Will a week off be as much of a tonic for the Bears as it was in 2010?
The well-timed bye week was a godsend last year for a Bears team that looked pretty creaky heading into the middle of the season.
After a 3-0 start, the Bears lost three out of their next four. The offensive line was in disarray. Jay Cutler was still wobbly after returning from a concussion after being sacked nine times in the first half against the Giants in Week 4. He threw four interceptions in a loss to the Redskins, a 54.3 passer rating.
Lance Briggs was hurting -- he missed the Seahawks game and played one series against the Redskins. Brian Urlacher, after a fast start, seemed to have hit an early wall -- he had 21 total tackles in four games prior to the bye after having 33 in the first three games.
But, with a helping hand from the schedule-maker, the Bears were a rejuvenated team after the bye. They went 6-1 in their first seven games, beating the Eagles at Soldier Field and losing only to the Patriots at home. The offensive line was not spectacular but solidified enough to establish a running game and keep Cutler healthy -- he was sacked 21 times in that seven-game stretch.
Urlacher averaged more than 12 tackles a game, including 18 against the Lions. He had double-digit tackles in each of the first seven games after the bye, except against the Dolphins (four), who only ran 48 offensive plays because the Bears dominated time of possession.
A healthier Briggs also regained his Pro Bowl form. And Julius Peppers, who had one sack in his previous six games before the bye, had six in a four-game stretch in the second half.
With so many of their playmakers 30 or older (Urlacher, Briggs and Peppers in particular), the Bears probably benefit from the break more than most NFL teams. But the degree-of-difficulty is a little higher this season right off the bat. Instead of playing the winless Bills on a neutral field in Toronto, the Bears will be playing an Eagles team loaded with playmakers on offense, defense and special teams Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Teams coming off the bye week were 3-9 in the first two post-bye weeks this season, but were 5-1 last week. The Patriots -- one of the best post-bye week teams in the NFL under Bill Belichick (8-1 from 2002-10) -- were the only loser. The Eagles were the biggest winner -- whipping the Cowboys 34-7 to improve to 13-0 after the bye under Andy Reid.
The Bears are 4-3 after the bye week under Lovie Smith, but have won four of their last five.
It's difficult to determine just how that reflects on Smith. The Bears' post-bye victories are over the 49ers (2-4) in 2006, the Raiders (2-6) in 2007 in Oakland, the Lions (0-7) in 2008 and the Bills (0-7) in 2010 in Toronto. The one time they faced a winning team on the road, they lost to the 3-1 Falcons 21-14 in 2009.
Lovie Smith's ledger in games after the bye week:
Lost to the Redskins 13-10 at Soldier Field. QB Jonathan Quinn was making his fifth NFL start.
Lost to the Browns 20-10 in Cleveland. Trent Dilfer threw 2 TD passes 38 seconds apart in final 3:02.
Beat the 49ers 41-10 at Soldier Field. The Bears led 24-0 after the first quarter and 41-0 at halftime.
Beat the Raiders 17-6 in Oakland. Rex Grossman, coming off the bench for an injured Brian Griese, threw a 59-yard TD to Bernard Berrian with 3:11 to go for a 10-6 lead.
Beat the Lions 27-23 at Soldier Field. Grossman, coming off the bench for an injured Kyle Orton, threw a 6-yard TD to Rashied Davis and scored on a sneak in the fourth quarter to win it.
Lost to the Falcons 21-14 at the Georgia Dome. The Bears outgained the Falcons 373-253, but a drive inside the 5 in final minute stalled.
Beat the Bills 22-19 in Toronto. CB Tim Jennings had a key interception and Jay Cutler threw a 2-yard TD to Earl Bennett with 6:41 to go to win it.