It feels like forever — eight years — since the Bears last made the playoffs.
But the buzz around the wild-card game Sunday against the Eagles feels all too familiar to Lance Briggs, the former star linebacker.
“The city is on fire right now,” said Briggs, who had an interception in the Bears’ last playoff game, a Jan. 23, 2011, home loss to the Packers in the NFC title game. “They’ve been on fire since they started realizing that it’s more than just hope. . . .
“Times have changed a bit, but the feeling doesn’t. It’s hard-earned. It’s hard to get to the playoffs. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
It’s one that former Bears are proud of. Olin Kreutz, who played center for the Bears from 1998 to 2010, finds himself wearing his Bears gear out in public more. Briggs, who serves as an NBC Sports Chicago analyst and has appeared on its “Da Playoff Show” all week, spent last year trying to find the positives from a 5-11 team. This year’s team is so good, he admits that he finds himself nitpicking just for the sake of argument.
Not that he takes any issue with the 12-4 Bears.
“You’ve got a good defense again,” said Briggs, who played from 2003 to 2014. “This city rallies around good defense. They’ve got great players, and they’ve got guys that can really propel this team into the next stage.”
That next stage, former defensive end Alex Brown said, is the Super Bowl.
“They are back,” said Brown, who had 43½ sacks with the Bears from 2002 to 2009. “A lot of teams that people picked to win the Super Bowl — Green Bay, Minnesota, the Rams — the Bears have beaten them. And people are still doubting the Bears.
“I don’t see why, and I don’t care why. I’ll go to bat with this team against anybody, anywhere.”
Starting off at home — “There’s nothing like Soldier Field in the playoffs,” Brown said — helps. So does a buoyant chemistry that, Kreutz said, reminds him of Lovie Smith’s best teams.
And then there’s the Bears’ dominant defense.
“Frankly, there’s no one in the NFC that can run out a defense like ours,” said Brown, another NBC Sports Chicago contributor. “I think we’re the unique team that can run out a problem, if you will, on either side of the ball.”
In coach Matt Nagy’s egalitarian offense, Brown said, the Eagles can’t focus on just one receiver. The one exception, he said, is running back Tarik Cohen, whom the Bears have to get involved. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, he said, “is athletic enough to make plays with his feet” as well as with his arm and good enough to win games.
“It’s always fun to watch football — but Chicago football is actually fun to watch now,” Brown said. “And we’re doing it in a way where you can also enjoy the offensive side because the defense is still holding.”
Kreutz, who does postgame analysis for The Score, said such talk in January feels unusual.
“Since I’ve been doing radio, they haven’t been very good,” he said. “This has been a fun run for me. Usually this time of year, it’s, ‘Who should you fire? What’s wrong with Halas Hall? What’s wrong with the people running the building?’
“As a former player who knows a lot of those people personally, it’s not fun. You’d rather be on this side.”
Briggs has spent the last eight years watching the Bears’ rivals have all the fun. Since beating the Bears at Soldier Field en route to a Super Bowl win in February 2011, the Packers have been to the postseason in six of eight seasons.
Not this year.
“For Chicago fans, we sit and we watch the team up north go to the playoffs every year,” Briggs said. “We sit home and watch them. And now they can sit home and watch us go to the playoffs.
“This is a good trend.”
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