The Bears (4-1) emerged from their bye week in first place in the NFC North and with the second-best record in the NFC behind the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons. And even though it's still early in the season, they've played well enough to earn the right to approach next Monday night's game against the Detroit Lions (2-3) at Soldier Field with the big picture in mind.
''We know this is going to be a tough test for us,'' Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said Monday. ''This is going to be a huge game for us to make sure that we stay where we're at -- because we really want that bye week going into the playoffs. We need to take care of this one.''
The Bears lost to the Lions 24-13 at Ford Field last year, but won 37-13 in a wild game at Soldier Field, highlighted by interception returns for touchdowns by Major Wright and Charles Tillman that turned the game into a blowout and led to a fight between Stafford and Bears cornerback D.J. Moore.
Jennings said ''there's always going to be bad blood'' between the teams, but mostly because they are division rivals.
''We know we've got to go through one another to get that championship we [want],'' he said. ''So there's always going to be bad blood with them, Minnesota and Green Bay. So it's nothing different. They're going to come in here with the same attitude I'm sure, the mentality that they don't like us. They want to win and it's going to be a dogfight to the end.''
The Lions, coming off their own bye week, overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 5:18 of regulation to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-23 in overtime Sunday in Philadelphia. Calvin Johnson had six catches for 135 yards. But tight end Tony Scheffler and wide receiver Nate Burleson made huge plays in the final five minutes.
With the Lions trailing 23-13, Scheffler, a former cohort of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall with the Denver Broncos, caught a 57-yard pass that set up Matthew Stafford's 17-yard touchdown pass to Burleson that made it 23-20. After Jason Hanson sent the game into overtime and the Lions' defense smothered Michael Vick in overtime, Scheffler caught a 16-yard pass on the first play of the Lion's ensuing possession to help set up Hanson's game-winning 19-yard field goal.
''I didn't get to see a whole lot of the game. But I saw some of the highlights and some of the scores at the end,'' Jennings said. ''Obviously it was a fight to the end. They didn't give up and had a few plays and some takeaways.
''That's how it's going to be. Whenever you can fight to the end and then go into overtime, that's huge. That lets you know they're not giving up on where they're at, even though they're record doesn't show it.''
The Bears have had two pick-sixes in each of their previous two games and have five for the season. Maintaining that momentum after an early bye week could be critical in a key divisional game.
''It's never easy,'' Jennings said. ''We had this bye week. It's going to be a huge test for us to see where we're at, get back in the swing of things. So we want to go out [Monday] and kind of get our legs back and come Wednesday get ready and start preparing for Detroit.''