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The Bears’ stars are shining bright

Julius Peppers forced first-quarter fumble with this devastating hit CalvJohnson. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Julius Peppers forced a first-quarter fumble with this devastating hit on Calvin Johnson. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 16, 2011 8:20AM



The Bears have three potential Hall of Famers in Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs playing as well as ever. Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Charles Tillman are also having career-type years, and that’s not even taking Devin Hester into consideration.

A team with its six best players playing at a high level is dangerous.

If you don’t believe it, ask the Detroit Lions, who are suffering dislocated ambitions and bruised egos after being dismantled by the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears have gotten more physical during their four-game winning streak. It’s a trend that must continue if they want another shot at the Packers in the playoffs.

“The coaches have done a great job of stressing the point that in order to get where we want to be and achieve the goal we set, it comes down to playing at an elite level during the second half of the season,” defensive end Israel Idonije said. “The teams that do that end up where they want to be.”

Playing physical is a principle as fundamental to football as a three-point stance, and the Bears have re-discovered this formula. A team that wins the battle along the line of scrimmage can compete with anyone on their schedule. A team that delivers constant pressure and big hits produces turnovers.

“Like Coach harps on every year, we definitely want to play our best football in the second half of the season,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We definitely want to come out next week and play better. If we do that, we’ve got a good chance of keeping this going.”

When these Bears are playing their best, it’s not a quarterback -driven team like the Patriots are with Tom Brady or the Saints are with Drew Brees.

Cutler will never be as prolific as Dan Marino or Brett Favre. He’s going to put up ugly numbers at times, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be who the Bears need him to be.

What he needed to do Sunday was avoid turnovers and stay out of the way. While he only completed nine passes for 123 yards, it was a winning performance.

“It was kind of a funny game offensively,” Cutler said. “We didn’t have to do too much. We were kind of put in a situation just kind of not to lose it — just run out the clock, control the ball.”

Forte didn’t have his best day, but the Bears stuck with the running game, which may not have happened when they were struggling to find their offensive identity earlier in the season. It was the absolute right thing to do.

Can anyone name two traditional 4-3 linebackers who have played together as well and as long as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs? Peppers has recovered from a knee injury and is starting to make an impact like he did weekly last season. Tillman may be one of the most unappreciated players in team history. He’s in his ninth year at a position where players don’t last long, and he may have played the best game of his career Sunday.

When their best players are healthy and playing at a high level, the Bears are dangerous, all right. When they have a chip on their shoulder, even more so.

“At a certain point, this team has to draw the line,” Cutler said when asked about Sunday’s chippiness. “If a team is going to cross that we’re going to have to retaliate and we’re going to have to stand up for ourselves. Our offensive line, our defensive line and now the secondary, everyone — We’re coming together as a team and that’s a good sign of it.”

Four of the Bears’ best six players are over 30, which usually prompts questions about the team’s recent draft history, but not today.

Including Hester, the Bears have four players beating on the door of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and all four are playing as well as they ever have. That’s rare. Enjoy this.



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