First-place Chicago Bears have become the hunted
If you weren’t paying close attention, it was easy to miss when the Bears went from the hunters to the hunted.
They weren’t much good at being the hunters the past few years, rarely getting close enough to the Packers and Vikings to take a shot. Each of the past four seasons found the Bears mired in the cellar of the NFC North, which they now lead.
“Yeah, I went through them,” said OLT Charles Leno, who played on each of those four teams that experienced mostly tough times. “I know what it feels like. But (now) it’s a really exciting time for the Chicago Bears and the city of Chicago.”
Maybe the Bears will be better as the hunted. At first glance, the transformation seems as if it happened in the blink of an eye, but not really.
“I actually was talking about that this morning,” said DE Akiem Hicks, whose first two years with the Bears included eight wins and 24 losses. “It didn’t come overnight. It’s something that we’ve been working on over the past couple of years -- building this culture and building this team. It’s so nice to see the other side. We had our dog days, and we had the tough struggles, and now we’re on the other side, and everything’s just a little bit prettier.
“My dad is from the South, and he has this saying, ‘It ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun.’ ”
So, are the Bears the rabbit now?
“Aren’t we?” Hicks said.
They are, because the tables have been turned.
At 8-3, the Bears have a 1 ½-game lead over the 6-4-1 Vikings and an easier schedule down the stretch. At 4-6-1, the Packers would have to win out and hope the Bears and Vikings collapse.
But the Bears, who play the Packers at home Dec. 16 and the Vikings in Minnesota two weeks later, aren’t counting any chickens, including Sunday’s game against the 3-8 Giants at MetLife Stadium.
“Our main goal is to win the division,” said fifth-year WR Allen Robinson, whose first four seasons were spent with the Jaguars. “We’ve still got division opponents (to play), we’ve still got to take it week by week. The better you play, the better you’ve got to play in this league. This late in the season, every game is important.”
After the Giants, the Bears host the 10-1 Rams, and they travel to Santa Clara, Calif., to meet the 2-9 49ers in between the Packers and Vikings. Minnesota plays on the road against the 8-3 Patriots and the 6-5 Seahawks the next two weeks, then at home against the 5-6 Dolphins and at the 4-7 Lions before finishing up with the Bears.
Bears coach Matt Nagy made it a point weeks ago to say he will not mention the word “playoffs” until it’s fait accompli. But his players are already thinking it.
“You have that in your mind because you have those aspirations at the beginning of the season,” Hicks said. “You want to be in that hunt at the end of the day. You’ve got to be able to hone in and focus on the task at hand, and our task at hand this week is the Giants.”
So, let the hunt begin.