Sam Howell said it best; the Chicago Bears' record "is what it is."
When the Bears travel to FedExField to face the Washington Commanders on Thursday Night Football, they will be one of just two teams that has yet to win a game. Their performances through four games have ranged from frustrating, like the 31-28 collapse against the Denver Broncos after jumping out to a 28-7 lead, to downright dismal, such as the 41-10 blowout at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
For the Commanders (2-2), it's an opportunity to get back above .500 after dropping back-to-back games against the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. Like every week, they will head into the primetime matchup expecting to win, but they aren't taking their Week 5 opponent lightly.
"They play hard, and you can tell they want to win," Howell said before Tuesday's practice. "It's definitely a challenge for us and we definitely have our hands full."
The Commanders have firsthand experience in knowing just how much of a hfandful the Bears can be.
Thursday's game will be a rematch from last year's contest between the Commanders and Bears, which was also on primetime. The 2022 matchup at Soldier Field was a low-scoring, defensive struggle with Benjamin St-Juste providing a game-saving play at the 1-yard line on fourth down. Brian Robinson Jr. Scored the only touchdown of the night for the Commanders in a 12-7 victory.
Most of the Bears' success during that game came from the arm, and legs, of Justin Fields, who accounted for 277 of the team's 391 yards. His 39-yard scramble in the fourth quarter was what put the Bears in scoring position in the closing seconds of regulation.
Coach Ron Rivera said that Fields "gave us hell."
"We can't allow that to happen. We've got to be disciplined. We've got to play our game. This is, again, a young team that's growing and developing. They were a couple years back. I like who their quarterback is. I really do. I think Justin's a heck of a young man."
Many analysts expected a major bounce back year for the Bears as Fields continued to develop in Year 2. The reality has been far more uneven, and the Bears' offense ranks in the bottom half of the league in yards per game (307.8). Although the team blew a three-score lead in the second half, there were some encouraging signs from Fields, who threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
From what Rivera could see, Fields was playing faster against the Broncos compared to previous games.
"He looked pretty sure [of himself], especially when he tucked the ball to run," Rivera said. "I think he was in sync with his guys. It just looked like he played fast."
Granted, it's a one-game sample size, but if Fields and the Bears' offense is starting to gain some momentum, it's all the more reason for Washington to take Thursday's game seriously. The Commanders are just a few days removed from hanging with a Super Bowl contender in the Eagles. It's a short turnaround, but Washington will need to put together a similar performance against what Rivera referred to as a "hungry" team.
"It's one of those games that you can't fall asleep on a young team like that because they don't know the difference," Rivera said. "They go out every week, they want to win every week. They're going to play and be very competitive."
-- Howell played well during the Commanders' loss to the Eagles, but he isn't letting that get to his head too much. He likes to keep his confidence at the same level, regardless of how he plays each week.
"I always kind of stay true to who I am and I know who I am as a player and I know what I'm capable of. So just falling back on the things that have got me to where I am today and just the base fundamentals and my base knowledge and just trusting what I see. I feel like I did a decent job of that last week, so hopefully I continue to make those strides."
-- Howell has faced off against three veteran quarterbacks this season, but Thursday's game will be his first time playing against a signal-caller who is much closer to his level of experience. Howell said he doesn't try to measure himself against any other player, no matter how long they've been in the league. Instead, he tries to be "the best version of myself."
"Justin's a heck of a player and he's done some really good things. Had a good week last week, so we definitely have our hands full with him, it'll be a fun matchup."
-- Howell also had some praise for center Nick Gates.
"Nick's awesome. I love Nick to death. He works so hard, he prepares. We're definitely excited to have him here and he fights, you guys see it. He competes so hard and he's so tough. That's what you want, as far as having someone blocking him for you. You want someone that's going to fight until the end and he's just a tough guy and I love having him up there."