Roquan Smith didn't have his best game of the season in Week 12.
The 41-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers, in hindsight, looks like the turning point in the Bears' season. That was the game where Mitchell Trubisky, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars became full-time starters and the team's offense took off.
However, Smith and the rest of the defense allowed more points than they had at any point in the past two seasons. Smith recorded five tackles, none for a loss.
"We did not play to our standards," said Smith, "and that wasn't the way we had envisioned on coming out. But it happened, so we just go to put that on the back of our shoulders and add more fuel to our fire. We just know we can't play like that coming into this next game if we want to win."
Smith doesn't want to build the upcoming matchup against the Packers to be bigger than it is. In his mind, the game is important because it's the one he'll play on Sunday. The third-year linebacker doesn't have much use for the discussion of the implications.
The emergence of the offense has also mirrored Smith's ascension as, perhaps, the defense's best player. Since the loss in Week 12, Smith has recorded two sacks in one blowout win and two interceptions in another.
Smith has played almost every defensive snap this season and has become central to how the team performs. In Aaron Rodgers, a likely MVP candidate, Smith will face the season's biggest challenge.
Smith acknowledges Rodgers' prowess but believes the Bears' defense can do enough to hold him in check.
"We obviously know this guy makes a lot of adjustments at the line," said Smith. "He's great at what he does, plays the game at a very high level. But it's going to be more so about us. He's going to do what he's going to do, and we're going to do what we're going to do, and we're just going to let it go from there."
One thing that Smith says will not be motivation is his recent Pro Bowl snub. Smith was not rewarded with his first career selection despite leading the NFC in solo tackles and tackles-for-loss.
"You look at each and every game," said Smith. "The games I played, I think that speaks for itself. I don't know what others are out there doing. I'm not really that worried about that. But as far as me, I'm just controlling what I can control. It's not my job to vote myself in or anything like that."
The Bears will need Smith's sure tackling and nose for the ball against a Packers team that excels running the ball just as much as it does passing it. The team will also need to contend with Green Bay's stable of big, physical receivers.
"Those guys definitely make a lot of yards after the catch," said Smith. "But a lot of things, too, like with [Davante] Adams and stuff, people are 10-12 yards off. Of course, you just toss it out there and the man's going to get 6 or 7 before anyone can even get close to him. So it's just about when we're playing, doing what we do and just eliminating the yards after the contact and not just giving them freebies."
In a typical year, the defense might have relied on a packed Soldier Field to give the Bears an edge, as it did in the team's upset of the Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams in 2018. However, Smith believes the quiet stadium brings its own advantages.
"I feel like it helps me a little bit on the defensive side of the ball," said Smith, "being able to hear my coaches if there's something that I am maybe missing or that I've missed hearing those guys yell. But it's also good when you're hearing the offense if it's the same checks that mean the same things. It gives you an advantage to hear them things more clearly."
In a reversal of the previous three years, the Bears will need more from their defense to pull off the upset win. As the offense has gained consistency, it has motivated its counterpart. Smith believes the team is ready to play complementary football.
"It's pretty amazing just seeing that from afar on the defensive side of the ball," said Smith. "We definitely feed off that momentum from the 'O,' and they're doing great things. I'm sure when we're doing great things, they feed off it as well. It's just all about working together as a team."