Bears have to earn national respect

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The lack-of-respect spigot of motivation froze up for the Chicago Bears in the icy winds at Soldier Field on Sunday, when the New England Patriots came to town, exposing the home team's flaws in a 36-7 pasting.

For a good portion of the season, the Bears clamored for respect on a national level.

Given the opportunity to earn it, the Bears proved they're not worthy.

"You've got to give me a name [when you say] a lot of guys [said the Bears don't receive enough respect]," Bears coach Lovie Smith said in one of the snappier moments of Monday's media conference. "There may be a few guys with that."

Regardless of the number of Bears using a perceived lack of respect as motivation, the fact is those days -- like Sunday's embarrassing loss -- should now be behind the team, which needs to refocus and place concentration in reaching its goal set at the beginning of the season: To win the NFC North.

The Bears are close. The club needs a victory Monday over the Minnesota Vikings and a loss by Green Bay to clinch the division title.

"We can win the NFC North," center Olin Kreutz said. "We know that's still in our hands and we're still the No. 2 seed in the NFC. So we still have everything in front of us."

Speaking of respect, it's worth mentioning that New England earned plenty of it in rolling to an undefeated record in 2007, only to fall in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, who finished with a 10-6 record after losing to the Patriots in the regular-season finale.

Would New England trade all the respect they'd earned in 2007 from a perfect regular season and almost flawless postseason for the Lombardi Trophy that slipped through its hands?


So while the Bears don't deserve the respect for which they've clamored, in the grand scheme, it really doesn't matter once the postseason kicks off and the records are wiped clean.

"You don't have a choice [but to forget about Sunday's game]," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Those games, it's not as easy as wake up the next morning, and you act like it didn't happen. It still hurts. We took a lot of pride in playing well, and it was a stage for us. We didn't really take advantage of it all. It showed us what it takes to play at a high level and beat those teams come playoff time. There's some real good teams out there. We felt going in [that] we were one of them, and we still do. But we realize we have some work to do, and there are some things we need to clean up before we face those caliber teams again."

"We have to move on," Olsen added. "One loss could become two, and then you're snowballing and going down the wrong path. We have to bounce back."

That's the correct mentality to have. Forget about respect or lack thereof, because at this point it's meaningless.

When it's convenient during interview situations, Smith usually makes it a point to mention his lack of short-term memory. That's how Smith and the staff need to handle the team moving forward, because once the playoffs get underway, nobody will remember Sunday's debacle against the Patriots (unless the teams happen to meet in the Super Bowl).

"[A lack of respect], I don't think that's really motivating the guys," Smith said. "What's really motivating our team is just you want to be division champions. You want to win the Super Bowl. You want to win a football game as much as anything.

"Really, people's opinions really don't help the situation or hurt it. Where there's a negative opinion about something, there's a positive one about it. We'll get respect when we win football games. We've gotten our respect nine times this year. Hopefully, we'll get it for 10."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.