It's funny how much a year can change things. Last year the Bears entered the last two games of the season at 8-6, needing two wins and a lot of help to get into the postseason. This year they find themselves in the same situation, and yet the mood is completely different.
Last year's team found itself in desperate straits through its own incompetence. The offense that could never get out of its own way had sputtered in a late season death spiral against the Texans, 49ers, Seahawks, Vikings, and Packers. The offensive coordinator and the quarterback weren't even on speaking terms. A defense that had been so brilliant to start the year saw its takeaways decrease, it's rushing totals increase, and it's leader depart for good with a final injury. The head coach who had survived against all odds on multiple occasions would finally run out of time. There was no excitement left for the stretch run because we were too damn mad that a stretch run was even necessary.
This year it all seems different, at least to me. I don't know if this defense, held together as it is with duct tape and spit, can do a damn thing to slow down LeSean McCoy. All of the excitement of this week may go right out the door with a loss to Chip Kelly's seemingly unstoppable offense. All of this could just be setting up a colossal nutpunch at the hands of Green Bay in week 17, but that doesn't really seem to matter right now.
The Bears, by all rights, shouldn't be in this situation. There's not a Bears fan alive who could possibly have assumed that this team would be in first place in week 14 if you'd told them that Jay Cutler would miss a month and that Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, and Nate Collins would miss even more than that. Given the scope of the injuries that this team has faced this year, Trestman and Co. are playing with house money. They've got no business making the playoffs, and so the sense of disappointment if they fail pales in comparison to the sheer dumb joy of the idea that it's even still possible.
I have enjoyed watching this team this season. They're often outmanned and outgunned, they've alternated between brilliant and pathetic (typically on opposite sides of the ball), and they've never yet been boring. I've spent much of the year trying to simply evaluate this team without even considering playoff possibilities. This offense has given me so much hope for 2014 that I hadn't really considered that they could still make something happen this year. Perhaps they won't, but these last two games, regardless of outcome, should be fun.
That's the thing about football that I often lose sight of in my obsessive focus on this team every year. Since the 2005 Bears first gave me hope, and especially since Jay Cutler's arrival, I've gotten caught up in debates over championship windows and "elite" quarterbacks and have spent so much time pondering end game scenarios and feeling the disappointment of the last few years so bitterly that I've sometimes failed to just enjoy the 16 weeks of football I'm guaranteed. That's not been the case this year. These Bears are fun to watch. They're not elite. Hell, they may not even be good, but they've given me 14 weeks of watchable football. Hopefully there's at least three games left. Go Bears.