JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An impressive food spread awaited Bears players Sunday as they exited the visitors’ locker room and embarked on a happy trip home.
On one tray, fried chicken sat piled high. On another, steaming macaroni and cheese. Next was a fruit tray, followed by a large plate filled with chocolate chip cookies.
Go ahead and grab the cookies, Bears. You’ll have two weeks to burn the calories.
The Bears sprinted into their bye week with a 41-3 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They improved to 4-1, keeping pace with the Minnesota Vikings for first place in the NFC North while extending their leads on the Green Bay Packers (2-3) and Detroit Lions (1-3).
Yet the high-flying Bears refused to peek down the standings at two of their biggest rivals.
“We’re worried about us,” Bears defensive end Israel Idonije said. “Period. Focus on us.
“All of that other stuff? We’ve got to win. Bottom line. That’s it. As long as we keep winning, we’ll be in good shape.”
Not since 2006 have the Bears been in such good shape entering their bye week. That season included a 6-0 mark at the break and ended with a trip to the Super Bowl.
To mention Super Bowl aspirations after Sunday’s win would be to ignore an eyesore of a first half that ended in a 3-3 tie. But the Bears regrouped at halftime, as good teams do, and scored five touchdowns after the break for the most lopsided win of Lovie Smith’s tenure.
The 30-minute scoring binge included a pair of interception returns for touchdowns by Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, who made NFL history as the first tandem to repeat the feat in back-to-back games. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall added receiving touchdowns on passes from Jay Cutler, while Armando Allen finished the scoring with a 46-yard run.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars (1-4) managed 189 total yards compared with 501 for the Bears.
It was enough to make Bears defensive end Julius Peppers hope for a game next week.
“The bye is not coming at the best time,” said Peppers, who recovered a fumble for one of the Bears’ three takeaways. “It is, but it isn’t. We’re playing well. We want to continue riding this wave. But it’s a good opportunity for us to rest up and get guys healthy.”
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher laughed in disagreement.
“The bye always comes at a good time,” said Urlacher, the second-oldest player on the Bears at age 34. “I don’t care if it’s Week 2, Week 10, it’s always good to have a bye. I used to hate it when I was young because I didn’t want to take any time off, but now I enjoy them.”
Despite sitting idle next week, the Bears could create further separation from the team that most observers pegged to win the NFC North this season. The Packers will visit the Houston Texans in Week 6 in a nationally televised matchup that could drop Green Bay to 2-4.
Even so, Bears players said, a share of first place in early October guaranteed nothing in terms of playoffs or championships.
Major Wright was a rookie on the Bears’ team that won a NFC North title in 2010. Yet Wright’s lingering memory from that season was how it ended with the Packers earning the final wild-card berth and beating the Bears en route to a Super Bowl championship.
That memory will keep Wright hungry long after Sunday’s fried chicken and mac and cheese.
“Two years ago, Green Bay was down, and they came back and beat us and came back and won the championship,” Wright said. “We can’t look at it like [we’re creating separation]. All we can do right now is control what we can do – our own destiny.”