INDIANAPOLIS – Determined to rebound from a 5-11 last-place finish in 2017, the Bears remained hungry, focused and driven throughout a resurgent 2018 season.
Led by first-year coach Matt Nagy, they stormed to the NFC North championship with a 12-4 record. They led the NFL with 36 takeaways and had eight players named to the Pro Bowl after having none selected the previous season.
As Nagy enters Year 2 at the helm, he anticipates that his biggest challenge will be "to make sure that there's no complacency and our guys realize that we're now the hunted."
"It's my job, my responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen," Nagy told reporters Wednesday at the NFL Combine. "I look forward to that. I think that's one of the fun parts in my position is being able to be creative and find ways of how do you do it. You've got to be motivational, but yet you can't be monotonous with it. Now [the players] know me and I know them, for the most part, so they're going to understand it.
"We also have a young group of guys that I'll continue to go back to. They truly believed in where we were last year at the end of the year in the playoffs, and they were ready to win the Super Bowl. But they also understand how tough it is, and that every play matters. So now we're going to go right back to every practice matters and every week matters and every month, and then before you know it, it's going to be Week 1."
Nagy was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2018 after compiling the most wins by a first-year coach in Bears history and more than any of the NFL's other current coaches in their first seasons. In addition, Nagy became the first coach to lead the Bears to a winning record and a postseason berth in his first year since Paddy Driscoll in 1956.
"What we've done is build this foundation," Nagy said. "That was our goal in Year 1—let's build a foundation. And I don't know what our record's going to be, but let's get everybody in this building—at Halas Hall back in Chicago—to believe and trust what we're talking about. It's easy to talk about it, but you have to back it up.
"Now that I feel like we've got that full trust from the players and the people within the building, now we've got to maintain it."
After speaking with his players individually one day after the Bears' gut-wrenching 16-15 wild-card playoff loss to the Eagles, Nagy has no doubt that they'll return for the start of the offseason program in mid-April with the right mentality.
"The hunger that was in our players' guts and what was in their eyes when we talked and I met with them individually, you can't make that up," Nagy said. "They're ready. They're ready to get back at it."
Nagy expects the Bears to rebound from their bitter playoff loss just like they did following a disappointing season-opening defeat in Green Bay. After blowing a 20-0 lead in an eventual 24-23 loss, they reeled off three straight victories and ultimately won 12 of their final 15 games to win their first division title since 2010.
"You obviously don't want it to end like it did," Nagy said. "You want to be the team holding the trophy in the end. I'll make that clear. But I relate it to that Green Bay Packers game in Week 1, where we have the lead and we end up losing that lead.
"It was a sick feeling, but guess what? Our guys used that for motivation the rest of the year. So hopefully we can use that loss to Philly as motivation."