That’s what the Bears and their fans — and expected — back in the summer when talking Super Bowl.
A dynamic, self-sufficient offense. A defense capable of answering the greatest challenges. Special teams that make winning plays instead of losing ones.
It all came together so wonderfully Thursday in the Bears’ 31-24 win over the Cowboys, which was not as close as the score indicated.
For the second straight game, Mitch Trubisky was a major reason the Bears won. He accounted for four touchdowns in front of a national prime-time audience.
The defense shut down the NFL’s top-ranked offense despite losing another top contributor, inside linebacker Roquan Smith, to a probable season-ending pectoral muscle injury.
It amounted to the Bears’ most emphatic, complete win of 2019. Sure, it probably arrived too late to resuscitate their faint postseason pulse. But for one night on the lakefront, at least, this season felt fun.
Like, almost 2018 fun.
“You can’t fix the past,” said receiver Allen Robinson, who caught two of Trubisky’s three touchdown passes. “But we can have control of what’s in the future for us. That’s the next day. We know the situation that we’re in.”
More specifically, the Bears’ spit-and-polished three-game winning streak has them, ahem, “in the hunt.” At least, that’s the deal according to TV graphics explaining the playoff picture.
They still need the Vikings to collapse to have a shot at playing in January. But that’s not the main takeaway Thursday.
For the first time since Oct. 20, the Bears have a winning record, 7-6. This team did not fold or shatter or crumble or however else lesser groups disintegrate when a season goes wayward. That counts for something.
Between the unusually frequent singalongs to “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” at Soldier Field, you could hear incredulous voices echoing through the city, asking: “Where the heck has this been all year?”
It’s a valid question. Certainly, a tempting one to ask, given the unmet expectations of this season after last year’s magic carpet ride to 12-4.
Finding an answer won’t vault the Bears upward in the standings. But maybe it would help fans grieve this season and understand why it took 13 games for everything to click.
“It’s just the attention to detail, in my opinion,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “Our attention to detail is off the charts right now. Guys are locked in more. Guys are focused on their job. They’re not thinking about any outside noise or, ‘I messed up this play, so I’ve got to press harder.’ If they mess up one play, they move on and get the job done the next play. We’re playing carefree, honestly.”
Why couldn’t they do that earlier? Why did pressure or expectations tie them so tightly in knots?
You could bang your head against the wall trying to figure it out. Or you could just adopt a better-late-than-never perspective.
The latter, at least, was the collective mindset inside the happy home locker room as Thursday night turned to Friday morning.
“Players, they play different when you're winning,” coach Matt Nagy said. “You play looser. You don't press as much. Right now, the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn't feel like one of those deals where if we don't hold them to under 14 points, we don't have a chance to win.”
Trubisky exemplified that. He ran around Soldier Field and through the Cowboys like it was a schoolyard. His schoolyard.
He rushed nine times for 64 yards, excluding a victory kneeldown. Five of his runs gained a first down, including 23-yard touchdown on a zone-read keeper that made it 31-14 early in the fourth quarter.
“The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterward,” Trubisky said. “Really cool moment.”
Safety Eddie Jackson came off the bench to celebrate with his quarterback. Receiver Anthony Miller, who caught his first touchdown of the season earlier in the game, also joined the party.
“I told him: You’re running stuff,” Miller said. “You’re proving the doubters wrong. We’ve been rocking with him this whole time. Finally, everything is clicking.”
It’s no coincidence the Bears are ascending collectively while Trubisky is individually.
He followed his strong Thanksgiving performance against the Lions by completing 23 of 31 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His rating was 115.5.
The Bears moved the ball on the opening drive, but Trubisky’s ill-advised throw on a play-action keeper to the left was intercepted by cornerback Jourdan Lewis at the Cowboys 1-yard line.
Just as he did against Lions, though, Trubisky compartmentalized the pick and proceeded to play a stellar game.
“He said, ‘Forget about it. We’re moving down on the next drive,’ ” Leno recalled. “Then what happened? Touchdown.”
In fact, four straight scoring drives followed.
On the other side of the ball, the defense recovered from an 18-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession. It gave up 58 yards total on the next five possessions, while the Bears offense pulled away.
Together, the Bears were playoff-caliber. Maybe that hurts some fans a little, given what this season might have been.