Packers and Bears reverse roles in Thursday’s opener
Rivals kick off NFL's 100th season at Soldier Field
By Gene Chamberlain
CHICAGO (AP) — The NFL’s oldest rivalry takes on a different look to open the league’s 100th season.
It’s a role reversal for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
A year after new coach Matt Nagy took quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears to Lambeau Field to kick off the season, the script flipped, with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new coach Matt LaFleur coming to Soldier Field.
“It was always big Chicago against little Green Bay,” Rodgers said. “We’ve held our own over the years and it’s always been a great rivalry.
“It’s one of the special ones in the history of professional sports.”
In Rodgers’ experience the Packers trust, even using a new offense for the first time since he became starter in 2008.
“He’s been there before, he’s got a lot of game reps,” LaFleur said of Rodgers. “The one thing you can always find comfort in is that you know the moment won’t be too big for him. He’s played in a lot of big games.”
Rodgers has been a particular problem for the Bears, beating them in 16 of 21 starts. Last year Rodgers shook off a 20-point deficit in the second-half and a knee injury to lead a 24-23 win over Khalil Mack and the Bears.
Chicago returned the favor in December and ended Green Bay’s five-game series winning streak to clinch the NFC North title en route to a 12-4 record.
Now it’s a matter for Rodgers of using an offense emphasizing more running and deception while facing the NFL’s top defense at intercepting passes (27).
“It’s so new, it’s so different than what we’ve done in the past,” Rodgers said.
The Packers ran less than any team in the NFL last year, and look to get running back Aaron Jones more carries.
“Now we’re throwing new things at them with personnel groupings and motions and alignments and movement and adjustments that they haven’t seen from us,” Rodgers said.
The Bears have revealed nothing offensively after sitting starters in the preseason, including Trubisky.
“He’s mentally grown, he really has,” Nagy said. “That’s what we look for, and now we have to do it on the field.”
The defense also sat out preseason, but inactivity failed to slow Mack in last year’s opener. With no training camp and only five practices after his trade from Oakland, Mack decimated Green Bay’s offense with a strip sack, fumble recovery, and a touchdown return after an interception.
He’s aching to face Green Bay again as the Bears seek their first season-opening win since 2013.
“Oh man, I’m so ready to hit somebody other than my teammate,” Mack said. “You know what I mean?”
The Packers will start free agent safety acquisition Adrian Amos, the former Bears safety, while his Bears replacement is former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix was traded by the Packers to Washington last year before signing for one year with the Bears.
“He’s come in and he’s been a great pro,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “All we ask these guys to do every single day — it doesn’t matter if they were here before or they’re new coming in — is what coach Nagy’s expectation was. You come in and earn your way. Every single day he’s done it.”
Amos is one of eight Packers starters on defense who are different than in last year’s opener.
Elements of surprise are at work in this matchup.
The Bears had to watch tape on Tennessee from 2018 to determine how LaFleur’s offense operates. He was Titans offensive coordinator last year. Pagano, the former Colts coach and Ravens assistant, has altered the Bears’ defensive look somewhat.
“I’m sure they’re studying all the tape, just like we’re going back and looking at Chuck from all the way back to Baltimore,” LaFleur said. “So yeah, again, it just goes back to having plays that start off looking the same that are different to try and keep them off a little bit.”
Rodgers disagreed with the notion he has a hatred for Chicago.
“I have a lot of respect for the city of Chicago and their fans,” Rodgers said. “I grew up a fan of Michael Jordan and one of the channels we had on our 10-channel TV was WGN. So we got the Cubs games, as well.”
Trubisky expressed how little the NFL hype machine about 100 seasons means to players.
“It really doesn’t matter, all the hoopla, kicking off the NFL season, the 100th season,” Trubisky said. “If we get caught up in the moment and you let your adrenaline take over and you don’t do what the team needs you to do, then I think you could do things that are out of character and put your team in a bad spot.”
The availability of Bears tight end Trey Burton will be a game-time decision due to a groin injury suffered last week. A groin injury also kept him out of last season’s playoff loss to Philadelphia.
The Packers likely will start rookie Ty Summers at inside linebacker due to a torn pectoral muscle to starter Oren Burks and a knee injury to backup Curtis Bolton.