Safety Bobby Gray's full-speed, shoulder-to-chest collision ended Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe's day six minutes early last Sunday. Rookie cornerback Charles Tillman knocked veteran wideout Ed McCaffrey on his butt after an incomplete pass a couple minutes later. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher shortened running back Clinton Portis' neck -- and his own -- earlier in the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit, and strong-side linebacker Lance Briggs was on his usual search-and-destroy mission.
"We certainly hope that we're starting to be that team that nobody wants to play this time of year," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said. "Where most teams are starting to wear down this time of year, the most physical teams usually are the ones that win games. Everybody's a little banged up now. We were banged up early, and we got pushed around, so guys said, 'Enough of this (stuff), let's go out and push some people around.'"
The Bears have three wins in their last five games, after a 1-5 start, and the defense has made major strides in most key categories.
"We've got guys stepping up, younger guys," Robinson said. "I think this time of year teams are saying, 'You know what? Win or lose, you're going to be in a dogfight when you play the Bears,' and that's the type of reputation that we'd like to get. It feels pretty good."
But not if you're on the receiving end of the punishment, and wide receiver Marty Booker has been there frequently.
"You think about it," said Booker, who never appears affected by the violence. "I've been on the receiving end. It's tough to take shots like that. You think about it, but you don't want to be psyched out. No matter what, you still have to go across that middle and do whatever you have to do out there and catch the ball. You just hope that maybe he takes a bad angle, or his timing's off."
Booker says that certain teams earn a reputation for intimidation and so do individuals.
"Look at (Tampa Bay's) John Lynch and guys like that," Booker said. "He's always up there trying to deliver a blow. The only thing you can do is try to stay away from him, and if you have to go somewhere near him, make sure you catch him while he's not looking or taking a bad angle."
Bears defenders know that if they get other teams worrying more about their health than their assignment, they have an advantage.
"I think if someone goes across the middle and Urlacher or Briggs lights them up," Tillman said, "the next time they go across the middle, they might be a little hesitant."
Coach Dick Jauron says there's a difference between hard-nosed football and thuggery. He doesn't want a team that crosses the line, but a team that takes it to the limit has an edge.
"Intimidation is not a term we use," Jauron said. "But I do believe that if you're a physical football team, that it definitely affects people when they have to play you, and it just makes sense that it would. We'd like to be the most physical team. We'd clearly like to be known as a physical team.
"If you're a receiver, you notice those things. If you're a runner, you notice those things. You can't help not noticing it."
Lately, opponents are noticing it more than ever when they play the Bears.