When they host the Buccaneers Sunday at Soldier Field, the Bears will be seeking to win three straight games for the first time in five years. The last time they accomplished the feat was in 2013 when they opened 3-0 in Marc Trestman's first season as coach.
"It's the most important game because it's the next one," said inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. "We have to come ready to play ball. We're on a roll right now and we have to keep it rolling. It's good for us to have this going right now, but it's all about stacking those [wins] like coach [Matt Nagy] talked about."
A victory over the Buccaneers Sunday would assure the Bears of entering their bye week in first place in the NFC North with a 3-1 record. It would also boost the team's confidence, a topic that Virginia McCaskey discussed when she met with the team on Labor Day.
"It would definitely be a morale boost, right?" said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. "One of the things Mrs. McCaskey came in and said to us was that teams that won a lot of games around here were the most confident. That's one thing I've stuck with my entire career—you never let anybody steal your confidence. I think that if we can pull this together and keep rolling the way we are, everyone's going to be a little more confident heading into the bye week."
Defense has been dominant
An opportunistic big-play defense has carried the Bears through the first three weeks of the season. The unit leads the NFL with 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles and has recorded five interceptions after picking off just eight passes in each of the previous three seasons. The defense also ranks fifth in total yards allowed and second against the run.
"We knew going into OTAs that we had a great nucleus of guys that have been here and already done it," Hicks said. "We were a top-10 defense, and I think going forward we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could be even better and I think that we've shown that so far."
As well as the defense has played, Hicks thinks the unit can be even better, especially after allowing Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford to throw touchdown passes of 35 and 21 yards in the first quarter of last Sunday's game in Arizona.
"Sky's the limit," Hicks said. "We came out there and got a little shock to our system. They got two good plays off and scored on both of them. If we can prevent that, I think we'll have overall a more balanced game."
The defense has been led by All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack, who's tied for the NFL lead with four sacks, tops the league with three forced fumbles and scored a touchdown on an interception return in the season opener against the Packers.
"He's a veteran that's done it at a high level for a while now, and he keeps making plays," Hicks said. "You see it every Sunday—he's putting something out there that guys can look at and say, ‘Man, if I try just a little bit harder, maybe I can get one of those.'"
Who will lead the Buccaneers offense?
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston has been reinstated after serving a three-game suspension to open the season. But his replacement, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is a journeyman who is playing the best football of his career. He's become the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards in three straight games and ranks second in the league with a 124.8 passer rating.
"Fitz is just hot," Hicks said. "Fitz is just slinging it down the field, he's making plays. He's a gunslinger. He does what he needs to do for their offense to put up points. Jameis, we haven't seen him since last year. He's still an elite quarterback in this league. We'll see who plays."
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