What's the difference between the Bears' 2006 Super Bowl team and the current collection of underachievers?
At first, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs gave the obvious answer: "We won games."
After thinking for a moment, he came up with a more insightful reply: personnel.
"There are guys who are gone," Briggs said. "Sometimes when you believe in what you're doing so much, you think, 'Hey, maybe we can let this guy go,' or 'We don't need this guy,' and we'll be just fine. In most cases, that would be (true). But you miss some of those guys, and sometimes you realize what you could have had when it's not there anymore."
Most of the offensive starters from that Super Bowl XLI team have departed - only center Olin Kreutz, guard Roberto Garza and fullback Jason McKie remain. But six defensive starters remain in the starting lineup, two are backups and one (Brian Urlacher) is injured.
But Briggs quickly rattles off players who are missed.
"Guys like (defensive tackle) Ian Scott, (safety) Mike Brown, (safety) Chris Harris, (running back) Thomas Jones, (offensive tackle) John Tait, (guard) Ruben Brown," Briggs said. "I could go down the line. But the thing is, you know in football nothing lasts forever."
Tait and Brown are retired, but Jones is fourth in the NFL with 1,167 rushing yards for the Jets, and Brown has started all 13 games for the Chiefs and has 80 tackles and 3 interceptions. Harris has 220 tackles and has forced 12 fumbles in three years since being traded to the Panthers.
Tight end Desmond Clark, an 11-year veteran, also has no problem coming up with a list of players who haven't been adequately replaced.
"Three of them pop out right now," Clark said. "You look at Thomas (Jones), Moose (Muhsin Muhammad), Bernard Berrian, three of our big-time playmakers that were here. You look at a guy like John Tait who was a big part of the offensive line. Ruben Brown was a big part.
"Those five guys right there were a big part of this team, and leaders on this team, veteran guys. When you take that into account, we have a whole different makeup, and right now we're just not playing as well as we played in '06."
Briggs said it's not just players who are missed. There are coaches, too.
"You think about Ron Rivera," Briggs said. "You think about Perry Fewell."
Rivera, the former defensive coordinator, was sent packing after the Super Bowl, a season in which the Bears' defense finished No. 3 in points and No. 5 in yards allowed.
Without Rivera, they finished 16th and 28th, respectively, in 2007. Last year they were No. 5 in yards and tied for 16th in points allowed. This year they're tied for 15th in yards and 21st in points allowed.
Rivera is defensive coordinator for the 10-3 Chargers, who have won eight straight. Fewell, the Bears' defensive backs coach in 2005, was named the Bills' interim head coach after Dick Jauron was fired last month.
Bears coach Lovie Smith admits 5-8 seasons make players nostalgic for the old days.
"We've won five games, so it's easy to look at a lot of different areas, as far as who you're hearing (that) we're missing," Smith said. "I know the guys who have come out every day around here have done the best job they possibly could. (But) we have lost some good leaders throughout the year. So that's not good."