By Dave Wischnowsky–

Earlier this month in his weekly Sports Illustrated Q&A, Dan Patrick posed the question to Brian Urlacher, “Best team in the NFC now?”

“Besides us?” Urlacher responded.

When I read that, I’ll admit, I laughed.

And Patrick appeared to have had to bite his tongue to stifle one, too.

“Ooh,” he replied to Urlacher. “Do you really believe that you guys are the best team in the NFC?”

It was a fair follow-up question. After all, at the time, the 5-3 Bears were fresh off an ugly three-point win at Buffalo, preceded by even uglier three-point losses to Washington and Seattle at home. Hardly Super Bowl contender statistics.

Unfazed, Urlacher shot back: “I think we’re one of the best teams in the NFC. We haven’t played like it the last couple of weeks, but I still think talent-wise and with our schemes, we can be one of the best teams in the NFC.”

Well, after clipping the wings of Mike Vick and the Eagles on Sunday in a truly impressive 31-26 victory, the Bears are officially – and without a doubt – one of the best teams in the NFC.

Just like Urlacher predicted.

And, as one of the team’s many doubting Thomases, I’m happily eating crow this morning.

(I’ll make sure to FedEx some Dan Patrick’s way, too.)

Last Friday, I wrote in this blog, that while the Bears had already surprised me this season with a 7-3 record, “I’ll still wait for them to stun me with a big victory before I buy anything that the team is selling.”

With Sunday’s showing by the defense, special teams and – most surprisingly – Jay Cutler with his savvy 142.6 passer-rating performance, I’m officially buying that they’re one of the conference’s best.

But, forgive me if I’m still not all-in.

Sunday’s win was a whopper, for sure. But to truly establish themselves as the NFC’s Big Cheese, the Bears are going to have to prove they can beat another top team on the road.

Or, in other words, win away from the terrible turf that was Soldier Field on Sunday. (Honestly, Soldier Field’s turf is terrible every day.)

It’s true that that the Bears are 4-1 away from home so far this season. But, while they certainly can’t control their schedule and can beat only the teams on it, wins at Dallas, Carolina, Buffalo and, at the time, quarterback-less Miami (clubs with a combined record of 12-32) don’t exactly pop eyes.

A win at Detroit would help the cause (but the Lions aren’t great). And a win at Minnesota on Dec. 20 would be more impressive (finally free of Brad Childress, look for the Vikings to surge). But, it would be a win at Green Bay in the Jan. 2 season finale would provide the true statement, especially heading into the playoffs.

Standing at 8-3 after Sunday’s victory – the team’s best in years – and alone in first place atop the NFC North, the Bears aren’t who I thought they were.

But there’s still more work to be done if they’re going to be who Chicago wants them to be.

A Super Bowl team.

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