Maybe Jack Del Rio should hang a sign at practice this week: Beware of Bears.
The Jaguars would do well not to be fooled by the Chicago Bears' record, 5-7, or the Bears' very unimpressive statistical rankings. This is a team playing its best football of the year. The Bears are a team on the rise under a rookie coach who has lit a fire in his players, and they'll play with a nothing-to-lose attitude this Sunday when they face the Jaguars at Alltel Stadium.
"Our coaches are awesome," linebacker Brian Urlacher said when asked how the team held it together following a 1-5 start. "Coach Smith wouldn't let us go in the tank. We kept practicing hard, we eliminated a bunch of our mistakes and that was the main thing. We got those eliminated and we started winning games."
Lovie Smith is doing for the Bears what Jack Del Rio did for the Jaguars last year, which is to say the Bears are playing their best football in the second half of the season. In gaining perspective for this Sunday's game, the Jaguars would do well to remember what they were at this time last season.
"I like playing for him; he's a great coach," Urlacher said. "We all love to play and he's a smart guy. He's a defensive coach, which I like. He brought his defense here. He's fun to play for."
The Bears are building their future on a young defense that features first-round draft choice Tommie Harris at defensive tackle. Defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown are also part of that future.
Chicago is 17th overall on defense and a lowly 27th against the run, but those statistics have been compromised greatly by an offense that is 28th in the league in time of possession and dead last in total yardage. In other words, when you play defense as much as the Bears have, you're bound to allow a lot of yards.
That may have changed with last Sunday's win over the Vikings. Chad Hutchinson got his first start of the season and Hutchinson responded with the best performance by a Bears quarterback this year: 18 of 30 for 213 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 115.0 passer rating.
Hutchinson instantly makes the Bears a dangerous team. Had it not been for Rex Grossman's early-season injury and the futility the Bears have endured at the position since Grossman's injury, the Bears might be locked in the NFC North title race. As it stands, the Bears are long-shots to make the playoffs, though they remain alive for a wild-card berth.
The Jaguars are in a similar situation. At 6-6, the Jaguars may have to win-out to make the playoffs, and Del Rio said earlier this week that winning-out begins with winning the next game.
"Both of us need to win to stay in the hunt," Del Rio said. "They've got a very good return game. Offensively, both running backs (Thomas Jones and Anthony Thomas) have the ability to hurt you. Thomas is a downhill power runner. Jones is a change of pace. If they get solid play from the quarterback, it'll help them go a long way.
"He made good decisions, threw the ball well. He did a good job of running the offense," Del Rio added of Hutchinson.
All of it adds up to this: Beware of Bears. They are more dangerous than they first appear to be.