After a weekend off, the Bears returned to Halas Hall knowing their fate rests in their own hands and feeling pretty good about their prospects.
They're tied with the Packers atop the NFC North at 4-3 and have a great opportunity to take over sole possession of first place Sunday when they host the winless Lions, while the Packers must travel to Nashville to take on the Titans, who are still undefeated.
"I believe we have everything in our hands," defensive end Alex Brown said. "As long as we keep winning, we should stay in first place. I don't think Green Bay's going to play two games in a week, so they're not going to jump ahead of us."
Despite an uneven first seven games and a rash of injuries in the secondary, the Bears have positioned themselves for a playoff run.
Because of the bye week and the opportunity to rest and rehab, head coach Lovie Smith expects to have a healthier team Sunday than he's had in awhile. And it couldn't happen at a better time, with the stakes getting higher each week.
"I think football really begins when you get to November," Smith said. "That's when the separation really begins, and we want to be one of those teams that are contending in the end."
For that to happen the defense has to play better, and no one knows that better than the players on that side of the ball.
Only three teams have allowed more passing yards per game than the Bears' 243.1, and they're averaging just 2.0 sacks per game. But they're a respectable 13th in points per game and tied for 15th in yards per game.
"We have some things that we need to work on," Brown said. "Do we suck? No, I don't think we suck. But I think we can play better. I think we've got to make more plays. Watch the film, and you can see what we need to do better. I believe we will [make more plays]. We've got a veteran group, and I believe that we understand what we need to do, and I believe we'll get it done."
The Bears insist they won't take the Lions lightly Sunday, even though their 34-7 victory just four weeks ago was by far their easiest of the season. The Lions remain winless, but they lost by just eight points Sunday to the 6-2 Redskins, by seven a week earlier to the Texans and by two in Week 6 to the Vikings, a team the Bears barely defeated 48-41 in Week 7.
"The Washington Redskins are a pretty good football team," Smith said. "Except for a few big plays, Detroit gave them everything they wanted."
No one has to be reminded that the Lions beat the Bears twice last season.
"If we're not ready to play, then we won't win," Brown said. "If we expect it to be like last time, we won't win. We've got to understand that they're going to be hungry to come in here and beat us because we won a game over there."
With the Titans coming in the following week and then three straight road games, the 12 1/2-point favorite Bears can't afford to let the Lions steal a game they're supposed to win.
NOTES & QUOTES
"We'll just let him get out on the practice field and get better each day, and then he'll tell us what to do from there," Smith said. "If we think he can help us getting some offensive plays, we will. But we haven't made any decisions on that. Just the decision to get him back out on the football field and go from there."
Williams, who was expected to win a starting job in training camp before he suffered a back injury that required surgery on the second day of practice, said he's gaining confidence but unsure of how ready he is to see game action.
"I don't know where my legs are game-wise," he said, "but practice-wise I feel great." …
Speculation continues regarding the left cornerback spot that second-year player Corey Graham has handled the past three games while starter Nathan Vasher sat out with a wrist injury that required surgery and the insertion of pins, which were removed last week.
Smith was asked if Vasher had to earn the job back, but he was typically vague.
"Each snap you're earning a job," Smith said. "You have to do something to say that you deserve to be out on the football field. Nathan Vasher is a good football player. A lot has been said about him and is he starting and all of this. Nate's one of our guys. He's going to help us win a lot of football games around here."
But it might be as the nickel corner with Graham staying in the starting lineup. Further complicating the situation is Danieal Manning's return to practice on Monday. Manning missed the Week 7 game against the Vikings, but he had been playing the nickel spot before that.
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