By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — There’s a new energy at Halas Hall.
The Bears are the same team as when they left for the bye week last Tuesday, just 2-6 and with some games to regret. But none of that mattered as they looked forward to the second half of the season.
Fresh off their break, the Bears are rested, refreshed and three games back of first place in the suddenly wide-open NFC North race.
“We’ve got a whole half of a season left,” Bears coach John Fox said. “Like the second half of a game, a lot can happen.”
By beating the Vikings in Week 8, the Bears went into their bye week with good vibes and eight games left. They returned to Halas Hall with Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton back at practice, along with nose tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback Bryce Callahan and receiver Marquess Wilson, whose 21-day window to be activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list began.
Long joked that his Bears have often seemed like a nine-man football team with all the injuries during the first half of the season. Now, they are healthy and can get back in the race. The first-place Vikings are now 5-3 after their third straight loss, and the Packers dropped to 4-4. The Lions, who just beat the Vikings, are now 5-4.
Carnage took place in the NFC North.Chicago can get back in the race, beginning Sunday in Tampa.
“All we have to do is focus on what we have to do,” Long said. “The chips are going to fall the way they fall. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to play our hand to the best of our ability.”
Added Bears receiver Eddie Royal: “Take it one game at a time. It’s cliche, but it’s really the truth.”
Following their Monday night win, Bears players were feeling good. The feeling of a victorious locker room is really something, and this team has only experienced it twice. But the Bears had just played their best football game of the season, and they played it for each other.
Receiver Alshon Jeffery didn’t shy away from saying the Bears could make the playoffs. That was before the division became tighter. The Bears played four quarters of inspired football against the Vikings. They feel it can carry on.
Winning the second half of the season is a daunting task, and it can’t be accomplished overnight.
“Win the day,” Long said. “You’re not going to win tomorrow today.”
The Bears start this second half with much better fortunes. They are almost completely healthy — Kevin White, Kyle Fuller and Deiondre’ Hall remain out — and have their starting quarterback in Jay Cutler again leading the improving offense. Cutler, Jordan Howard and a strong offensive line can dictate how the Bears are able to put up points.
Defensively, the presence of Goldman alongside Akiem Hicks makes this front seven what it was supposed to be. Pernell McPhee is back and healthy, and Leonard Floyd has progressed well. Vic Fangio’s defense has played admirably through injuries. Now, this unit can play to its full potential.
At 2-6, the Bears can look back at losses to the Colt and the Jaguars as games they should’ve won. That would make them 4-4 and a game out of first place, but there’s no time to look back.
“You can spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror driving your car,” Fox said. “If you spend too much time looking back, then you wreck. So our focus is in front of us now.”
Fox pointed to how the Bears have seven games against NFC teams and three more against division rivals. Overcoming a three-game deficit will be challenging, but the Bears will have opportunities to rally.
That new energy at Halas Hall was prevalent Monday afternoon. One win and some help from friends changed the feeling of a season that previously seemed doomed.
Believe it or not, the Bears have a chance. They certainly believe it.
“We got so much faith in each other in this locker room,” Royal said. “We feel like we can win every game. We’ve just got to continue to believe in each other and play hard.”