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Joniak's Journal: Bears Have Some Swagger Back

By Jeff Joniak--

(CBS) The Bears (5-6) host the 49ers (3-8) on Sunday at noon at Soldier Field. Here are my observations heading into the game.

First impression

Since 1990, there have been 18 teams that had a losing record after Week 11 that managed to make the playoffs. Five won their last five games. The Bears believe they can be one of those teams. I don't have a problem with that, do you?

A team lacking confidence and fire after a disaster in 2014has found strength, pride and even a little swagger after the win in Green Bay last Thursday. The Bears confidently are talking about what might be next. While coach John Fox often reminds players to keep the focus small, the players have allowed themselves to think big. He's given them license to do just that by virtue of his very first meeting with the team months ago, when he explained their ultimate goal this season, which is a Super Bowl championship.

Fox often says, "We will get there." He never can say when, of course, but we see in how these Bears are coached that the timeline might just be shrinking instead of growing.

Second thought

Bears receiver/returner Marc Mariani really played well against the Packers. His three catches all came on third down for first downs. He played 51 snaps and proved to be a valuable slot weapon and chain mover. Mariani also threw a couple of impressive blocks as well.

It was a meaningful game for the 28-year-old Mariani, who played his first game at Lambeau Field. His entire family is from Wisconsin, born and raised. They operate Lamers Bus Lines up there and have since 1944.

"I had some deep ties to that game and to that field and to that organization," Mariani said. "To be wearing the 'C' on my helmet, to drive into Lambeau Field, on Brett Favre's retirement night was extra special for me. My whole family was there watching. It was hard for them to wear the blue and orange, but they did with pride."

It was a Lamers Bus that brought Mariani and the rest of the Bears to Lambeau from Appleton for last Thursday's game.

Third degree

Certain players click with certain coaches, regardless of talent or pedigree. Many Bears are clicking with Fox and his staff, including receiver Josh Bellamy, who had the biggest smile on his face Monday when I asked him about his expanding role on a team that has won five of its last eight games.

"Every rep I take, I take it to heart," Bellamy said. "I don't like to lose. I don't want to lose a rep. That guy across from me, I want to beat him. If I have to block, I am going to block you."

Fox loves the fire burning in Bellamy.

"He loves ball," Fox said. "He loves to play. He loves to practice. It's contagious. I love the kid. I came here and he was a special teams guy, and that was it. And he wasn't always in the right place at the right time. He's all in."

From a coach like Fox, that's the highest of compliments. Bellamy easily explains what Fox is doing with this Bears team.

"It's family -- we're building a family," Bellamy said. "That's what a lot of locker rooms miss. We're starting to build a bond. It's bigger than football. It's a brothership in here man. It's starting to come together, and it's looking good."

Bellamy was sporting a slick-looking '85 Bears Super Bowl jacket and matching hat, something you rarely see from players who change it up after working in team gear nearly the entire day. Bellamy is third in special teams tackles and has 12 catches with a touchdown this season.


It's been eight games since the Bears have given up a third-quarter touchdown. They've permitted just nine points in that stretch, giving the offense a chance to catch its wind and force close fourth-quarter finishes.

Overall this season, the Bears have given up an NFL-low 47 third-quarter points. In the second half of games this season, the Bears have given up the sixth-fewest points (106). Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has a track record of this kind of stinginess. In Carolina's second season as a franchise in 1996, Fangio's Panthers defense allowed only 56 total points in the second half of games, breaking a record set by the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears.

It's a record that may never be broken, like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees in 1941. It's also a stat that doesn't go unnoticed by Fangio, a lifelong baseball fan.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.

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