Packers Look to Get Back On Track in Chicago

Last December, the Green Bay Packers came into Soldier Field in Chicago on a roll, winner of three straight games and full of confidence fueled by quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ bold “run the table” statement.

The Packers prevailed, thanks to a dramatic game-winning drive engineering by Rodgers and a 32-yard field goal by Mason Crosby for Green Bay to escape with a 30-27 triumph.  The victory marked the fourth straight in what would become a six-game run to make the NFC playoffs.

This Sunday, Green Bay returns to Soldier Field on a different streak and with a new quarterback at the helm of a sputtering Packers offense.  After a dismal overall performance in a loss to Detroit at Lambeau Field Monday night for a third straight defeat, Green Bay is looking for a spark and a much-needed victory to stay in the NFC North Division race.

The 4-4 Packers (1-2 division) are tied with 4-4 Lions (2-0 division) and trail the 6-2 Minnesota Vikings (2-1 division), while the surging 3-5 Bears (0-2 division) currently reside in the division cellar.

Former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka said there is still time and not to push the panic button yet.

“It’s the ninth game of the season,” Ditka said.  “It doesn’t look like Minnesota is going to run away with the division just yet.  All the Packers and Bears can do is play them one at a time—and it’s Bears-Packers week.”

To Ditka, that evokes memories of his favorite rivalry, fueled by hall of fame coaches George Halas and Vince Lombardi.

“There was nothing like Bears-Packers week in my book,” Ditka said.  “It started with the head coaches—Halas and Lombardi—who didn’t want to lose to each other.  It was an intense week of practice before we played each other.  The coaches were tight, the players were tight, the fans were tight.  That’s a rivalry.”

In the past 25 years, the National Football League’s oldest and most storied rivalry has been lopsided.

Green Bay has been a perennial winner with back-to-back franchise quarterbacks Brett Favre and Rodgers, while the Bears failed to find stability at the NFL’s most important position and have dwelled mainly in the bottom half of NFC North standings.

Chicago hasn’t made the playoffs since winning the division with an 11-5 record in 2010, the year the Packers defeated them in the NFC championship game enroute to winning Super Bowl XLV.  Green Bay, a trendy preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, is vying for a league-record ninth straight playoff appearance.

With a 35-14 rout of Chicago at Lambeau Field on September 28, the Packers took the lead in the all-time series (95-94-6) for the first time since 1933—when Curly Lambeau coached the franchise.

For Green Bay, it’s been a long short week with the tumultuous departure of tight end Martellus Bennett, who was released Wednesday for failing to disclose a shoulder injury and then claimed off waivers by his former team, the New England Patriots, a day later.  Bennett practiced with the Patriots on Friday and vented on Instagram with an expletive-laced account that his release “was all about money.”

The Packers are in full preparation for Chicago, whose defense is much improved from five weeks ago and with rookie Mitch Trubisky entrenched as the starting quarterback.  Green Bay’s much-maligned defense and coordinator Dom Capers must find a way to contain the Bears’ 1-2 rushing punch of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and create pressure to disrupt the quarterback.

The Packers defense has yielded 30, 26, and 23 points and has struggled to get off the field on third down. Their inconsistent offense has mustered just 17, 17, and 10 points in the past three weeks and struggled on third down—and getting the ball downfield into the hands of play-making receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb. 

The time for all three Green Bay units—offense, defense, and special teams—to step up their level of play is now.  

“If not now, when?” Ditka said.  “The time to assert yourself is right now.  The Bears feel same way.  The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers, but life goes on.”

It’s Packers-Bears week.

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Both defenses will aim to stop the run and put the onus on Hundley and Trubisky to throw the ball. Which fledgling quarterback makes the clutch plays in the fourth quarter determines the winner. Last year, Mason Crosby kicked the game-winner as time expired.  This time Chicago pulls it out.

Bears 24, Packers 21 

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