The Chicago Bears finished 6-10 this season and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
Yet, unlike last season, there was an overwhelming sense of optimism from the players in the Halas Hall locker room today.
"We built a lot here. We built a lot," Sam Acho said. "Our record doesn’t necessarily indicate it, but you can build a foundation. Sometimes the record comes with it, sometimes the record doesn’t come with it. But we built a foundation, we got better. Defensively we improved as a unit."
While the Bears finished four games under .500, and improved only one game over a disastrous 5-11 campaign in 2014, six of those losses came by less than a touchdown. Throwing out the blowout defeat to the Vikings in Week 16, six of the Bears' last seven losses came by a combined 21 points.
A play made here or there in each of those games could have easily turned a 6-10 season into a 10-6 winning year.
"I’ve been playing 11 seasons and I’ve been to the playoffs three years of those 11. And when you find teams that have losing seasons as we’ve had, normally there’s a lot of chatter in the locker room, normally there’s a lot of finger pointing. There are a lot of things that can take place that you really don’t want to take place," Antrel Rolle said. "We haven’t seen any of that here. That’s a huge step. That might not be a huge step from the outside looking in, but from within, it’s a huge step and it tells a lot about the character of guys that you have here.
"We win as a team, we lose as a team and more importantly, we understand that we’ve lost some pretty close games. Our record could have easily been 12-4, 11-5. But we were on the losing end of the stick. So there’s a lot of room here for improvement. But I think we have the guys here, the core group of guys who are willing to make that work and willing to do the extras and the sacrifices of whatever we need in order to have this a winning organization again."
Much of the improvement this year was made on the defensive side of the ball. Under coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears went from the 30th to 14th in total defense, 30th to 4th in pass defense, and 31st to 14th in points allowed.
"Obviously we didn’t do what we wanted to do," said Rolle. "But I still feel like there was a lot of growth that happened this year amongst players and coaches. Organizationally just in the mindset of things. I felt like we’ve established somewhat of an identity. Still a long ways to go with that. But I think we at least have the foundation down.
"We understand what it’s going to take in order to improve around here. And I think the coaches, general manager, players, I think we’re all on the same page when it comes to that. And I think we’re willing to all do whatever it takes to have this a winning organization again."
Players credited the new coaching staff, led by veteran head coach John Fox, for changing the overall culture in the locker room, which reached unprecedented lows following Marc Trestman's two-year reign.
“I think the culture is great. Work environment, culture, all that stuff is great," Matt Forte said. "Coach Fox along with the rest of the coaches have made a great environment to be professional football players. I told Coach Fox, too, ‘I think you’ve got a great foundation here.’ And I think this team has a great foundation now because you've got to start with that. You’re building a house, you got to start with a solid foundation or it’s gonna fall. I think this team has a great foundation right now and it just needs to be built up around the outside in different spots. Once that happens I think this team will turn the tide.”
The positivity was so thick, players consistently mentioned the "winning culture" built this season.
"It’s weird to say that like it’s establishing a winning culture around here because the record doesn’t say that. But the feeling around here is different," said Zach Miller. "I can feel the foundation being laid, as far as from top to bottom — management and roster wise. There’s a special feeling about this group and this team and where it’s going."
While 2015 was a disappointing season on many levels, injuries and a lack of talent at some crucial positions played a large part in the club's final record. Yet the Bears were still competitive in nearly every outing, which bodes very well for the future of this franchise under Fox and company.
"It means everything as far as an organization you feel is in the right direction," Miller siad. "I haven’t been around a team or a group of coaches, a staff similar to this as far as everything they do and their vision of winning. It’s exciting."