Maybe it is all just about perception.
The Bears scraped past one of the NFL's worst teams Sunday, defeating Detroit 26-21 when Lions receiver Mike Williams dropped a last-second pass in the end zone. They gave up 327 yards and lost a second-half lead to a 2-13 team that has not scored more than one offensive touchdown in any of its last seven games, all losses.
But, said defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, "If I was a fan and not playing, and my team was 13-2, I'd be as happy as a pig in slop."
For a team that was without four defensive startersits left tackle and fullback Jason McKie lost after the first seriesit was a game to survive as much to win.
The Bears saw a 17-7 halftime lead turn into a 21-17 deficit after three quarters, then used three Robbie Gould field goals in the fourth quarter to take a step they saw as importanteven if few outside their locker room viewed it that way.
"A lot of people outside of us were making this out to be a meaningless game," said Thomas Jones, who rushed for a game-high 62 yards. "There's no such thing as a meaningless game."
With a victory next Sunday over Green Bay, the Bears would become only the fourth team since the NFL-AFL merger to go undefeated in conference play. And all three won the Super Bowl.
The Bears breezed initially, holding the Lions to 47 yards of offense in the first quarter and 43 in the second. They scored on a Gould field goal, a 13-yard pass from Rex Grossman to Bernard Berrian and a 2-yard run by Adrian Peterson. Detroit scored twice in the third quarter on passes to Mike Furrey and Roy Williams, but Gould converted field goals of 36, 39 and 44 yards on the Bears' final three possessions before Detroit's Mike Williams failed to handle that end-zone pass on the game's final play.
"We came over here expecting a tough business trip, and that's exactly what we got," coach Lovie Smith said.
The Bears simply made plays they had to make. Brian Griese replaced Grossman in the fourth quarter and completed 6 of 9 passes on two drives to set up Gould field goals that tied and then broke the franchise record for field goals in a season.
"I knew going into the fourth quarterI think some of the guys here knewthat we weren't going to see the best Chicago until the fourth quarter," said Lions tight end Dan Campbell, who scored Detroit's first points on a 23-yard pass from Kitna. "That's what champions do. They rise when they need to."