CHICAGO -- This being the holiday season, let's put it this way: The Chicago Bears are like Santa Claus. Either you believe or you don't.
I'm slowly, hesitatingly, grudgingly becoming a believer -- not because I want to, but because I'm running out of reasons not to.
Sunday's 31-26 win against the Philadelphia Eagles is what did it. Until then, there were too many question marks, too many lingering doubts about the legitimacy of the Bears' record. But now ...
I'm still not a total convert, but I'm getting there. My football immune system is having more and more trouble fighting off Bears fever.
Of course, don't mention the Aretha Franklin R-word -- respect -- around Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. One of the local TV reporters did and Urlacher growled, "I could give a s---, to tell you the truth."
He wasn't being a jerk, just honest. Urlacher and the Bears have been paper-cut to death this season with criticism. You could wallpaper your basement rec room with the list of rips.
Their schedule was cashmere soft … they lucked out in games … they caught teams when they were down to their third quarterback … their offensive line couldn't play dead in a Tarantino flick … they passed too much … they lost to Washington and Seattle at home, for goodness' sake. And it was all true.
But now this is true: The Bears are 8-3, lead the NFC North and just beat an Eagles team that is capable of winning a Super Bowl. They're doing all of this with a chip on their shoulder pads the size of a Soldier Field column.
"Our biggest thing is just stay the course," said Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett, who caught two of Jay Cutler's four touchdown passes Sunday. "And just don't worry about what the critics and everyone else is saying because we know we're the best team in the league. We just got to continue to go out and prove it."
Best team in the league? The Bears?
Uh, that's stretching the first-down chains a little too much, but Bennett isn't entirely wrong. Only the Atlanta Falcons have a longer consecutive win streak (five) than the Bears (four) right now. Only the Falcons, New York Jets and New England Patriots have a better record (9-2). And, sorry, but you can't ignore what the Bears did to the Eagles on Sunday.
"They played better than we did and they coached better than we did in all phases," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
Cutler threw for a modest 247 yards on 14 completions, but four of those completions went for touchdowns. Better yet, no interceptions and, by my count, only one knucklehead, "I'm-Jay-Cutler: God-Of-All-Forced-Throws."
Matt Forte rushed for 117 yards, the first time that's happened against the Eagles this season.
Bennett had those two scoring catches. Tight end Greg Olsen reached over a defender to pull in a TD pass. Wide receiver Johnny Knox showed off his speed and his route running on another score, though his best reception might have been on Philly's onside kick with 1:48 left to play. Devin Hester caught three passes for 86 yards and returned a kickoff 46 yards.
The Bears' defense gave up 26 points, but not one of them came easily for the Eagles. They sacked Michael Vick four times and forced an interception deep in the red zone. Cutler then turned it into a Bears TD for a 14-point swing.
Someone asked Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, who was in Vick's visor all afternoon, if the Monsters of the Midway were back.
"I didn't know they ever left," he said. "Is the defense back? We're playing better than we played earlier in the season. And we're getting better."
An 8-3 record guarantees nothing. The Bears face the Lions in Detroit next week, then the New England Patriots at home, the Minnesota Vikings on the road, the New York Jets at home and then the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau. You'd think the Bears could win at least two of those games. Ten wins should get you in the playoffs, though it might take 11, what with the Packers, Falcons, Eagles, New York Giants and New Orleans Saints still in the mix (sorry, Tampa Bay Bucs).
"As bad as we played," said Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters, "we lost by five. [The Bears] know that we're the better team and they got the victory. We let the game get away."
Whatever. Anyway, leave it to Urlacher to cut through the noise.
"It was a win," he said. "That's all that matters."
But it wasn't just any win. It was a win against Philly. Against an MVP-quality quarterback. Against a quality defense. There was no luck involved; the Bears did exactly what Reid said they did -- outplayed the Eagles.
"I think it's a statement for the team," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. "Every week is a statement."
And the statement Sunday: It's safe to believe in Santa and the Bears.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.;