The Bears have conquered their dragon. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have tormented Chicago in various and cruel ways for a good chunk of this millennium, and, on Sunday, they stood in the way of the Bears clinching their first NFC North title since 2010. The Bears took a novel and untested approach, which was to play better than the Packers, and it actually worked. The Bears won, 24-17, and, as a bonus, sent Green Bay tumbling out of playoff contention.
You don’t have to look too hard to find evidence of Rodgers torturing the Bears. The quarterback led a 17-point second-half comeback in Week 1 of this season that was so demoralizing, Sunday Night Football commentator Cris Collinsworth said it “could set the Chicago Bears back 100 years.” Given the Bears’ recent history, that kind of setback would actually be welcomed by fans, and the team rebounded to put themselves in pole position to win the division.
Sunday’s contest should have been decided sooner than it was. The Bears took a 14-6 lead in the first half and appeared to be cruising. Khalil Mack even sacked Rodgers with his butt.
But the Bears are new at this, and they did everything in their power to let the Packers back in the game. Chicago ran a terrible fake punt at midfield, and Green Bay scored shortly after sniffing it out. During a third-quarter red zone drive, Chicago head coach Matt Nagy called a run-option play with two running backs that resulted in a fumble.
Nagy has earned a reputation as an offensive Svengali. He’s asked 325-pound defensive ends to play fullback and has called pass plays to offensive linemen. He likes to get cute, and this has become something of a running joke with the Chicago media.
Sunday’s two gadget plays were cute to the point of self-sabotage, though, and the Packers tied the score at 14 in the third quarter.
This would be the point where Rodgers rips the Bears’ hearts out. He hasn’t lost at Soldier Field since 2010, back when Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was just qualifying for his driver’s license. Trubisky has been criticized for his inaccuracy this season, but he had a solid game on Sunday and led two drives to give the Bears a 10-point cushion after the Packers tied it up. Rodgers executed a late push to cut into that lead, but then he did something he hasn’t done since September: he threw an interception.
Rodgers had made 402 pass attempts without throwing a pick. That’s an NFL record, and it ended when Bears star safety Eddie Jackson plucked a tipped ball in the end zone. (Jackson hurt his ankle on the return. Even in defeat, Rodgers still manages to inflict pain on Chicago.)
A Rodgers interception to seal a Bears win? The only thing that could make that play any rarer would be for the USPS to halt production on a postage stamp commemorating it. This was a collectors item for the Bears, one they’ll clutch to as they proceed into the postseason with the Packers in the rearview.