LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The record says the Chicago Bears lead the NFC North at 3-0. Coach Marc Trestman isn't buying it.
The way he sees it, Sunday's game at Detroit might as well be the season opener.
"We're not 3-0," Trestman said. "We're 0-0, and this is Game 1 of 13. That's really the reality of it all. We've got to focus on getting better each day, and on Sunday we play Game 1 of the season. That's how it is. There's no light at the end of the tunnel here. There's no guarantees at the end of the tunnel, that 3-0 is getting us anywhere. It's giving us a chance. That's what it's doing."
So far, the Bears are in a good spot.
They rallied to beat Cincinnati and Minnesota and hung on last week at Pittsburgh after a 21-point lead shrank to four. They're making clutch plays on offense. Their defense is as opportunistic as ever, even if the pass rush is looking like more of a rumor than a reality.
Yet, they also know how fleeting fast starts can be.
Two years ago, the Bears were closing out a win over San Diego to go to 7-3 when Jay Cutler threw an interception. Then, he tried to help make the tackle, and the result was a broken thumb that sent them careening toward an 8-8 record that cost then-general manager Jerry Angelo his job.
Last year, they started 7-1, only to drop five of the next six as injuries mounted. They wound up missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years despite a 10-6 record, and the result was an overhaul that started with coach Lovie Smith's firing.
"It's just three wins," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "Three wins isn't going to get you into the playoffs, so for us we need to keep etching away. This is a divisional opponent and when you play a divisional opponent, it's a chance to separate yourself and get as big a jump on anybody in your division as you possibly can."
There are some signs that this is more than just a mirage or a tease, particularly on offense.
There appears to be more discipline on that side with Trestman in charge instead of the defensive-minded Smith.
A rebuilt line with newcomers Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson on the left side and rookies Jordan Mills and Kyle Long on the right has mostly held its ground, and the result is fewer penalties and fewer hits on Cutler.
The Bears have not been called for a false start. Considering Chicago had nine in a game at Detroit in 2011 and got flagged 25 times for it a year ago, that's a huge improvement.
Then, there's the fact that Cutler, a human tackling dummy his first four years in Chicago, has been sacked just three times.
He's also been delivering down the stretch, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes while boasting a 108.2 rating in the fourth quarter.
Having big targets in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and newcomer Martellus Bennett helps. It doesn't hurt, either, that the play-calling seems to fit the personnel, with Cutler getting the ball out of his hands quicker.
Yet, the Bears understand just how fragile a fast start is. They know better than to get too high.
"I think it all starts with Trestman and the rest of the coaches," Cutler said. "Everyone has really been good, especially on game day. There's going to be some frustration from time to time. But when you look at those guys and see how calm they are and confident they are about moving on and going onto the next play and being confident with the next play call, it makes our job easier."
NOTES: CB Charles Tillman missed his second straight practice on Thursday because of knee and groin problems and remains day to day. "We're hopeful and I'll tell you exactly where he is (on Friday)," Trestman said. "Just not sure. We'll see where he is in the morning. He worked off the field all day. Optimistic but we'll know more in the morning." ... TE Martellus Bennett when asked if he thinks Detroit's Ndamukong Suh is dirty: "No, hopefully he takes baths. I don't think he's dirty as a player."