CHICAGO -- Like an NFL version of Google when it comes to victories, if there’s a win out there somewhere, the Chicago Bears find it.
The club proved that for the third consecutive week in Monday night’s 20-17 come-from-behind triumph over the Green Bay Packers. So credit Chicago’s incredible resilience as the chief factor in it sitting atop the NFC North with two division wins, in addition to standing alone as the conference’s only remaining undefeated team.
Bears coach Lovie Smith struggled to find an apt description for the team's defining characteristics.
Obviously, resilience slipped his mind.
“It’s hard to say after three games,” Smith said. “I just know they are laying it on the line. When you’re down a little bit, you have a chance to show your character. The guys just weren’t going to be denied.”
They haven’t been for three weeks in a row.
After falling behind 10-0 at the 7:47 mark of the second quarter on Mason Crosby’s 38-yard field goal, the Bears appeared to be in prime position for a fall. The Packers had just taken 7 minutes and 47 seconds off the clock with the 14-play drive spanning 73 yards. Green Bay gained additional momentum by forcing Chicago into a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, in which the Bears actually lost 7 yards.
With a prime opportunity to put the game away, the Packers sputtered upon regaining possession. And as insignificant as it seemed at the time -- and to the overall big picture -- Devin Hester’s 28-yard punt return at the end of that drive may have been one of the game-defining plays, because it took a team fighting a 10-point deficit off the ropes, and returned it to attack mode.
“We were a little static there on offense and [Hester] gave us some life,” Cutler said. “We didn’t play our best game and won. That’s got to be a good sign.”
Absolutely, it is.
Furthermore, Smith probably didn’t coach his best game, either. Still, the Bears won.
Having established precedent in the first two games for wheeling and dealing on fourth down with the game on the line, Smith pulled the trigger again on a drive in which the club appeared to seize some momentum on a blocked field goal by Julius Peppers.
Down three points with 1:54 remaining in the third quarter, Smith -- after losing a replay challenge of the spot on a completion to Earl Bennett -- gambled unsuccessfully once again on a fourth-and-goal from the Packers' 1.
The call seemed questionable, for sure.
Yet had the coach not made it, would Hester’s 62-yard punt return TD on Green Bay’s ensuing drive have been possible? In fact, if the Bears had opted for a field goal instead of the failed-conversion-later-turned-touchdown, the club likely wouldn’t be sitting at 3-0.
It's the truth, no matter how unsettling.
“We are going to stay aggressive in situations like that,” Smith said. “We went for it because we thought we could get it, and if we hadn’t, we felt we had them backed up, and we would get the ball back. We had plenty of time to do something later on.”
The latter thought seems to permeate throughout the Bears, who appear to play as if they’ve got nothing to lose. They don’t, according to Hester, after missing the playoffs four consecutive years.
It’s a mentality born of hunger, faith, frustration and sheer confidence.
“When you get a team that’s just frustrated and tired of losing, eventually -- sooner or later -- they're gonna come out fighting hard,” Hester said. “That’s what we’re doing now. We went through four seasons without making it to the playoffs. That hurts, you know.”
Perhaps that’s why the Bears aim to transfer the pain to opponents.
“Don’t care, people can think what they want to,” he added. “We’ll just keep going out there and playing hard every week. We didn’t play good at times, but we played good enough to win.”
That’s what matters most, and it’s what the Bears have proven adept at doing.
The Bears trudged out of the muck of four turnovers in Week 1 to overcome themselves in an escape of the Detroit Lions, after trailing 30 minutes and 43 seconds. Then in Week 2, the Bears conquered relentless pressure with savvy adjustments to upset the Dallas Cowboys.
Against the Packers, the Bears didn’t put up the huge offensive numbers their fans have become accustomed to. The defense wasn’t exactly suffocating, either. Yet it made the play that led to Robbie Gould's game-winning kick when Tim Jennings dove on a James Jones fumble caused by Urlacher with 2:18 remaining.
“The resilience this team has,” Jennings said, without completing the sentence. “Everything was a total team effort today, and that’s just what we needed.”
Count on more of that as the Bears move forward on a schedule that sets up nicely with back-to-back road games against the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, a pair of teams with a combined 1-5 record.
Offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer considers the Bears' resilience to be their most significant quality through the first three games. It’s a trait the club continues to cultivate, and will likely need to call upon multiple times as the season progresses.
“You’ve just got to stay focused, keep on driving. Things aren’t always gonna go the way you want, but as long as we stick together, things will turn around for us,” he said. “Most games are close. That’s just the way we’re doing it right now: we’re just finding ways to win between all three phases.”