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Bears eager to keep streak alive

Caption
(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Devin Hester returns a punt in the first half against Carolina on Oct. 28 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Typically, telling the truth provides the fastest way to create bulletin-board material in the NFL.

But when Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak offered an unfiltered opinion about the Bears in the days leading up to today’s game, hardly anyone noticed.

More praise for the Bears’ defense? Yawn.

“There are not any weaknesses,” Munchak said. “These guys have been playing very well. The statistics prove that out. You look at anything where they’re ranked. As far as stopping the run: No. 1. They’re not allowing points: No. 1. These guys are playing well.”

Yet the Bears have a long way to go to meet their goals.

The Bears (6-1) are in a great spot heading into today’s game against the Titans (3-5) at LP Field in Nashville. They have won five consecutive games and sit atop the NFC North by 1˝ games ahead of the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, who both are 5-3 heading into Week 9.

Now that the calendar has flipped to November, the Bears can sense greater urgency in the division race. They need to beat sub-.500 teams such as the Titans because their schedule is backloaded with difficult games, including seven of eight opponents who are .500 or better.

“It’s important for us to win this week because we’re really in a race right now in our division with the Packers, the Vikings and even the Lions,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “If we lose any of these games coming up, we put ourselves in contention – we already have one loss to Green Bay – we put ourselves in contention to possibly lose the division.

“Right now, we can control what we do. What we can do is we can continue to win. If we win out, then we put ourselves in position for the playoffs.”

Playoffs or not, long win streaks have become common during the Lovie Smith era. Including this season, the Bears have posted long winning streaks in five of the past eight years. They won five consecutive games 2010 and 2011, seven consecutive games in 2006 and eight consecutive games in 2005.

Bears safety Craig Steltz has been a part of two long winning streaks since he was drafted in 2008 out of LSU. He said he believed in the power of momentum as wins started to add up.

“You do,” Steltz said. “You get confident, and you kind of get that swagger about your team. We’re just trying each week to continue to get better and continue to get those wins.”

As for how this group compared to previous Bears teams, Steltz said, it was too soon to tell.

“Every group is different,” Steltz said. “We’re coming together as a team right now and trying to find our identity, and each week we’re doing that on defense, on offense, on special teams. We’ll just continue to bond as a group.”

It’s a group that goes far beyond the 11 players on the field at any given time.

“We’ve got good coaches,” said Bears nickelback D.J. Moore, a fourth-year veteran. “We’ve got good players. The coach puts you in position to make the play, and it’s left up to you to compete with the offense and make the play.

“Sometimes it happens for us, sometimes it doesn’t. Every week, it seems like it’s been happening where we get it at a big time.”

What to watch for

Five things to track during today’s Bears game.

Stopping the run Chris Johnson garnered the nickname “CJ2K” after his 2,000-yard rushing season in 2009. Johnson has reverted to “CJ1K” since then, but he remains a threat to break a long run on any given carry. To contain Johnson, it will be up to the defensive line to clog running lanes.

Life on the edge Kamerion Wimbley feasted on the Bears’ offensive line in 2011 as a pass rusher with the Oakland Raiders. Wimbley now plays defensive end for the Titans, and he could create headaches for left tackle J’Marcus Webb. A few early sacks could limit the Bears’ game plan.

Touches for Forte Matt Forte looked ready to have a big game last week against Carolina, but a heavy dose of first-down passing plays left Forte with only 15 carries by game’s end. Bears coaches have talked about getting Forte more involved in the offense, which could mean 20-plus carries.

Rookie threat Kendall Wright does not boast impressive size (5-10, 196 pounds), but the Bears would be foolish to overlook the Titans’ rookie receiver. Wright has caught 40 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns in his first eight games after playing with Robert Griffin III at Baylor.

Field position Although Devin Hester was frustrated by Carolina’s squib-kick strategy in Week 8, the plan provided the Bears with great field position near the 40-yard line on multiple occasions. If the Titans decide to test Hester, he could erase his quiet start with a big kick return.

-Tom Musick

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