The Bears enter their bye week at 3-2. With the injury bug hitting the team during the past two weeks, it looks like Week 6 will prove excellent timing, as the Bears hope to rest and regroup.
The bye week has been a crucial turning point for the past four Bears teams that made the playoffs. Here's a breakdown of what happened, what made the difference and how that might apply to this year's team.
Bye-Week Record: 3-1
Year-End Record: 12-4
What happened: As has been pointed out, last season's playoff squad went through a similar path as what we've seen so far this year: an early loss to the Packers, a three-game winning streak. The Bears came out of their bye week with back-to-back losses to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots before catching fire and winning nine of the last 10 regular-season games. The best win was the early December victory over the eventual NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams.
Difference-maker: Safety Eddie Jackson started his ascension to All-Pro status after the bye week. During a four-game stretch, Jackson scored three touchdowns on turnovers.
Possible lesson: Schedule makes a difference. During that run, the team played six teams that would end the year with a record of 6-10 or worse. This season, nine of the next 11 games are against teams with a winning record through the first five games.
Bye-Week Record: 4-3
Year-End Record: 11-5
What happened: After bringing in Mike Martz as offensive coordinator to engage the Jay Cutler-led passing attack, the Bears had mixed results early. Cutler missed most of two games with a concussion, and the passing attack was held to under 100 net yards twice. Coming out of the bye week, the Bears rolled off a five-game winning streak, won the division and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
Difference-maker: The offensive line. Before the bye week, pass protection was so dismal that Cutler was getting sacked 4.5 times per game. With some off-week tinkering, the line cut that rate in half over the next eight games.
Possible lesson: You're always a month away from being on top. Coaches can make in-season adjustments that turn a team struggling to post a winning record into a contender.
Bye-Week Record: 6-0
Year-End Record: 13-3
What happened: The Bears went into their bye week with their defense dominating, their offense clicking, and Cardinals coach Dennis Green loudly affirming the Bears were, indeed, who he thought they were. As the only team on this list to go into their bye week with everything rolling, the Super Bowl-bound team began to see some cracks as the season wore on. The offense struggled mightily in three losses and even in several wins. However, the defense pulled the team to a first-round bye and, eventually, the Super Bowl.
Difference-maker: As the passing game sputtered, Thomas Jones kept the running game consistent. Jones rushed for 778 yards and four touchdowns down the final stretch.
Possible lesson: Just win the turnover battle. This Bears team notched a league-high 44 takeaways, which covered a multitude of weaknesses and made opposing coaches deliver legendary rants in the post-game presser. So far this year, the Bears have a +6 turnover margin, which bodes well for the final 11 games.
Bye-Week Record: 1-2
Year-End Record: 11-5
What happened: The team scuffled out of the gate after starting quarterback Rex Grossman went down with a broken ankle in the preseason. Eventually, rookie quarterback Kyle Orton stepped in, providing just enough stability for the running game and the defense to carry the Bears to the playoffs.
Difference-maker: With little room for error, given the struggles of the offense, defensive ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye stepped up to keep opposing quarterbacks off rhythm. The two combined for 13 sacks and 24 tackles for loss after the bye week.
Possible lesson: It is possible to gut out wins week after week. The Bears won eight games by scoring 20 points or less. So far this season, the Bears have only played in one game decided by more than a touchdown (their 31-15 win over the Redskins). If the defense stays strong, that approach is more sustainable than one might think.