While the bye week is often a time for players to get away from football, Bears center Sam Mustipher stayed locked in on the game, searching for ways to close out the remainder of the season on a high note.
"I didn't really get away," Mustipher said Monday. "I was really immersed in it. We have four weeks left to go. We're going to have plenty of time this offseason to get away from the game. I really try to dedicate all my time in season to get better and help the Bears win football games. So, it's fine for me. I guess a little bit of time away from the facility was nice, being able to hang out with the family. But I studied up on myself, watched previous games that I've played, watched other teams around the league."
Self-scouting was a crucial part of Mustipher's bye week, but it was the second time this season he had to really sit down and reflect on his performances.
The Bears had an 11-day break between their games against Washington and New England earlier in the season, giving the team a mini-bye period. The time off allowed players to evaluate their first six games, and for Mustipher, there was a clear issue: pass protection.
Mustipher focused in on the Giants game when he faced nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, who registered two of New York's five sacks on quarterback Justin Fields. While the matchup was a challenge for Mustipher, it allowed him to grow through the mistakes and be prepared for future tests like this coming week against the Eagles' talented defensive line.
"I went back to the Giants game, watched my pass sets against Dexter Lawrence, who, you'd be hard-pressed to find a lot of guys in the NFL blocking him one-on-one these days," Mustipher said. "But that's the challenge I want. I want to play teams like the Philadelphia Eagles' front seven. I want to play the Kenny Clarks of the NFL. I want to play the Dexter Lawrences of the NFL, because that's what I train for.
"So I went back and watched that and was like, 'alright, if I am who I say I am, I gotta be able to block guys like that one-on-one, so we can get other double teams where we need other help at.' So that was really the game for me that I evaluated the most and I went back, tried to clean up everything as best I could and then as the season progresses, continue to do things like that."
While that mini-bye allowed for personal growth, Mustipher faced another challenge the following week against New England, as veteran Lucas Patrick got the start at center. However, Mustipher only spent 10 snaps on the sideline as Patrick left the game with a toe injury on the Bears' second drive. Mustipher has held the starting center spot since, but the message of being benched still resonated with him.
"Anytime you go to the bench, you should probably come back better," Mustipher said. "It was rough, a tough pill to swallow but at the end of the day, I could sulk about it or do something about it. And I chose to do something about it."
Since the Commanders game Oct. 13, Mustipher has been a part of an offense that's averaged 25.2 points and 360.9 total yards per game. The Bears most recently recorded a season-high 409 yards of offense eight days ago against the Packers.
The offensive line has also helped create the league's top rushing attack with 2,459 total yards on the ground and 5.4 yards per carry.
While the success of the Bears' run game is something Mustipher is proud of, he's most focused on getting the rest of the offense on the same level and in turn, stringing together wins.
"Obviously first and foremost what you want to do is win football games and we haven't done that," Mustipher said. "So we've really focused on the areas we have to clean up. One of those areas being pass protection and being more efficient in our passing game. If we just sit here and hang our hat on what we do as a strength, we'll all be out of a job. So it's really been the focus on what we need to improve and how we can improve it."