CHICAGO (AP) – Maybe the old-timers will lead the current players in a rousing rendition of the “Super Bowl Shuffle” before a crowd of a few million jammed into Chicago’s confetti-filled loop.

Or maybe the Bears will dust off Journey’s old hit “Don’t Stop Believin”‘ and perform it with lead singer Steve Perry at the championship rally, just as the White Sox did last year.

Can’t have a celebration without music, right?

And it’s never too early to plan one, is it?

OK, so it is premature to start putting together a Super Bowl celebration, but it’s not too soon to say that last year’s playoff appearance was no aberration for the Bears. It’s not an overstatement to say they sent a message last week when they overcame mistakes and rallied for a 19-16 victory at Minnesota.

That message is this: They’re good enough to beat a decent team when they’re not at their best.

But how good are they? Contenders for their first championship in 21 years or just another playoff team?

Sunday’s game against defending NFC champion Seattle seemed like an excellent barometer, the perfect opportunity to establish themselves – until the Seahawks lost league MVP Shaun Alexander to a broken left foot. Now, a victory would come with a caveat. And a loss to a short-handed team would not look good.

Still, Bears fans have reason to be giddy.

Their team is 3-0 for the first time since 1991, when it won its first four, and the franchise is dusting itself off after 13 mostly miserable years.

Those fans watched as the Bears made the postseason twice in that time before winning the NFC North last year. Defense has been a given: Last season, the Bears allowed the fewest points in the league, and that group is yielding just 7.7 per game this year.

The fans also grew dizzy watching the quarterback wheel of misfortune stop on Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson and Kyle Orton, while Rex Grossman recovered from various injuries.

But what was an eyesore at quarterback not too long ago is morphing into something sharper, cleaner.

“We believe in Rex, and we have been saying that since the beginning,” center Olin Kreutz said after the Minnesota game. “It is easier to say it now, but we really believe in him. We really think he is that good.”

The league’s highest-rated passer when the day began, Grossman had his worst game of the season against Minnesota. He was 23-of-41 for 278 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions – one of which Antoine Winfield returned 7 yards for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter.

He shook it off, then redeemed himself when the Bears’ defense gave him a chance.

Adewale Ogunleye recovered a fumble at the Minnesota 37, and Grossman connected with Rashied Davies for a 24-yard touchdown.

Finally healthy after being sacked by injuries the past few years, Grossman is showing why the Bears drafted him in the first round in 2003.

But what happened to the running game?

After rushing for 1,335 yards last season, Thomas Jones missed voluntary offseason workouts and got demoted behind Cedric Benson. They were expected to compete for the starting job, but injuries to both during training camp prevented that.

Jones moved up to No. 1, but hasn’t gotten far this season with 181 yards. Benson, the fourth pick in last year’s draft, ran for a total of 59 yards against Green Bay and Detroit and stayed parked on the sideline at Minnesota.

Coach Lovie Smith downplayed that, saying, “We didn’t have a lot of running plays, No. 1. The running game never got going. We were never into the flow of the game.”

But you can’t be faulted for wondering where Benson figures in the team’s plans.

The Bears say their rushing average is down from 4.3 yards per carry last year to 2.7 because opponents are stacking up against the run. Weren’t they doing that last year, though?

“We’re just going on what they’re giving us,” Smith said. “We have another option in order to win football games right now, and I like that option. … However we do it, I’m satisfied.”

They have one of the league’s best defenses and an offensive line that should make Grossman the envy of most quarterbacks. They have receivers catching the ball, no given last season. They have a running game that should improve and a quarterback who’s finally healthy and delivering.

They’re good. But hold off on those party plans.


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