Bernstein: Are Bears Admitting They Choked?

(670 The Score) It would seem that the Bears are now saying the quiet part out loud, perhaps not realizing how it may come across. Winners of four of their last five after the four-game losing streak that essentially ended their shot at contention, there's widespread belief among the team that not having to worry about something so stressful as trying to return to the playoffs has allowed them to flourish.

Chicago Tribune reporter Rich Campbell told the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score on Wednesday that starting in the postgame locker room after the Bears' 31-24 win against the Cowboys last Thursday, there was "an acknowledgement from several different players about the team not pressing anymore."

"This is an implicit acknowledgement that they could not handle expectations," Campbell said. "And we wondered about this back in July and August. How would this team handle Super Bowl expectations that -- let's be very clear -- they welcomed with open arms? They helped create them, comparing themselves to the '85 defense and things like that. They brought a lot of this on themselves, and they could not handle it. I don't think there's any other conclusion that can be reached.

"They did not handle expectations well. And now when you hear a player like Charles Leno or a position coach yesterday like Harry Hiestand saying, 'Guys aren't pressing anymore, we're just playing more carefree, we're just playing loose, we understand that if something goes wrong, hey, forget about it, go on to the next play,' that's what happens when you get to the point where you have nothing to lose and your season is just about down the drain. It took that fall for them to be able to reach this type of carefree, comfortable underdog type of role."

It's troubling enough to have it confirmed that the bright lights proved too hot for the Bears to handle, but also of concern is how freely they cop to it despite what it says about their character.

This is the same team that had safety Eddie Jackson decrying the disloyalty of fans who dared express disappointment by booing, the same team content to pull out the old chestnut of "the only people who believe in us are in this room" and have running back Tarik Cohen gesturing to quiet his perceived adversaries in the home stands. You can't be that and then admit so casually to being this.

And what's funny is that it might not even be what's helping the Bears at the moment. This winning streak may be due to lesser opponents in the case of two wins over the Lions and one over the Giants and just a really solid performance against the Cowboys in which the good feelings stemmed from just playing well as much as a lack of tension.

So it's more about both players and coaches themselves choosing to think that what matters is the lack of pressure, then telling us that they think that. It's an unforced and bizarre self-own that only paints them in a negative light and raises more questions.

Why was it harder to win or play well when expectations existed? What specific aspects of football were affected or impeded by it? Was it being noticed at the time or only now and long after the fact?

Most importantly, why should we expect it not to happen again next season when similar pressure is bound to return?

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.