Doubters Beginning to Believe in Bears

C Olin Kreutz (Scott Boehm/Getty)

Now on a four-game win streak and with 2-9 Detroit next on their schedule, the Chicago Bears have put themselves in position to make a real run in an NFC playoff picture that seems to be up for grabs.

Whether or not the Bears earned some respect around the league with Sunday's victory over the first-place Eagles doesn't really matter much to them.

The bottom line is they're a first-place team, too, with an 8-3 record, same as the Saints, and a game better than Philadelphia, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and the Giants in the NFC, where only the 9-2 Falcons have won more games.

The Bears have won four straight, including back-to-back victories over teams with winning records. The Dolphins bounced back from their 16-0 loss to the Bears 10 days earlier to whip the Raiders on Sunday and improve to 6-5.

Maybe now, the Bears will at least be mentioned in discussions of the top teams, but they say it won't affect them if they aren't. None of the chatter matters until the six NFC playoff teams have been decided, and that might take a while. That's what the Bears say is their focus.

"Obviously, you do want to be recognized for your hard work and the wins and being productive and successful," tight end Greg Olsen said. "But, at the same time, we really don't get too wrapped up in having people talk positively about us. We expect to go out there and play hard every week. We don't need any extra motivation that doesn't come from within this building, and that's the truth. From coach Lovie [Smith] down, just the confidence and pride we take in playing well for him, for the organization, and for the fans really is enough that we don't need any other outside motivating factors."

Smith believes his team has gotten the respect it deserves because it has been at or near the top of the NFC North all season, but, even if others don't share his opinion, it doesn't bother him, or so he says.

"Opinions really don't matter a lot," Smith said. "We put a lot into them, but they really don't. Nothing has changed for us. We beat a good team [Sunday], but I think we have beaten a lot of good teams. Whether the team has a winning record at the time, we've beaten a lot of good football teams, just like we did [Sunday]."

Counting the 20-17 victory over the Packers in Week 3, the Bears have three victories over plus-.500 teams, but they realize they're a long way from a playoff spot. Seven teams in the NFC are 7-4 or better, and at least two of them won't be playing in the postseason.

"It's a good win, but we can't hang our hat on this one," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "There's still a lot of football left, and we've got to keep getting better and keep trying to improve."

With home games remaining against the 9-2 Patriots and the 9-2 Jets and road games against their three NFC North foes, the Bears aren't ready to kick back and coast or flatter themselves with what they've accomplished so far.

"I wouldn't say, 'Hey, we're one of the best,' or 'We're this or we're that,'" defensive end Israel Idonije said. "I feel like we're where we want to be. We're in great position – right now. We're positioned where we want to be. We have Detroit coming [Sunday], and they're the team that we've got to beat. That's our focus. We'll look at who's the best and all those other things later."

Signature victory or not, 13-year veteran center Olin Kreutz puts the Eagles conquest in simple terms: "We won," Kreutz said. "But if we lose next week, this game doesn't mean [anything]."

QB Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

The only blemish on Cutler's masterful performance Sunday was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that didn't affect the outcome but could have.

Cutler complained to officials that intended receiver Matt Forte was interfered with on a third-down pass that was incomplete with 8:28 remaining. After Brad Maynard's punt, the Eagles drove to a field goal, cutting the Bears' lead to 31-19 with 4:47 left.

"Everyone saw the replay. Everyone knows what happened," Cutler said. "[There will] probably be a fine, but whatever. We're out there trying to do everything possible to win this ball game and something like that happens, I'm going to say something."

Smith would prefer that Cutler say less in the future.

"You want your quarterback to be into the game, and Jay is a fiery leader and all of that," Smith said. "But you have to keep your emotions under wraps a little bit when you're dealing with officials. I'll be the first guy out there screaming and yelling if I saw them changing calls. They don't. I can see why he was upset. We were all upset. We weren't perfect in the game. The officials, they definitely weren't perfect either. Officials don't win or lose games. They're going miss some calls during the course of it." ...

The big-play Eagles had seven plays of 20 yards or longer Sunday but none over 30 yards. The Bears also had seven plays of 20 yards or longer, but five of them went for 30 yards or more.

"If you look at the players we have on the offensive side of the ball, we're supposed to be making big plays," Smith said. "Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Greg Olsen, Matt Forte – we have big-play guys, and we expect them to make those plays each week."

Forte had runs of 61 and 28 yards, Hester had catches of 34 and 39 yards and a 46-yard kickoff return, Knox caught passes of 34 and 20 yards, Olsen had a nine-yard TD catch and Earl Bennett had a 30-yard receptions and TD catches of 10 and six yards.

"We said the same thing about Philly," Smith said. "The defense did a good job of keeping their receivers out of the mix as far as big plays. [Jeremy] Maclin and [DeSean] Jackson both caught a few passes, but they never really got going in their offense."

Maclin caught four passes for 47 yards with a long gain of 24 yards, and Jackson had just two catches for 26 yards and a long gain of 21. ...

The Bears were undefeated in November for the first time since the 2005 team also went 4-0 en route to an 11-5 season.

"I would definitely say our arrow's pointed up, when you win four games in a row the way we have," Smith said. "We talked early about getting in position in October and making that run in November. That's exactly what the guys are doing."

The four-game win streak came at a critical time, on the heels of back-to-back home losses, said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who led the defense with 10 tackles, including nine solos.

"We're where we want to be," Urlacher said. "We kind of stumbled there in the middle of the season with those two home games we lost. But we're leading our division. That's where we've wanted to be all season long."

The consensus is that there is room for improvement, though.

"Good teams peak at this point in the season," said Olsen, whose only catch was for a nine-yard TD. "We're trying to get better and take those steps. I think we have. By no means are we a finished product, but, if we continue to take steps each week, we'll be in every game." ...

QB Michael Vick had not been intercepted in almost four years coming into Sunday's game at Soldier Field, a stretch of 238 passes without a pick.

Vick was out of the league for two of those years while serving a 19-month prison stretch on dog-fighting charges, but it was still an impressive run.

Bears safety Chris Harris put an end to that streak with an end-zone interception and 39-yard return that not only squashed an Eagles scoring drive but set up a Bears TD that gave them a 21-13 lead at halftime. It was the turning point in a 31-26 Bears victory that gave the 8-3 winners a one-game lead in the NFC North over the Packers, who lost to the Falcons and fell to 7-4, the same record as the Eagles.

"I wanted to be the first one to pick him, get it on his resume," Harris said of his third interception of the season. "We talked about it as a team. He had the highest quarterback rating of any quarterback (108.7 entering the game), 11 touchdowns, zero picks. And I was fortunate enough to get one."

Harris had a little help from defensive tackle Tommie Harris on the pick that tied him for second on the team with Charles Tillman, one behind D.J. Moore, who has four.

"We were in Cover 1, a single-high [deep] safety," Harris said. "I was the middle-field safety, just reading his eyes. We got great pressure up front. Tommie ended up tipping it, and I saw it and got it and then got a few extra yards."

39 yards to be exact, out to the 37-yard line, where four Cutler completions got the Bears into the end zone.

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