Bears' mission: Stay loose, don't lose
As his Bears teammates filed into the locker room after a recent two-hour practice, Lance Briggs transformed from weak-side linebacker into locker-room disc jockey.
Briggs found the song he wanted. He cranked up the volume.
Seconds later, he added his voice to the chorus.
“It was the heeeeat of the moooment,” Briggs sang loudly as others laughed. “Telling me what my heart meant. The heeeeat of the moooment showed in your eyes!”
If the Bears are supposed to feel uptight amid a recent slump, nobody told Briggs.
It doesn’t take a melodramatic pop song to convey the importance of today’s game. The Bears will host their oldest rival in their biggest game of the season, and the outcome’s implications will stretch far beyond the Illinois-Wisconsin state line.
For one, the Bears (8-5) need to beat the Green Bay Packers (9-4) to remain in contention for the NFC North title. The Packers would clinch the division with a win today and guarantee at least one home game in the playoffs.
For another, today marks the final chance of the regular season for the Bears to prove that they can beat a quality team. The Bears’ eight wins have come against teams with a combined record of 43-60-1 entering Week 15, while their five losses have come against teams with a combined record of 44-20-1.
Oddsmakers have pegged the Bears as three-point underdogs today despite having home-field advantage, and it’s hard to argue their reasoning.
A 1-4 skid since Nov. 11 has dropped the Bears to sixth place in the NFC, which would mark the final wild-card playoff berth. The Bears also have placed a half-dozen players including right guard Lance Louis and kicker Robbie Gould on season-ending injury reserve, and at least three other starters (Brian Urlacher, Tim Jennings and Earl Bennett) have been ruled out for today’s game because of injuries.
The Packers also have battled an abundance of injuries to key players, but they have won seven of their past eight games to overcome a slow start. Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has passed for 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions, is fifth in the NFL with a 103.7 passer rating despite being the league’s most-sacked player.
Still, the Bears could win today by creating takeaways and limiting turnovers.
Talent has not been a problem this season for the Bears, but mistakes have been.
That’s why Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice addressed his players this week with a gentler message: Don’t worry, be happy.
Unlike Briggs, Tice opted to speak instead of sing. Tice wondered whether his players were not having enough fun on the field after four losses in five games.
“I’m hoping it’s not me putting stress on them,” Tice said. “You guys have been around me. I try to keep it loose and have fun.
“But at a certain point, we have to look at every reason why guys aren’t relaxing and making those plays. Because they make them in practice.”
A fine line can exist between playing hard and playing uptight. But the Bears’ locker room is filled with veterans who have endured streaks both hot and cold.
Bears right tackle Jonathan Scott drew on his six years of NFL experience as he weighed the topic. Savoring every detail of one’s job description was key, he said.
If everyone did their job, points would follow. Then wins. Then big-time fun.
“It’s about having a passion for the game and knowing the type of mentality you have to have as an offensive lineman,” Scott said. “Playing hard. Knocking people down. Getting gritty. That’s offensive line play.
“When you focus on that enticing part of the game, you tend to have fun and play loose.”
A 6-foot-1-inch, 242-pound karaoke star belting out hits from the 1980s also helps.
Even if Briggs’ playlist does not align with many of his teammates’ musical tastes.
“I don’t even know what that song was,” Bears safety Major Wright said with a laugh.
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