General manager Jerry Angelo, the architect who built the NFC North-champion Bears, doesn't believe this team is the most talented since he took over after the 2000 season.
"I don't see this as a team with great talent," Angelo said, "but I see this as a team that's played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through. The word 'resilient' has been used several times, and I think that really is a good word to define this team, and hopefully we'll keep that resiliency going on into the playoffs."
With a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed, the rewards of an 11-5 record and division title, the Bears have tied the 2005 squad as the second-winningest under coach Lovie Smith. The next season the Bears went 13-3 and lost in Super Bowl XLI.
"I'm not minimizing that we don't have talent," Angelo said. "But in '06, we had [eight] Pro Bowlers. We had four this year. We do have talent on the football team. You don't win without talent. But I saw this more as a team that really played well as a team, that hung tough. I've always said: 'If you don't have a good locker room, you can't have a good team.'"
Angelo's acquisition of Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers could cost the Bears $91.5 million over six years, but Peppers is a big reason the Bears are back in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus. He's made everyone around him on the field better, and his work ethic and team attitude have made him a great addition in the locker room as well. It was a move Angelo believes the Bears couldn't afford not to make, considering their need for a dominant pass rusher on the defensive line.
"That happens once in a career," Angelo said. "I remember when Green Bay picked up (Hall of Fame defensive end) Reggie White. I know what a player like that can do to a football team, and I thought that was the missing link for Green Bay to do the great things they did. We always have a plan going into free agency, but when you see something that you consider special, you have to go after it and go after it hard.
"But money doesn't guarantee that you're going to have a good team or a successful team. It's the chemistry that determines the kind of football team you're going to have. I felt we did a pretty good job of that. It starts with team and it ends with team, and anything else in between is losing football. I felt like that was really what we saw this year, and, to me personally, I take great satisfaction in that."
As significant as the changes in the locker room this season were changes the Bears made on the coaching staff, hiring Mike Martz to run the offense, promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and adding Mike Tice as the offensive line coach. All three have been head coaches in the NFL.
"We needed to make changes because things weren't working," Angelo said. "Change is never easy, but the changes we made, we felt would make us better, not only through personnel but our staff as well. We felt good about everybody we brought in, from players to coaches, but the unknown was: How quickly is it going to come to fruition? In our case, it came together pretty quickly."
In the process, Smith has gone from the hot seat to the driver's seat as the Bears went from preseason question mark to Super Bowl contender. Naturally, the subject of a contract extension has been a recent topic of conversation. Smith's current contract expires after next season.
"When the season is over, and hopefully that's not going to be for a while, then we will address all of those things," said Angelo, who is under contract through 2013. "All the time that I've been here, we always do what you need to do to take care of business. Right now, our focus is on this upcoming game and finishing the job."
Finally, Angelo addressed rumors about his departure.
"I've heard it," he said. "But that's not going to happen. I am very fortunate to be here, and as long I'm blessed with health, I continue to do what I love to do, and that's be a part of football."
WR Devin Hester had just nine catches in his last five games for 105 yards, but they included TD receptions of 15 and 25 yards. ...
WR Rashied Davis had a career-best seven receptions in the regular-season finale and 63 receiving yards while filling in for Earl Bennett. Davis had two catches for 21 yards in the first 15 games. ...
Bennett (ankle) is expected to be 100 percent for the divisional-round playoff game after sitting out Week 17. He still finished third on the team with 46 catches and 561 yards. ...
TE Greg Olsen's 41 catches and 404 yards were his lowest totals since his rookie season of 2007. ...
QB Jay Cutler posted a disappointing 43.5 passer rating in the regular-season finale, but still finished over 100.0 in four of his last six games. ...
RB Matt Forte tied for the team lead with 51 receptions and was third with 547 yards. He had a team-best nine touchdowns. ...
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa finished the season finale on the field for the first time in seven weeks. He had been hobbled for much of the second half of the season with a knee problem that required arthroscopic surgery. ...
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