Emma: For Bears, Winning Habits Can Form Here

October 26, 2018 - 11:33 am
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Winning is no accident in the NFL. For a league filled with such parity, a 17-week roller coaster ride for some, winning becomes a habit.

Teams like the Patriots put themselves in position for those victories, whether it's rushing a veteran linebacker through to block a punt or having a cornerback waiting at the 1-yard line to stuff a Hail Mary one yard short. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and that perennial playoff team from New England win games like that last Sunday because it's in their pedigree.

The Bears aren't there yet. It's an upstart team confident like a winner, believing it can be great, but still not capable of making winning a habit. The Bears are 3-3 entering this Week 8 matchup with the Jets on Sunday and have lost all three contests by a combined 11 points.

In fact, the Bears have led by double digits in each of their three losses this season. While they managed to pull through in one-score victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals, they also beat themselves plenty in each defeat. The Bears haven't been good enough in the end.

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"What does that mean," said coach Matt Nagy, "finish? Finish is easy to say, but is that just in the game? Is that on Sunday when you start playing? OK, now I’ve got to turn the finish button on, I’ve got to try to finish. No, the finish button starts throughout the week. You’ve got to practice and always finish in practice. You’ve got to watch tape, and don’t half-ass it. Watch it the whole way through and finish it. I mean, there’s little things. It’s got to be done in the preparation part, and that translates to the field."

The losses sting for players like tight end Trey Burton and linebacker Danny Trevathan, who have both held the Lombardi Trophy as a Super Bowl champion. They have been part of teams that made the winning plays late in a game -- teams that didn't beat themselves. Trevathan experienced 8-24 in his first two seasons with the Bears, and he let the losses simmer. 

The Bears last season lost six times by one score, and while much of Chicago looked ahead to the head-coaching change that loomed and rooted for a top-10 draft pick, a young roster was missing its chance to establish that winning foundation. For many Bears, all they know in the NFL is losing.

In Trevathan's mind, belief is half the battle. But there is something to be gained through those games coming up short. The Bears can learn from losing that 20-0 lead at Lambeau Field or giving Brady a chance to beat them.

"We want to feel bad when we lose," Trevathan said. "That's the thing about it. We hate to lose but it makes us work even harder."

The payoff for that 5-11 season in 2017 was the eighth overall pick and inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the Butkus Award-winning leader of Georgia's defense. He arrived in Chicago having led the Bulldogs to the national championship game and experienced a heartbreaking loss to Alabama. 

Smith is one of the young players on this Bears team helping create that winning edge. In time, they will follow his lead.

"You play the game to win," the rookie Smith said. "If you're a competitor at all, that's your goal going into anything. If you're playing your 5-year-old little cousin in a pickup game, your goal is to win. That's the main thing. That's the focus here."

The Bears know the league's parity well, winning three straight games and moving into first place and now in fourth place and looking to avoid a three-game skid. Nagy have lived the ebbs and flows of a season from his time in Kansas City. Last season, the Chiefs started 5-0, lost five of six games then finished with four straight wins. 

Nagy learned from his mentor in Kansas City, head coach Andy Reid, that a leader must stay even keeled through the course of those 17 weeks. Get to the playoffs and anything can happen.

"You won’t see me panic because I learned that," Nagy said. "And I think that’s the best way to handle things. Good people stick together. They rally through this kind of stuff and you just keep playing."

On paper, there is opportunity ahead for the Bears. They host the Jets (3-4) on Sunday at Soldier Field then travel to Buffalo and play the Bills (2-5) before a span of three divisional games in 12 days. 

If the Bears are to reach the playoffs this season, this is their stretch. They beat the teams they're supposed to beat and win the division games that playoff teams win.

How will they handle this string of losses? Will the Bears let the losing fuel their preparation? Winning habits can form here.

"This is the time of the season where teams pick and choose their destiny," Trevathan said. "Ours is laid out in front of us. As long as we go out and attack it, we'll be victorious and come out on top."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​