- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The mood at Halas Hall has been upgraded from questionable to actively optimistic.
That's good. I'm tired of the negativity that surrounds this place, even if I'm responsible for slinging some of it.
I'm a generally optimistic guy, and I like the subtle shifting to a happy Halas Hall because the "us against the world" mentality fostered by Lovie Smith is so tired.
I'm glad we're past it for a week, at least.
In a wildly casual Thursday news conference, Brian Urlacher spoke in complete sentences with multiple syllables. He cracked jokes, provided insight and played the part of NFL legend. I wish we saw this Urlacher more. He's got a lot to offer off the field.
Both Urlacher and the always funny Lance Briggs, the veteran voices of the team, talked about confidence, guarantees and the goals they've set for the last month, maybe two, of the season.
And yes, we're talking about playing until February. Why shouldn't we?
The Bears are 8-3 heading into the Lions' den. By Sunday midafternoon, Jay Cutler will officially have his first winning season since high school and the Bears will be one game closer to a return to the playoffs. Times are good again.
Because there isn't much drama to this week's matchup, aside from revisiting the bizarre rule that gave the Bears a Week 1 victory, we got into talking about Lions receiver Nate Burleson's pseudo-guarantee of a victory.
"And you've got to remember," Briggs said, bringing up the subject less than two minutes into his talk. "They did guarantee a win, too. So they've got a lot of pressure there."
Burleson really just said his goal is for the Lions, at 2-9, to win out, but it's all the same when it's tacked up in the linebackers' meeting room.
"It's good," Briggs said. "It should fire them up. I know it definitely fires us up. We've got it pinned up everywhere in our meeting rooms."
That took Briggs back to an innocent time when he didn't know any better.
"I've been tricked into guaranteeing a win, a long time ago," he said. "I won't be tricked again. But we got beat 45-12 or something like that [against] Peyton Manning."
Urlacher remembered that one, too. It was actually a 41-10 loss in 2004.
"I think Lance did that a couple years ago, didn't he?" Urlacher said. "Against the Colts. That was a good game."
So Urlacher won't guarantee a Bears victory over Detroit?
"I think we're going to win, but I'm not going to guarantee it," he said.
I'll help you out, Brian. I guarantee the Bears win this weekend. I picked 27-10 on the Bears Center, but I was being modest. If the Bears lose, I'll donate a week's paycheck to Briggs' comic book charity. If they win, I'll just
donate old comic books.
I'm that confident.
I'm not a Bears water carrier, but I believe this team is in the midst of a special season. Maybe that ends during its first playoff game, like in 2005, or maybe the Bears play until February. That's as much about matchups as anything the Bears do themselves.
The offense is getting noticeably better, but the defense is key. With Julius Peppers peaking, the opportunity for hyperbole is endless.
"I think we're better than that defense was at this point, but we're different [from the 2006 defense]," Urlacher said.
And while Briggs and Urlacher avoided saying the "g" word, they're not afraid to talk Super Bowl.
Cutler mentioned it Wednesday and other Bears aren't afraid to say that their goal is to play for the championship.
That's a lot bolder than guaranteeing an early December win, but it's a good kind of confidence because it's earned. Yes, the Bears have played a mostly weak schedule, but the potential is unmistakable.
"I do hear it more often, but I think that also comes from the questions being asked," Briggs said. "We've bottled up a lot of our emotions for a long time. Some guys get real excited at 8-3 right now and people ask us questions about how we feel about ourselves, and we want to jump out and tell you how we feel.
"But at the same time we want to stay humble and stay the course. We could get home-field advantage all through the playoffs and lose in the championship game and not make the Super Bowl, and to me, all would be lost."
"We think Super Bowl," Urlacher agreed. "We like to think that. We've got to take care of one game at a time. We've got to beat Detroit and whoever's after that."
That would be the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers. The Bears still have to work through that thicket of playoff-caliber teams in the last month of the season, including the sub-.500 Vikings at home. Knocking the Bears out of first place would make their season.
"We're pretty focused," Briggs said. "I think we're extremely focused. I've said it before: We're not taking anything for granted, any opponent, any week. We're trying to get better."
Man, we've come a long way from worrying about the Bills in Toronto, haven't we?
But if I'm a Bears fan, let alone a coach or player, this is a great attitude to have. If your leader thinks this is a Super Bowl-or-bust team, how can that not inspire you?
"We won't look too far ahead," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "You can't run from it, and we don't want them to run from it. But you don't talk about that now."
No, you don't, ideally. But the Bears are confident going into the last month of the season, and it's getting contagious.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
They're not guaranteeing wins, but the Bears are thinking big.