By Robert Zeglinski
The common theme for the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers over the past approximate decade – is that with the game on the line – quarterback Aaron Rodgers has perpetually come through to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Rodgers is Chicago’s progressive heartbreaker, coolly launching game-ending deep bombs regularly. Regret is what happens when you play the league’s most talented passer and as the Packers’ primary rival, the Bears are the team to carry the brunt of that pain.
So when Rodgers buried Chicago yet again with a dagger – this time a 60-yard pass to Jordy Nelson in Sunday’s final minute – no one was surprised. Especially Bears head coach, John Fox.
“Obviously it was a pretty good ball by number 12 (Rodgers). He can do that. They executed on that play better than we did,” mused Fox of the game’s fateful play.
A 30-27 Green Bay victory marring a 17-point fourth quarter and almost-comeback for Bears erased with the flick of an arm. Now, Chicago hasn’t defeated Green Bay at home since Week 3 of the 2010 season. Rodgers does this to almost every NFL team, but it’s a familiar swan song for the Bears. Especially for a 3-10 squad seeking a signature victory for the 2016 season.
The outlook looks bright on the lakefront, but the fire-breathing dragon in the castle known as Rodgers still stands in the way. It takes an army and a courageous soul or two to venture inside to break the hex. Which begs the question as to why Rodgers ever had the opportunity considering Chicago’s effort.
That effort and story began with little to no expectations in former reserve quarterback, Matt Barkley, who did everything he could to rally Chicago. Even despite three turnovers – one of which was an end-of-half throwaway “Hail Mary”, and the other a blind side strip sack by Packers outside linebacker, Julius Peppers – Barkley continued to plug away.
Barkley isn’t Chicago’s long awaited star answer at quarterback – yet – so in past famous words of Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X”. He’s showing enough promise and resolve to make a developing future case, though.
Under normal circumstances, when a Rodgers-led Packers team goes up 27-10 late in the third quarter, the Bears of the past would pack it in and let the game become a rout. This time, Barkley had Chicago fight back. This time, the Bears wouldn’t go quietly.
“Matt’s the kinda guy that will grab the bulls by the horns, and make it happen,” said Fox of his rising journeyman passer.
After disappearing for three quarters (through both the fault of the Bears and his own) the returnee-from-suspension, receiver Alshon Jeffery, all of a sudden came alive with six receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown that brought the score to 27-17 in the final stanza. The lead-up the entire week before had fans excited about what Barkley could do with Chicago’s star wide out for the first time, and the fourth quarter offered an effective, booming glimpse.
Then, after the Bears defense capped the ensuing Packers drive with a Pernell McPhee sack, Barkley was allowed to continue rallying. Chicago missed a staggering 16 tackles on the afternoon and allowed 226 yards rushing to go with 9.8 yards per rush, but for the most part they hemmed in Rodgers well. Receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery was the one to consistently kill the Bears, not Rodgers, at least until the end. A top-10 defense coming in pressured Rodgers to the tune of four sacks, routinely making him uncomfortable enough to give the Bears offense a chance.
And they wouldn’t waste it.
Chicago would then drive 78 yards as star rookie tail-back, Jordan Howard, closed the margin to 27-24 with a bruising nine-yard run of a touchdown. With the game’s effort, Howard eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards through 14 games, faster than the likes of ho-hum “no-names” like Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Howard: another objective Chicago bright spot making history even among the annals of futility.
After the Bears defense somehow managed to force the Packers to go three-and-out on the following possession, Chicago had a chance to win the game and the second-guessing began.
Barkley brought the Bears all the way to the Packers four-yard line with a minute and a half to go. A holding penalty, missed blocks on a no-gain rush, and an incompletion later, and a fascinating fourth down decision arose.
Would the nothing-to-lose Bears and Fox go for the win and put the game in Barkley’s hands? Or would they instead kick a field goal to tie the game, trusting their defense in giving the ball back to Rodgers?
Fox wouldn’t rue the decision according to his own history, as many a coach would have done the same thing in the same situation. It’s an old-school mentality, but it doesn’t make it correct either – especially when your team is playing for pride.
Rodgers would make Chicago pay in opting for the tie as noted, but not yet without another notoriously conservative error by Fox.
The Packers suffered an injury before Rodgers’ fateful blow to Nelson, which required a timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff. Fox and the Bears would decline it though, believing they’d have more time if they forced the Packers to punt.
Obviously, football has a funny way of laughing in your face when you think you have it all figured out. And Rodgers and the Pack would be the only ones laughing in the end.
Time management, coaching errors are the easiest aspects of a game to criticize from the outside looking in. Fox famously mused earlier this season about those offering criticism not being on the sideline changing perspective.
All of that criticism is inherently hindsight – where Fox would be praised for conservativeness in trusting his defense to take the game to overtime and get his team the ball back – while ripping him apart as they didn’t.
If rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc makes the play on Nelson with a bit of safety help, this discussion isn’t ongoing. But it happened, so it’s worth mentioning that this is who Fox is and has always been. No team has ever regretted proper time management or aggressiveness at the end, but a Fox-coached team doesn’t inch that way.
And that’s why the Bears have a sour taste in their mouth because of Rodgers again as easy as it is to question that judgment.
“It’s extremely frustrating. It’s not really something you can put into words,” said defensive tackle, Akiem Hicks, of the Bears’ failure to close in the loss.
Exasperation and more wondering of what could’ve been against Green Bay. An all-too familiar fairy tale of the league’s prince slaying the bear.
After a Packers’ season sweep, the Bears have to wait another year wondering when they get to finally change the ending.
Week 16 Vs. Washington Redskins
With Christmas on Sunday, the NFL has this contest taking place Saturday afternoon on Christmas Eve. The Bears will be looking for their own early Christmas present against a Redskins team fighting for a Wild Card berth.
When the Bears are on defense: Washington has the league’s third ranked offense on the strength of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who sits in the top 10 in relevant passing statistics, such as yards, quarterback rating, and completion percentage.
Cousins has been a revelation for an explosive Redskins offense in a contract year, but there seems to be something missing with the late blooming 28-year-old. While Washington’s offense is loaded with talent in superstar tight end, Jordan Reed, receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and rising runner, Robert Kelley, many in the league still doubt Cousins.
They don’t “Like that!” to paraphrase Cousins from 2015.
The Redskins aren’t a perfect complete team, but questions have arisen whether Cousins is inflated by coaching and talent around him, instead of actually being this good.
A Bears defense that sits in the top-10 in yardage, and is fourth in the league in sacks, should figure to take advantage of Cousins’ one-read progression flaws.
The key matchup to watch will be Leonard Floyd against All-Pro tackle Trent Williams. Floyd was deployed primarily as a spy against Green Bay instead of as a pass rusher. With Cousins less dangerous outside of the pocket than Rodgers, figure Williams to get a handful from Floyd.
When the Bears are on offense: Barkley rallies against the Packers continue to build on his impressive four-game audition for Chicago brass.
Since the league’s 29th ranked defense in yardage and a bottom third in DVOA defensive unit in the Redskins is coming into town, the expectation should now be for Barkley to light it up. Washington’s pass defense is particularly vulnerable, as opposing teams have averaged at least 260.1 yards per game.
Of note, the running back Howard is just 180 yards away from breaking Matt Forte’s Bears rookie rushing record. Howard should have plenty opportunity to push for that mark against the league’s consistently gashed 22nd ranked rushing defense.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan – who’s tied for fifth in the league in sacks – will be the key man to stop. Tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie have been adequate, but also have their moments of occasional lapses too. If the Bears neutralize Kerrigan, Barkley will have the opportunity to deliver a nicely wrapped Christmas gift.
Tis’ the season.
Early pick: Bears 26 Redskins 20