Against the Saints this past Sunday, rookie wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher scored the first touchdown of his career on an 8-yard pass from QB Jay Cutler. While it was a great moment for him individually, the game's final outcome put a damper on the accomplishment.
"Sure I enjoyed that particular moment, but some of the luster was taken off by the fact that we didn't end up winning the game," Sanzenbacher said. "In my mind the team comes first. If I had no touchdowns last weekend, but we'd won the game, I would have been satisfied."
Veteran wideout Earl Bennett left last week's game with a chest injury and is not expected to play this week. As a result, Sanzenbacher should see even more action this Sunday versus the Packers.
"You always want your opportunity," said Sanzenbacher. "But you really would never choose to have that opportunity come at the expense of another player. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled at the prospect of more playing time, but I'd gladly trade that to have Earl back out there healthy and whole."
WR Dane Sanzenbacher
John David Mercer/US Presswire
That he's is on the field at all is somewhat surprising. Although he amassed 1,820 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns at Ohio State, Sanzenbacher came to the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
"I knew that the odds against my ever making the team were high since so few undrafted [rookies] are ever signed, but I thought I'd just take my best shot at the job. I worked my tail off in training camp then hoped for the best."
Ironically, he said Bennett was the player who helped him most throughout the long process this offseason. After taking over for the veteran on Sunday, Sanzenbacher caught three passes for 33 yards, including the aforementioned TD.
"I knew that if my number was called, I'd need to go out there and perform immediately," he said. "Actually it felt quite comfortable, which was somewhat surprising considering I am new to this level. The speed of the game fit my tempo and nothing happened out there in terms of intensity that I hadn't expected. Ohio State has an intense football program, not that different from the level I've seen so far in the NFL."
The Bears and Packers have the oldest rivalry in the NFL, which typically heightens the intensity level of the contests. Yet Sanzenbacher feels quite comfortable in rivalry situations.
"Ohio State versus Michigan, that was pretty emotional," he said. "And if anything, that college rivalry helps me understand the tradition between the Packers and the Bears. Both sets of games have been going on for a long time."
While he admits he's still learning, Sanzenbacher feels he has improved every week since the start of training camp.
"Obviously you want to get rid of mistakes but you also want to build on the good things," he said. "I personally learned a lot these past few weeks. I've analyzed what I did wrong and have tried to correct that. I think you have to face losses such as the game in New Orleans as something that happened. Nothing about it can be changed now. It's not that you forget it exactly but you try to find the best of it and build constructively from there. Dwelling on a loss is counterproductive."
And what about facing a hard-nosed Green Bay defense so early in his professional career?
"It'll be a test for sure. They're physical and athletic, a very good defense. I see this as a challenge but I've always enjoyed challenges. I'll miss Earl out there but the guys, including me, who are behind him on the depth chart are expected to step up. That's what we get paid to do, to be ready to step in. I feel up to the challenge and I'm eager to do this."
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.