The bye week in the NFL was invented for one reason only: to extend the regular season and maximize television revenue.
But it's also a chance for players to heal and an opportunity for the head coach to do what many of them do best: manage, prepare and teach.
Under coach Lovie Smith, the Bears have won three of their last four games played after the bye week.
You can't judge a coach based on his team's performance after the bye week. Not only do most bye teams have a built-in advantage over an opponent that played the previous week, but whom you play and where you play them are random factors. But over time, it can be a pretty good indicator of a guy who knows what he's doing.
The Patriots have won their last eight games after the bye under Bill Belichick -- by an average of 15 points.
The Steelers are 4-1 after the bye under Mike Tomlin, including the last three -- at Cincinnati (38-10), at Denver (28-10) and at home against the Browns (28-10).
The Colts have won eight of their last nine under Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy. The Titans are 9-3 in Jeff Fisher's last 12 seasons.
And while it's true that good teams win all the time, sometimes the numbers are too stark to ignore. The Eagles are 11-0 after the bye under Andy Reid, winning by an average of 11 points.
Reid's all about it
In the previous nine seasons, the Eagles are 21-20 before the bye week and 71-32 after the bye week. Whoever picked Reid from Green Bay over all the hot coordinators at the time knew what he was doing.
As a matter of fact, Reid, Tomlin, Fisher and Caldwell all were unheralded choices when they became NFL head coaches. And Belichick wasn't exactly a sure thing with the Patriots after an unimpressive run (36-44, 1-1 postseason) in Cleveland.
So coming off the bye week, the Bears will be of particular interest today against the Bills at Rogers Centre in Toronto -- because the Bears needed this bye week more than any in Lovie Smith's seven seasons as coach.
With an unsettled offensive line -- that's being kind -- a shaky quarterback in Jay Cutler and an offense under Mike Martz that in general is discombobulated, the Bears needed the extra week to get back to the basics and re-establish a foundation they can build something on. Because whatever they were doing in training camp and the first seven weeks wasn't working.
Time to look in the mirror
''When you're focusing each week on moving on to get ready for the next opponent, sometimes you don't have enough time to really focus on yourselves,'' tight end Greg Olsen said. ''The bye week gives you a chance to self-evaluate and really get a good idea of the things you're doing and the things that need to be improved upon.''
''The execution of the offense, the little things,'' Olsen said. ''The route techniques, the blocking techniques, the protection details, the concepts. Instead of getting ready to run this play against this particular look, you're working on this play and what the concepts are. It's more of the basics, more offseason-type preparation rather than game-planning.''
It will be interesting to see how the Bears respond. It's not too much to expect them to be sharp against a winless -- but not hapless -- opponent. Or at least look like they learned something.
The Bears are 3-3 after the bye in Smith's first six seasons, winning three of the last four -- beating the sub-.500 49ers (2-5), Raiders (2-6) and Lions (0-7) in 2006-08 and losing to the Falcons (3-1) in Atlanta last season.
And Chan Gailey should make it an interesting battle. Gailey has a knack for preparation. He was 2-0 after the bye as coach of the Cowboys in 1998-99, beating the Cardinals 35-7 and the Eagles 34-0. After his bye this season, the Bills scored 34 points and gained 514 yards in a 37-34 road loss in overtime to the Ravens, who came in allowing 16 points and 281 yards a game. Last week, the Bills held the Chiefs -- who had scored 73 points the previous two weeks -- to 13 in another overtime loss.
The Bills are winless. But they have one thing going for them the Bears would be wise to emulate. They're getting better.
Increasing players' confidence in system is Martz's challenge
November 7, 2010 Hands on Lovie Smith obviously loves his job as the Bears' head coach, but he does miss working more closely with players.
That's why he enjoys working with the team's nickel backs. The emergence of D.J. Moore, who has a team-high three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the defense, and Smith has played a key role in Moore's development.
Smith interacts with Moore and Corey Graham every day, whether it's on the practice field to go over technique or in a meeting room.
''I just never want to get away from a position completely, so that's just a way for them to let me do something here,'' Smith said. ''The nickel is involved in all three phases.''
Often, though, it's just Smith and Moore.
''I guess he steps down off his high horse, and it's just a player-coaching type of thing,'' Moore said. ''It has helped me out.''
What's it like working so closely with the head coach?
''From outside looking in, you'd think he doesn't talk that much or smile that much, but he's goofy,'' Moore said. ''He tells jokes. He smiles.''
Smith said it's gratifying to watch Moore, a fourth-round pick in 2009, play with more and more confidence.
''It's been good to see all of our players improve and just grow, especially the ones who haven't played [a lot],'' Smith said.
Testing his team
What's that saying? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Well, in Minnesota, coach Brad Childress isn't the only one feeling the heat in the Vikings' locker room. ESPN reported Friday that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf nearly fired Childress on Monday after the coach abruptly released receiver Randy Moss, whom the team had acquired for a third-round pick last month.
One of the beneficiaries of this drama is quarterback Brett Favre. According to two sources, some players are tiring of Favre after he reported late, generated another distraction (Jenn Sterger), barely practiced and, of course, struggled on game days.
Last season, Favre quietly impressed teammates by spending a lot of extra hours studying alone at Winter Park. This season, he doesn't appear to be putting forth the same kind of effort.
Childress isn't the only member of the Vikings who has a lot to prove today against the Arizona Cardinals at the Metrodome.
Can't cover the NFL without ...
Sprint Wireless USB modem. In fact, I'm using it at this very moment. Wi-Fi is generally available, but the USB modem has bailed me out on a number of occasions.
Neither Mike Martz nor Jay Cutler lacks self-confidence. That's one of the traits that has helped each defy odds and achieve success, which is why both tend to compound one mistake with another, believing his mind (Martz) or his arm (Cutler) can make amends.
But without a game last weekend, Martz and Cutler had extra time to consider the mess before them and take ownership of their roles in an offense that's ranked 29th in the NFL.
On Wednesday, Martz and Cutler sounded humble, both emphasizing that more actively involving running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor might not be such a bad idea.
A self-installed governor on Martz and Cutler is a start because they're both 1/8¼ber-aggressive.
''I always thought it was a match made in hell,'' said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who played quarterback for 14 NFL seasons and led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title.
Martz is one of the innovators of the passing offense, but he's also ''a reckless play-caller,'' Dilfer said. ''And [Cutler's] a reckless quarterback. This was a horrible match.''
But the two are one, and they desperately need to salvage the season because the stock of both has been plummeting during the last year.
Scaling back the aggressiveness is a start, but the second -- and greater -- challenge will be to foster trust throughout the offense.
No one in the organization will say it, but Cutler isn't playing with confidence, and he doesn't look comfortable.
Even when he has a pocket, Cutler feels ghosts and sometimes runs into trouble. Even when he delivers a good pass, his young receivers don't always seem to be where they should be. All the while, his offensive coordinator isn't helping his cause by dialing up more passes than runs.
''To trust your schemes, trust your coaching, trust the players around you, quarterbacking is the most dependent position in sports,'' Dilfer said. ''You're so dependent on so many others to be successful.
''You can't be decisive if you're not trusting. You can't have poise if you're not trusting. Almost every important element of quarterbacking comes down to trust.''
On the field, the Bears didn't get a chance to build that trust last week because Cutler didn't throw at practice. Coach Lovie Smith opted to rest him instead. But receiver Johnny Knox said Martz and receivers coach Darryl Drake continually have preached about the importance of being responsible for the offense to thrive.
''Basically, what [Martz] tells us is: 'Don't fool the quarterback. Be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there,''' Knox said. '''Trust the people next to you, and things will get rolling.'''
The shuffling along the offensive line has complicated cohesiveness, but Martz said trusting one another and ''getting in sync'' is essential to the success of the offense.
''When the faces change, when you're new, it's a little hard sometimes,'' Martz said. ''But I feel real good about where they are right now, particularly the offensive line. The progress in the last game was remarkable. So we look forward to this game.''
Receiver Devin Hester has only 18 catches for 182 yards this season, but he said he still believes in the offense.
''I'm still confident,'' he said. ''I've seen it work. It's proven over the years, and we've seen glimpses. It's just a matter of us doing the right things and making it work.''
Added Cutler: ''Everyone just needs to keep believing in the system and get the details right.''