Final Countdown: Packers, Bears and Table-Turning Quarterbacks

The Green Bay Packers could beat the Chicago Bears for the 100th time on Sunday. Behind Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have reversed a huge series deficit.
Author:
Publish date:

GREEN BAY, Wis. – On Nov. 9, 1958, the Chicago Bears beat the visiting Green Bay Packers 24-10. It was the same old, same old, with Chicago beating its hapless neighbors to the north for the 21st time in the last 26 matchups to take an overwhelming 48-25-6 lead in the series.

Then Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr arrived on the scene. At one point, the Packers won 12 of 15 games in the series on their way to earning five NFL championships.

As Lombardi’s legends faded into retirement, the rivalry turned back in the Bears’ direction. Staring with the indomitable 1985 team that steamrolled to a Super Bowl win, Chicago won 12 of 15 games to regain total control of the series.

On Oct. 25, 1992, the Bears blew into Green Bay and trounced the Packers 30-10. Brett Favre, making just his fourth NFL start, was outplayed by Jim Harbaugh that day. The Bears extended their margin in the series to what seemed an insurmountable 81-58-6.

A month later, Favre and the Packers stormed into Soldier Field and posted a 17-3 victory. Favre threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe and scored the clinching touchdown on a 5-yard run. At the time, other than a rare victory over a rival, the game meant nothing. Both teams were 4-6 entering the game. For Chicago, it was the fourth of six consecutive losses.

In the big picture, that game was a harbinger of things to come.

Heading into Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field, the Packers own a 99-95-6 edge in the series. Starting with that victory at Chicago, the Packers boast a dominating 41-14 record in taming the so-called Monsters of the Midway. In 32 career regular-season starts while with the Packers, Favre was 22-10 against Chicago.

That’s nothing. Rodgers is 18-5 against the Bears (19-5 including the 2010 NFC Championship Game), with one of those losses being the 2013 game in which he suffered a broken collarbone on the opening series. In the 22 full regular-season games, Rodgers has averaged 252 passing yards while throwing 47 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions. His career passer rating is 104.0.

Rodgers has seven games against Chicago with passer ratings of at least 115. That matches his number of games of less than 88. The median passer rating for Chicago’s starters during the Rodgers era, by contrast, is 74.9. So, it’s Rodgers by almost 30. With Rodgers’ superiority and the Bears’ quarterbacks’ inferiority, it’s little wonder why Green Bay has done much more than simply turn the tables.

Since Favre took control in 1992, the Bears have used 19 starting quarterbacks against the Packers. According to Stathead.com, Cade McNown (2-0), Brian Griese (1-0), Kyle Orton (3-1) and Rex Grossman (3-1) are the only Bears starters with winning records against Green Bay. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler went 2-10 with 15 touchdowns vs. 22 interceptions. Sunday’s starter, the formerly benched Mitchell Trubisky, is 1-4. With four touchdowns vs. three interceptions in his five starts, Trubisky is one of only four Bears starters with more touchdowns than interceptions.

The Bears have only drafted three quarterbacks in the first round over the last 30 drafts: McNown in 1999, Grossman in 2003 and Trubisky in 2017. The Bears sent two first-round picks to Denver to acquire Cutler in 2009. With no answer at the game’s most important position, the Bears have reached the playoffs just five times in the last 25 years.

Then again, the Packers have drafted only two quarterbacks in the first round – Rodgers in 2005 and Jordan Love in April – plus acquired Favre from Atlanta for a first-round pick. So, it’s not when you get a quarterback or how you get a quarterback. It’s that you get the right quarterback.

If Rodgers does it again on Sunday, it will be victory No. 100 in the series. For the here and now, it will give the Packers a three-game edge in the NFC North.

“It’s been fun to carry on the tradition in Green Bay of the great players who have played quarterback,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, following a legend in Brett, getting to know really well the late Bart Starr, a lot of guys in between that who were really good players. I’ve gotten to know Majik a little bit over the years (and) Lynn Dickey.

“You can think you’ve got the perfect guy many times and you just never quite know how that person is going to deal adversity, how they’re going to deal with injuries, how are they going to deal with their teammates, how are they going to deal with the off-the-field adversity, in the locker room adversity, in the meeting room adversity, confidence-wise. There’s a lot that goes into playing this position.”

Milestone Watch

Rodgers enters Sunday with 49,835 passing yards. That leaves him 165 yards short of 50,000 for his career. When he hits the milestone, he will be the 11th quarterback to reach 50,000. Hall of Famer John Elway is No. 10 all-time with 51,475 yards. Rodgers trails Elway by 1,640 yards. He’d have to average 273.3 yards per game to get there this season.

Looking down the road just a bit, he’s thrown 393 touchdown passes. He’s in seventh place in NFL history, sandwiched between Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (387 and counting) and Indianapolis’ Philip Rivers (411 and counting).

Part of Rodgers’ success this season comes from his excellence on deep passing.

“He’s been so accurate and has done such a great job of making throws down the field and making the correct decisions,” LaFleur said. “(Tight ends coach) Justin Outten always jokes around about how he’s going to take Aaron to the carnival and win a bunch of Teddy bears for his kids. We call them ‘Teddy bear throws.’ He’s put a lot of those out there this year. He’s done it throughout the course of his career but it’s just a credit to our players being able to make those plays come to life.”

Rodgers’ favorite target, Davante Adams, enters the game with 499 career receptions. He passed the legendary Don Hutson for fifth place on the team’s career list against Jacksonville two weeks ago. Up next: Hall of Famer James Lofton with 530.

Also, Adams has 54 career touchdown receptions. That’s three behind Antonio Freeman for fifth place in team history.

Speaking of Numbers

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith leads the NFL with 15 tackles for losses. If that’s not impressive enough, consider this:

Not since 1999 has an off-the-ball linebacker led the NFL in tackles for losses. Generally, the leader is a pass rusher, since sacks are tackles for losses. He is as good as any of the superb linebackers have faced this season, a list that includes Tampa Bay's Devin White, Minnesota's Eric Kendricks and Indianapolis' Darius Leonard in the three losses this season.

“He’s the complete package,” LaFleur said. “This guy is, he’s one of the premier ones and we’ve played a lot of good linebackers this year. I’d put them all in the same boat. It’s hard to choose. They’re all elite players. I think that they do a great job with him. Not only that, you see him out there and he’ll go press guys when he’s in man-to-man coverage. It’s just rare you can find an inside linebacker with that type of skill-set.”

While the Packers have enjoyed three decades of quarterbacking excellence with Rodgers and Favre, the Bears have enjoyed sustained greatness at linebacker with Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher and now Smith, the first-round pick in 2018.

The Packers haven’t had a dynamic inside linebacker in what seems like forever. Maybe Christian Kirksey and Kamal Martin can become a productive tandem down the stretch.

“Those guys you named are the guys that you want in the middle of your defense,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said as part of the accompanying video. “The trend in the league of – as the trickle-up effect from college football – of getting the ball to athletes in space and the spread offenses, that (linebacker) position has evolved from where it used to be essentially, back in the day, a standup defensive lineman to the point where now those guys are essentially almost strong safeties that have to be able to be sideline to sideline. There’s not as much downhill run as there has been before, and the premium is on coverage and the ability to make plays in space. I think everybody is looking for that guy in the middle of the defense.”

Strength vs. Weakness

Green Bay’s special teams have hit a major bump in the road, with a blocked punt against Houston, a punt return for a touchdown by Jacksonville and the fumbled kickoff against Indianapolis.

Up next, it’s Chicago. In the game before the bye against Minnesota, Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. With that, Patterson tied an NFL record with eight career kickoff-return touchdowns.

Green Bay is No. 17 in the NFL in kickoff coverage. If Mason Crosby can’t drill the ball out of the end zone – no easy task when it’s supposed to be 35 degrees at kickoff – the key for the coverage unit will be trusting the preparation and not playing tentative against the prolific returner.

“Once they’re out there, you’ve got to let the athletes go out and make plays,” Mennenga said. “The guys have still got to go out there and play fast but be under control and be able to change direction and those kind of things but yet not be tentative. Take your shot. When you’ve got a chance to make the tackle, go make the tackle. We talk about swarming the football and leveraging it and being fundamentally sound and getting off blocks. You try to provide them the best opportunity you can through film study and practice and let the athletes take over.”

The Last Word Goes To …

Rodgers, on the energy brought by offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

“You're damn right it has made a difference. It makes a big difference. The energy that he brings, it’s unbelievable sometimes. Because we talk, at night especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, about things. I know the work that he puts in. To see him get up there every Wednesday and Friday and bring that energy, it’s what you need. It really is. I mean, he does a fantastic job. He shows clips from around the league where other teams score and they don’t celebrate. Where they don’t … a guy’s running away from his linemen, who are celebrating. I think if anything, it reminds us, ‘Hey, it takes all 11.’ And if you score and here comes Corey Linsley and Elgton (Jenkins and D Bak (David Bakhtiari) and Bryan Bulaga, trying to get Bryan to come celebrate when he was with us last year, you know, it’s just a good reminder that, ‘Hey, it’s not just about you. It’s about all the guys. So, let’s celebrate together.’”

Countdown to Kickoff

Five Days: Five Keys to the Game

Four Days: Four Insider Views on the Bears

Three Days: Three Reasons to Worry

Two Days: Two X-Factors

Also: Chicks Did the Long Ball, and So Does Rodgers

Also: Rodgers Excels at Playing Keepaway

Also: Postgame Yell Told Lazard's Painful Story

Roster Moves: What They Mean