LAKE FOREST, Ill. — There are four games left in the Chicago Bears' season. The head coach appears to be walking the proverbial plank. There will be no playoffs for the Bears for a seventh straight season.
So what incentive is there to play — and give maximum effort — down the stretch?
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked how he tries to address the elephant in the room on that matter. Fangio said it's best not to ignore the issue and just hope players play hard in the remaining games, starting with Sunday's contest at the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It’s something you address. I don’t think you hope it happens and roll the dice," Fangio said. "We talk about it, giving all the reasons why we need to play these games just as if we were in the hunt even though we are not. But I think you have to address it."
So what was Fangio's message to his defense about keeping the intensity level high down the stretch?
"We've already talked about not quitting," Amukamara said. "Coaches are doing it as a good, friendly reminder. This is a time around the league where you start to get teams not giving it their all. I think as professionals we know that we are paid to do a task and paid to do it no matter the circumstances.
"I don't think it's in the character of this team to not give it our all. So I don't think we'll have to worry about it."
Amukamara said that all players have incentives to do well, whether contractual in nature or not. For defensive tackle Akiem Hicks it might include making the Pro Bowl. He perhaps has the best shot of any Bears player to make it this year — and voting ends following the Week 14 games.
"I've dreamed of making it all my life, since I started watching football," Hicks said.
Acho nominated for Walter Payton Award
Bears linebacker Sam Acho is the team's 2017 nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. All 32 teams nominate one player for the prestigious award, which is given annually to the player who has had the most significant positive impact on his community.
Clearly, the award — which began in 1970 but was renamed in 1999 following the death of Bears legend Walter Payton — carries a special meaning here in Chicago.
“Being a Chicago Bear and being able to receive the award that’s named after a former Chicago Bear obviously means a lot and it carries a lot of weight, not really for me but also for the people in this community, the people in this city, the people who cared about Walter Payton, who still care about Walter Payton, people who care about the Chicago Bears," Acho said Thursday.
Born in Nigeria, Acho has joined his father and brother Emmanuel (who has played for the Philadelphia Eagles) on a trip to their home country every year, providing medical care. They have founded the Living Hope Bible Fellowship Church as well as Living Hope Ministries during their mission trips to Nigeria, bringing along a team of medical professionals and volunteers.
“What we do, not necessarily only for people in Nigeria but just for people who are less privileged, means a lot because it just puts your life into perspective," Acho said. "If you just look at your life in a bubble, it’s easy to complain. It’s easy to cry about a lot of things. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. But if you actually open up your eyes a little bit and just take a step outside of your shoes, whether it’s for me it’s in Nigeria a lot of times or maybe it’s certain places in Chicago, you get a chance to see what real struggle looks like.”
Past Bears winners of the award include Charles Tillman (2013), Mike Singletary (1999), Dave Duerson (1987) and Payton (1977).