Packers-Bears: Round 2 in Chicago Sunday

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The Packers and the Bears have taken decidedly difference paths since their meeting at Lambeau Field in the 2018 season opener.

The Packers, a popular preseason Super Bowl favorite, is 5-7-1 and hanging by the thinnest of playoff hopes.  Mike McCarthy no longer commands the sidelines, Joe Philbin does.

The Bears, 9-4 and atop the NFC North standings, are one victory away (or a Minnesota Vikings loss) away from clinching the division title and earning a playoff berth for the first time in eight years.

Chicago is a heavy favorite to send Green Bay packing at the conclusion of the regular season December 30th without a postseason berth for the second consecutive season.  The Bears shut down the high-flying Los Angeles Rams before a national audience Monday night to stamp themselves as a top NFC contender.

The Packers 24-23 victory three months ago was one for the ages.

Rodgers continued his mastery of the Bears in the NFL’s most storied rivalry, playing through a knee injury in the second half to throw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter—a career first—to rally the Packers from a 20-point deficit to a dramatic 24-23 victory.

That’s why he’s the best in the game,” said Mike Ditka, former Chicago Bears head coach.  “Aaron willed himself into that position.  The Bears could have won the game, but they didn’t.  They didn’t because of one reason:  Aaron Rodgers.  It was amazing to watch.”

“He’s a warrior. . .  he gives us everything he has,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who caught the game-winning 75-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers with 2:13 remaining.

Rodgers had an anemic first half:  actually rushing (one rush for 15 yards) for more yards than he passed (three completions for 13 yards).  He was knocked out of the contest early in the second stanza with a knee injury on a sack and was carted off to the locker room, stunning the Lambeau Field crowd.

Rodgers finished with a 20 for 30 performance for 286 yards and three touchdowns—with no interceptions for a 130.7 quarterback rating.  His veteran receiving trio of Cobb (9 catches, 142 yards), Davante Adams (5 receptions, 88 yards), and Geronimo Allison (5 catches, 69 yards).

Rodgers said the injury was “painful,” but he wanted to lead his team by example by playing through it.  The NFL’s highest-paid player certainly proved his worth Sunday night and pointed to the second-half turnaround.

“I’ve got to get the ball out,” he said.  “I can’t be moving around a whole lot back there.  And we did a good job mixing things up in the second half with some of our quicker hitter stuff and actually some more vertical stuff too.“

Bay and Rodgers found their rhythm with a fast-paced offense and quick release passes.  He torched the reeling Chicago secondary for three big plays in the fourth stanza:  a 39-yard perfectly placed bomb to a well-covered Geronimo Allison in the right corner of the endzone, a short pass to Davante Adams that he turned into a 12-yard touchdown dash to the pylon, and the pass to Cobb on an altered route down the middle that he took to the house.

“This is what we’re paid to do,” Rodgers aid.  “We’re paid to deal with injuries and play through them.  That’s what everybody’s doing and will be throughout this season.  That’s the measure of a teammate, is what are you willing to put on the line for your team.  To me, it’s a no-brainer.  Being out there is a special.”

It was a tale of two halves, as second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky marched the Chicago offense on scoring drives in the first 15:04 of the game for a 10-0 lead, while the Chicago defense shut down Rodgers and the Packers offense (4 first downs and 71 yards) in the game’s first 30 minutes.

Kahli Mack lived up to his billing as the highest-paid defensive player in the league.  With just a week of practice, Mack was a dominant force in the first half as Chicago built a 20-0 third-quarter lead.

Mack feasted on backup quarterback DeShone Kizer on two series late in the second quarter, ripping the ball from his hands and recovering the fumble on one series and then intercepting Kizer on the second and returning it 27 yards for a touchdown and a 17-0 halftime cushion.  “We did some good things on defense, but we didn’t finish it and get the win—that’s what matters,” Mack said in the visitor’s locker room.

Mack filled up the stats sheet with three total tackles, one sack for 12 yards, one quarterback hit, one pass defended, one fumble recovery, and his pick six.

“I didn’t think one guy could impact the Bears defense that much in one week—but he did,” Ditka said.  “The Bears defense did a lot of good things, but couldn’t hold down Aaron Rodgers for the entire game.”

After 197 games, Green Bay leads the all-time series 97-94-6 including a 1-1 record in post-season play.

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The Bears’ 15-6 victory over the high-flying Rams Monday night proved they belong among NFC’s elite teams.  Chicago’s balance and pressure defense is too much for undermanned Green Bay.  Road woes continue at Soldier Field Sunday.
Bears 30, Packers 20.

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