How important is it for the Bears to beat Detroit on Monday night? Just ask Lance Briggs.
"This is a huge division game for us," Briggs said. "To the team, it's the difference between being in the midst [of the playoff hunt], or being set back."
For this NFC North matchup, the Bears will be performing under the national spotlight, playing their first of two Monday Night Football games this season. Under coach Lovie Smith Chicago is 6-1 on MNF, including four-straight victories.
"Monday Night Football is very important to the players," said Briggs. "It's played under the lights in front of a big crowd. Millions of fans are watching the game on television. It's definitely center-stage material. It's a time that big-time players need to make big-time plays."
LBs Brian Urlacher & Lance Briggs
But are the Bears ready to face a resurgent Lions club that has erased two-straight second-half deficits of 13 and 24 points respectively? A team that is now 4-0 with an NFL-best eight straight wins dating back to last year? A team that, after years of floundering toward the bottom of the division, is playing with a swagger unmatched in the league to this point?
"Yes, I believe we can stop them, but only after analyzing our individual play first," Briggs said. "We need to examine the film, see where we can improve and put everything together so we are back playing as a defense at the level where we should be playing."
And although the Bears beat the Panthers last Sunday in Chicago, Carolina's offensive production was troubling to say the least. They racked up 543 total yards, led by rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who had three touchdowns on the day.
But it wasn't just last week that saw Chicago's defense give up far too many yards. Atlanta picked up 386 total yards in Week 1, New Orleans had 382 in Week 2 and Green Bay amassed 392 in Week 3. The Bears are currently ranked 31st in total defense and 20th in points against.
According to Briggs, the team hasn't yet been able to pinpoint the problem.
"I don't know yet," he said. "We're trying to figure it out right now. It's not as if you can point to any one guy and say ‘Hey, you didn't do your job.' Even with the injuries we had in the secondary, it was up to the rest of us to compensate for any perceived weakness in our defense. There was just too much pressure that we were not compensating for."
Neither was Brian Urlacher able to offer an explanation as to what ails the defense.
"I don't know what's going on or why we're giving up long runs and big passes," Urlacher said. "It's not the way we do things. But I do think this is fixable."
Against the Lions, the Bears will face an explosive offense that features the best receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson, in a hostile road environment -- hardly the ideal situation for a statement game.
Defensive end Israel Idonije said the players understand the potential difficulties but they still felt they can return to their former dominant selves.
"Yes, I heard all about the phone conference yesterday when Suh said he was going to rip our players' heads off," said Idonije. "OK, that's trash talk and there's always a lot of that going on before a big game. Can he do it? Doubtful. Do I think that our side can return the favor? Definitely. That's the kind of test we love as a defense."
DE Israel Idonije
To Idonije, the importance of the upcoming game cannot be overstated.
"Monday Night. Big night. Am I excited? Yes I am," he said. "Would we like to end Detroit's undefeated streak? Of course. The way to do that is to come out and make a statement early on. If you let the Lions build momentum, it's easy for things to go out of control. Ask Tony Romo and the Cowboys about that scenario."
How could the Lions, a team once considered to be the division's doormat, now pose such a challenge to the Bears?
"They were overlooked at one time, but that was several years ago. What we're talking about is the Lions team as they are now," Idonije said. "They've got one of the top, if not the top, receiver in the league in Calvin Johnson. They have a smart quarterback who takes advantages of the situations he sees. If these players stay healthy and stay on the field, look out. Their O-line is strong and has done well recently in protection. Why shouldn't they be good?"
Still, despite Detroit's fast start, Idonije said the Bears' defense is far from intimidated.
"We've watched the film, we've seen the stats and we know what they are capable of," he said. "But the thing people seem to be forgetting is that we are a strong team as well. I think this is going to be a hard-fought game with everything left out there on the field. It's a statement game for us, and for the Lions as well. It's what we live for. That's the kind of a situation that makes for great football."
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.