Veteran cornerback Tim Jennings enjoys having his team disrespected.
"It's how we play best," he said.
Jennings, who came to Chicago as an unrestricted free agent from Indianapolis in 2010, played in 16 games last season, starting in 13 of those. He amassed 23 total tackles and five interceptions, many at opportune times. Jennings was torched in the NFC championship game though and many analysts feel the secondary is the weak leak in the Bears' defense.
"Sure I've heard the reports saying that the Bears are only going to be mediocre this year," Jennings said. "But isn't that the way it usually goes with this team? From what I've heard from guys who have been here longer than I have been, nobody ever expects Chicago to do well, at least until the season starts. Remember, we won the division last year."
Jennings conceded that this year's early season schedule will be particularly difficult.
"I guess it's sink or swim," Jennings said. "But at least very early on, I think we as players will know exactly who we are. That's how you form an identity as a team. Each game involves 11 guys out there on the field. It isn't necessarily what this player or that player will do, but how you function as a unit. And in the case of the Bears, I think there is a definite cohesiveness that will ultimately serve us very well."
Players aren't able to go into detail regarding the team's weekly game plan but Jennings did reveal his thought process going into the matchup.
"I'm not intimidated. I don't think anybody is. In fact, this as a great test," he said. "We're going to make them grind it out against us, every single yard. I can guarantee we won't be giving anything away to Atlanta."
Jennings believes the Bears' defense will strengthen as the season progresses.
"I see guys who will be where they are supposed to be, guys who communicate well with each other. We were disappointed last year. Yes, we still have a ways to go, but we want this and we want it now," he said. "Nobody wants to end the year with a bitter feeling as we did in that last game against Green Bay. I think this team is ready to go out and show what we can do and who we are."
This Sunday will be the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a fact that will likely raise the level of emotion before the game.
"Of course it will be very emotional for every player out there," Jennings said. "I think the intensity will be very high among both fans and players, especially during the early minutes. The challenge will be to channel that intensity in a positive direction. It should be a great game both to watch and to participate in."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.