LAKE FOREST — What is the biggest difference in the Green Bay Packers since the opening night of the 2018 season?
The team that came back from a 20-0 deficit with less than 18 minutes to play in Week 1 to beat the Bears, 24-23, was the presumptive favorite by many to win the NFC North this year and a solid Super Bowl contender.
The Packers who show up Sunday at Soldier Field will arrive out of the NFC North race, with their playoff hopes on life support and under new leadership in interim head coach Joe Philbin after Mike McCarthy was fired 10 days ago. All that keeps Packers fans clinging to hope of better things to come is Aaron Rodgers.
What is the biggest difference in the Bears? After starting the season as a solid consensus choice to finish last in the division for the fifth straight year, the Bears are running away with the NFC North and might actually be a legitimate Super Bowl threat.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears have forgotten what happened Sept. 9 at Lambeau Field. Head coach Matt Nagy expounded on that thought Wednesday.
“You always remember all your losses, way more than you remember your wins. And they sting," Nagy said. "Especially when you have the lead like we did and we didn't finish l like we needed to.
“They remember that, they feel it. And I want them to remember that because sometimes when you go on through the season and you have success like we've had, you can forget that sting. And I don't want them to forget that sting because we've got a ways to go yet here.”
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has some input on how the Bears have flipped the script.
“The biggest difference in this team? I think just experience, sticking together," he said. "We’re really the only ones that believed that we could possibly be in this position. Just believing in each other, believing in our coach, believing in the plan and just going out there and really making it happen.
“No one else thought we’d be in position, but we always thought we could.”
Perhaps the reason the rest of the league suddenly is taking notice of these Bears — in addition to the merciless beating they put on the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday — is how much room they still have between their ceiling and where they are now.
One of the knocks on the Bears has been the inconsistency in their ground game before Sunday night’s 194 yards on 35 attempts for 5.5 yards a run. Asked how big it would be for that to continue Nagy said, “Sure, it would be really big for us to do that. Any quarterback you talk to will tell you to have that running game going, man, it makes things a lot easier.
“It opens up the play-actions, it opens up the shots downfield. The 'D' line doesn't just pin you all the time. The 'O' line will tell you, 'Let's get the running game going so we can go forward and not always go backwards in the pass set.' “We need to build off that.”
It also was somewhat remarkable the Bears could dominate the Rams as they did Sunday with Trubisky's off night. The QB certainly is aware of his poor performance and is committed to being better.
“The No. 1 thing for me is wins and losses," he said. "So when we win, I’m going to definitely celebrate with my teammates. We know how hard it is in this league, so we’re always going to cherish those, have a good time.
"But at the same time, I know I can play a lot better. I’m hard on myself. I just want to do a lot better for my team and do my job and do it a lot better.”
At the end of the day what is most impressive about these Bears is how young they are, and that other than Khalil Mack — and maybe Danny Trevathan and Prince Amukamara — every one of them still is getting better.
It feels like Sunday could be more than a chance for the Bears to win their first NFC North title since 2010; it could be a passing of the torch for the foreseeable future.