LAKE FOREST, IL —Now that the gushing and praise have died down after the Bears' unexpected 2-0 start, it's best to realize they've only done one game better than anyone could have realistically anticipated.
An 0-2 start would have been a disaster few actually believed could happen. Sure, 65 percent of all 2-0 teams go on to make the playoffs, but something which really would open eyes would be a 3-0 start. Better than three-quarters of all 3-0 teams—76 percent to be precise—make the playoffs.
An even greater reason for excitement after a 3-0 start, of course, would be that it included a victory this coming Monday night over the preseason darling of oddsmakers everywhere, the Green Bay Packers.
Earning a win at Dallas was nothing to sniff at regardless of whether the Cowboys are overrated, as many suspect. The Cowboys had the best record of any NFC team at home over the past decade. However, beating the Packers is quite another thing entirely.
"Green Bay is going to be huge regardless of the time of year or records or anything," tight end Greg Olsen said Wednesday at Halas Hall.
It's been since 2001 that both the Bears and Packers found themselves both playing well and locked in playoff chases. In fact, that was the only time since 1995 that it's happened.
It's too early to say it will happen this year, but a 3-0 start would make it all the more likely.
It will be extremely difficult.
The Packers have a full week and an extra day to prepare a plan that will allow their defense to take advantage of the Bears' depleted offensive tackle situation resulting from Chris Williams pulled hamstring.
Last week Frank Omiyale moved over to left tackle from the right side and kept DeMarcus Ware at bay. Omiyale called it "... more of reaction, I didn’t have time to think about the situation. It was more, ‘There’s a game going on. We’re trying to win this thing. Do what you’ve got to do.’”
Dallas did little special to try to beat Omiyale playing a position he'd never played in Chicago, but the Packers have a league-high 10 sacks already and are sure to come up with something.
Also, the Bears continue having trouble playing third downs on both sides of the ball. They're converting only 28 percent of third downs after going 1-for-11 last week.
"In the long run that’s going to catch up to you," tight end Greg Olsen said. "So you have to really do a good job staying on the field and converting third downs, keeping them manageable and that’s where first and second down come in to keep that yardage on third in a short situation where you have options to run and pass and be able to alternate both those and keep the defense off balance.
"So we have to work on that."
They need to run the ball better, averaging only 69.5 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry (both ranked 28th). However, they're not too concerned about it based on what it means to their new offense.
That's quite a departure from the past, where an inability to run seemed a problem that could bring down every brick in Halas Hall itself. Then again, in the past they had virtually no chance of moving the ball through the air so an inability to run meant complete stagnation.
"As long as we keep winning games, I’m satisfied," running back Matt Forte said. "Whether I’m effective in the passing game or the rushing, both are helping our team win.
"I know the running game will come along, so I’m not really worried about that.”
The idea is that the pass sets up the run anyway in Mike Martz's offense. Consider it set up after Jay Cutler managed to get to the top of the NFL standings in passer rating and yards per pass attempt.
The defense would like to get a few more sacks, even though they've achieved their goal of three forced turnovers per game.
"Pressures are great," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "Getting back there and disrupting is great, but you’ve got to get the quarterback on the ground."
Julius Peppers has the only defensive line sack and the Bears have only two total sacks.
"Julius is a consistent rusher whatever side he is on," Idonije said. "The other three guys have to continue to impact the game and do a great job stopping the run and rushing the passer. We’re getting where we want to be."
It leaves one to wonder what would have happened if they'd kept Alex Brown to team at defensive end with Peppers. Brown only topped six sacks in a season once, but always seemed to make his sacks at the biggest point in games.
The 2-0 start looks good, and so do statistics backing up 2-0 teams as probable playoff qualifiers. Then again, in 2002 the Bears started 2-0 and led in the third game until the football bounced off Leon Johnson's facemask against the Saints and the lost fumble started a complete collapse en route to a 4-12 season.
The Bears have started 2-0 31 times in their history and made postseason play or the equivalent 19 times.
Perhaps of more relevance, their last 2-0 start was the only one they had until this year under coach Lovie Smith.
The end result was Super Bowl XLI.
Gene Chamberlain is a rapid reporter who covers the Chicago Bears for CBSsports.com