The numbers say the Bears defense is something special, as do the Bears players. Now, even opposing players are starting to say it.
After holding the Panthers to three points on Sunday, the Bears are on pace to better the franchise record of 187 points allowed, which was set by the 1986 team. The current edition of the Bears have permitted 110 points in 10 games, and are on pace to challenge the NFL record for a 16-game season of 165 points allowed, by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. At the current rate, the Bears would allow 176 points this season.
The Bears aren't exactly bragging yet, but they're not denying the obvious.
"I don't know, I don't watch all the defenses," strong safety Mike Brown said when asked if he played on the league's best defense. "I feel like we have one of the better defenses in the NFL."
After a slight pause, he added, "Man for man, I believe we're probably the top."
The defense has allowed just three touchdowns in its opponents' past 78 possessions and none in its past 27, and the Bears are No. 1 in the league in points and yards allowed. Five of the Bears' 10 opponents have failed to reach the end zone, and Chicago has the NFL's No. 1 red-zone defense.
The Bears seem more inclined every week, and with each victory, to address the question of who is the best defense in the NFL. But it's something they believed they were capable of since training camp.
"As a football team, we didn't all of a sudden start saying, ‘OK, now we're good,' " coach Lovie Smith said. "The players have been saying the same thing for quite a while: that we're a good football team. But you have to go out and prove it."
Sunday's performance against Carolina, the NFL's No. 4 scoring offense, proved it to anyone watching. The Bears even got a huge recommendation from Panthers 34-year-old defensive tackle Brentson Buckner.
"I've been in the league 12 years now," Buckner said, "and it's the best defense I've seen in 12 years. They do what they want to do. They get sacks, and they get takeaways, and they play smart football. They might be the closest to that Bears defense of ‘85 that I've seen."
As the Bucs' linebackers coach for five years, from 1996-2000, and the Rams' defensive coordinator for the following three years, Smith has seen some stifling defenses in his day. He likes what he's seen so far from the Bears, and what he heard from Buckner, but he said it's too soon to get caught up in superlatives.
"Brentson is a good football player," Smith said. "He knows defense. That's definitely a compliment coming from a player like him. But I've seen a lot of defenses. I think you put a defense where it's supposed to be and compare it to others after the year.
"Comparing during the year, it doesn't really matter an awful lot. Just look at our football team. We were supposed to be the worst football team (according to Sports Illustrated). We started the season, and we won a few, and we're a little bit better. What does it really mean? When it's all said and done, I'm anxious to see where our defense stands and what we do as a team."
The NFL Players Association says that wide receiver Charles Rogers should not be obligated to repay the Lions $10.184 million in bonus money for his substance abuse suspension.
The Lions filed a grievance to collect the money based on language in the seven-year contract signed by Rogers as the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NFL draft.
Players union general counsel Richard Berthelsen said this week that the collective bargaining agreement does not allow a player to be disciplined twice for the same offense.
Rogers was suspended for four games in October for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. According to the union, the Lions do not have the authority — under the current CBA — to deal out additional penalties.
The union denied the Lions' grievance last week and it appears the case will now go to arbitration, a process that could stretch into a year.
Teams have won similar cases — including Miami's case against running back Ricky Williams — in recent times, despite the union's claims.