Bears believe they’re headed in the right direction

With one more game to go, John Fox has led the Bears to a 6-9 record in his first season as head coach.

Mike Dinovo/Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) No matter what happens after the final game of the regular season, Chicago Bears guard Matt Slauson is sure of one thing.

There is a different culture and attitude in the locker room. That just might be the biggest victory this season.

''(Coach John) Fox, he's really tried to make this a player-run team,'' Slauson said. ''He wants us to take pride in our team, take ownership in our team, and we all believe in that as players. I think it's a great plan.

''Also, the way we work, things aren't always going to go our way, and there's going to be tough times, but the great thing about this team is they just keep on working on preparing and getting better every week.''

The Bears (6-9) have improved in their first season under Fox and general manager Ryan Pace.

They beat Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-21 Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak and exceed last season's win total under former coach Marc Trestman.

Chicago will avoid a last-place finish in the NFC North if it beats Detroit on Sunday.

If those seem as if they're modest accomplishments, well, they are. There are clearly some big issues to address. But the Bears believe they are positioned for bigger things.

''We fly United and I was talking to one of the flight attendants there. Five years ago they merged with Continental and they're still trying to figure that out,'' linebacker Sam Acho said.

''So culture changes take time. But that's why I'm glad we have Coach Fox and we have the other coaches on the staff and the GM and the people here who are really turning around this organization.''

Acho is one of a long line of players who have expiring contracts, a list that includes running back Matt Forte and No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery. Forte might be in his final days with the Bears given that he is at an age – 30 – where ball carriers tend to decline.

Jeffery might be a candidate for the franchise tag if the Bears don't want to give him a multiyear deal. After all, injuries have limited him to just nine games this season.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could be in the mix for head coaching jobs. There are holes on offense, defense and special teams. But despite all that, the Bears rarely got blown out.

''We don't have a big margin for error, but the guys have competed, they've played as a football team,'' Fox said. ''I think when we've had that little stinger, that little edge, you know those have been games we've won.''

The Bears seemed to regain that edge against Tampa Bay, stopping a skid that wiped out their playoff hopes after they made a surprising jump into contention.

They ran for 174 yards on 39 rushes and dominated the time of possession 37:03 to 22:57, keeping Jameis Winston off the field for lengthy periods. They recovered two fumbles by the Buccaneers and got an interception by Harold Jones-Quartey after failing to force a turnover in two of the previous three games.

Most of all, the Bears gave themselves a chance to finish the season on a strong note.

''A lot of us want to stay together,'' said Acho, in his first season with the Bears. ''I think we all see that we're building toward something. Yeah, our record is 6-9 at this point. But we see the hope and we see that we're building toward something. We see the changes, especially guys that were on the team the past couple years.''

Notes: Fox said he doesn't think NT Eddie Goldman will need surgery after leaving Sunday's game with a right ankle injury. ''But I don't know all the exact (details),'' he added. Goldman left in the third quarter. A second-round draft pick out of Florida State, he has flashed his potential as a rookie with 4 1/2 sacks.

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