After five weeks last season, the Bears were stumbling along at 2-3, fresh on the heels of a 24-13 Monday night loss to the Lions in Detroit.
They already trailed the unbeaten Green Bay Packers and Lions by 3 games in the NFC North and were ahead of only the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings.
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A lot has changed in a year.
The Bears and the Vikings currently share the top spot in the division at 4-1, while the hard-luck Packers are 2-3 and the Lions are 1-3.
The Vikings already have won one more game than they did all of last season, and the Packers have lost three times as many games as they did in the 2011 regular season.
The Lions didn't lose their third game last season until Week 10, and they're underdogs again today in Philadelphia.
For the Bears, last season's start wasn't as bad as the record indicated.
The 3 losses were to the Packers, New Orleans Saints and Lions, three teams that finished a combined 38-10 and all made the playoffs. One of the Bears' victories was against the Atlanta Falcons, another playoff team that finished 10-6.
This year's early slate hasn't been as difficult. The Bears'opponents are a combined 10-13. That accounts for part of the year-to-year improvement, but it's not the biggest factor.
A glance at the numbers shows the defense deserves most of the credit.
Heading into the bye week, first-year general manager Phil Emery expressed his satisfaction with a unit that has allowed just 71 points, the third fewest in the NFL, just 1 more than the Seattle Seahawks and 3 more than the San Francisco 49ers.
Veterans Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers have 22 Pro Bowls between them and remain the leaders of the unit.
But young defensive linemen such as rookie Shea McClellin, second-year tackle Stephen Paea and third-year end Corey Wootton, along with young safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, have contributed, too.
"I feel real good about our veteran leadership," Emery said. "I feel good about the young players that have been added to that mix, some thathave