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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
16 Dec 2023
https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/mark-potash


NextImg:Playoffs won’t be so far-fetched if the Bears can beat the Browns

When tight end Cole Kmet said the Bears were in “playoff mode” heading into last week’s game against the Lions, it probably drew more snickers than anything. The Bears had won two games out of three, but were 5-21 before that.

And even Kmet, a lifelong Bears fan who grew up in Barrington and Arlington Heights, knows that the notion of the Bears being in “playoff mode” was an in-house thing more than a civic cause. So even after the Bears convincingly beat the NFC North-leading Lions 28-13 last Sunday at Soldier Field, Kmet noticed an uptick in public enthusiasm for the Bears, but a tenuous uptick at that.

“Yeah, but it’s always week-to-week,” Kmet said. “You go lay a dud this weekend and it’s back to chaos and all that stuff. You win and it’s like, ‘Oh, my god — Bears are back. Let’s throw a parade.’ 

“You’ve just got to take it one week at a time. I think everyone here has done a really good job of just sticking to the process, sticking to the mindset and that can’t really waver whether you win or lose. You’ve got to look at the mistakes for what they are in a win or loss. You look at the good and the bad, but just take this thing week to week.” 

As foolhardy as it appeared to be last week, the notion that the Bears could be playoff contenders will be taken a lot more seriously if they beat the Browns on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. (And for the record, it’s a winnable game, not some long shot that requires a lightning-in-a-bottle performance.)

This is arguably the biggest “statement” game of Matt Eberflus’ two seasons as head coach. A competitive loss to a playoff-bound team doesn’t undo the progress the Bears have made in the last month. But a victory puts them in position to make a legitimate playoff run, with home games against the Cardinals (3-10) and Falcons (6-7) — two dome teams from warmer climates — the following two weeks. 

That could lead the Bears to a make-or-break regular-season finale against the Packers at Lambeau Field — the ultimate firewall to any Bears fans dream scenario. But that’s a story for another day. 

For now the story is that the Bears have earned the right to dream, which is a nice reward for a player like Kmet, who has been front-and-center as a public voice of the team in some dreadful post-game locker rooms. Lately, that’s been a much more pleasant experience. 

“It’s a results-based league — you either win or lose,” Kmet said. “I think why we were so frustrated in the middle of the season — we were putting good stuff on tape and seeing some good things, but it just wasn’t translating into wins. We’re able to now get in the win column lately and it’s a little more gratifying.”

Kmet acknowledged that the recent uptick has coincided with the acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat, who has accelerated the rise of a defense that was starting to get its legs when he arrived five games ago.

“The defense has been outstanding. I think it’s like a top-five unit in the past month,” Kmet said. I feel really confident about the defense and where it’s at. I don’t think I’ve felt like that since my rookie year [2020] — the first half of the season, you’re going, ‘All right, put up at least 20 and you feel good about where that’s at.’ 

“You’re kind of starting to feel like that with this defense, with how they’re generating pressure and what they’re doing on the back end. It’s been a lot of fun to see. There’s still a lot of stuff we dan do better [offensively] in terms of capitalizing, but they’re doing a great job and they’ve been the key to this [resurgence] so far.”