season notwithstanding. But they don’t represent necessarily a reference point of where the Bears are or how they’ve progressed, beyond the overall point of needing a win in a hugely important game in their season.
“It has nothing to do with record,” said coach John Fox. “Obviously it’s a division game, which we put a lot of stock in. It’s a red-letter game for us as I’m sure it is for them. It’s a conference game, which we didn’t get our first one of those until a couple weeks ago [St. Louis]. So we’re in a situation where it’s an important game regardless of who it’s against."
In their first meeting with the Packers this year, the Bears’ offense scored on four of its first five possessions through three quarters. And that was with coordinator Adam Gase directing his first offense without Peyton Manning.
Now “I think we’re a little more confident, a little more comfortable in the offense,” said guard Matt Slauson. “[Against Denver] it didn’t really show that, but we are. We’re feeling better as an offensive line. We’ve had a lot of growth this year in this offense. We just need to put it out there on game day."