LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thinks the end this season can look different, even if the circumstances seem very familiar.
The Bears' defense has fought through an injury epidemic during a second straight difficult season, and Fangio believes they can avoid the collapse they failed to sidestep during last year's 3-13 season.
"We've played with good effort, toughness, intensity all year and we want to continue that," Fangio said. "We've talked about it."
The Bears (4-9) are at Detroit (7-6) on Saturday with a defense healthier than it's been in several weeks, but still drastically depleted.
Ranked 11th on defense, the Bears are still missing five starters, although getting back inside linebacker Danny Trevathan from a calf problem two weeks ago greatly aided in consecutive strong efforts.
"The last couple weeks, it definitely makes us better," Fangio said. "Danny is a guy that's been there before. I think he understands how the game needs to be played.
"That rally for the guy next to you (attitude), I think, is pretty big, and he ignites that."
Chicago's defense comes into a rematch with Detroit after one of its strongest outings this season in a 33-7 victory at Cincinnati. The previous week, the Bears didn't allow a touchdown in a 15-14 loss to San Francisco.
When Trevathan and pass rusher Leonard Floyd played this season, the Bears were able to beat Carolina 17-3. But Floyd is done for the year with a knee injury, joining pass rusher Willie Young, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, end Mitch Unrein and safety Quintin Demps on injured reserve.
In addition, starting nose tackle Eddie Goldman missed last week with a hip injury, but could return against Detroit. Injured linebacker Pernell McPhee could also return from a shoulder injury, and safety Adrian Amos may play after sitting with a pulled hamstring. So optimism is running higher.
"This (past) weekend I just felt we had great energy, a great game plan," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "Everything just came together like we've wanted it to. We've always been one play away, two plays away. Just, you know, it starts to wear on you after a while.
"So I think we've got that off of our backs. We know what we can do. We know we can be dominant. We know we can really shut a team down."
At one point, the injury epidemic even hit backups and the Bears had to sign linebacker Lamarr Houston and former safety Chris Prosinski, who'd been cut at the end of preseason. Both had to start after two days of practice and Houston has had two sacks in his two games.
"It's been good to be here in a system I already know, with coaches I already know, be around players who are there and help me come along and refresh my memory of things we already have," Houston said. "So it's been good transition for me."
The defense played a solid game against Detroit on Nov. 19, but a lost fumble by Mitchell Trubisky went for a TD return in a 27-24 defeat.
"It was another one of those situations where we played really well the entire game, but one or two plays killed us at the end," Hicks said. "The turnover for a touchdown, that was a little bit of a momentum swing.
"After that, they felt like they were back in the game and they were able to compete throughout the game for that reason."
With uncertainty over the future of this coaching staff, it can't hurt to avoid a defensive collapse like last year's.
"It's hard to even remember the end of last season, but I remember the last game in Minnesota we didn't play particularly well, in my opinion, not just on defense, but as a football team," coach John Fox said. "That's really kind of my recollection, the (entire) last quarter a year ago."
Defensive players would like to get back into the league's top 10, a better ranking than last year.
"I think we ended up about 15th last year, which was OK for what we ended up the season with," Fox said, referring to the injuries. "I just think we're probably a little bit better right now, and we'll get a good test against a good Detroit team still fighting for a playoff spot at their place."