The Bears' defense needs to prove Aaron Rodgers-fueled loss was an aberration, not a trend


GREEN BAY, Wisc. — While the difference on the scoreboard was one single point, the gap between the Bears and Green Bay Packers was as wide and evident as ever.  

“Honestly, everybody is already used to it coming from No. 12,” Packers running back Jamaal Williams said.

The Bears, after a gutting 24-23 loss Sunday night at Lambeau Field — loss No. 17 in their last 20 meetings with the rivals to the north — can certainly attest to that.

“It” was Aaron Rodgers coming back after a first-half knee injury to gouge a previously-dominant Bears defense for 273 yards on 17 of 22 passing with three touchdowns over the final two quarters. “It” was, on a rare instance of not getting the ball out quickly, taking his time to find Randall Cobb over the middle to trigger a 75-yard game-winning disembowlment of an opponent he’s so thoroughly and consistently beaten over the last dozen years.

“It” was more of the same from Rodgers against the Bears. The Packers are a franchise that knows how to win; the Bears showed on Sunday night they’re not there yet.

“You could take a few positives, but ultimately it’s definitely a learning experience as far as finishing games late, especially close ones,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “These ones hurt.”

While the Bears’ offense remains a work in progress, a defense buoyed by a hysterically-good first half from Mack looked good enough to earn Matt Nagy a comfortable win in his head coaching debut. “Dominant” doesn’t begin to describe Mack’s first 30 minutes, which featured a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a touchdown. Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris plowed their way into the pocket multiple times, while the rest of this group flew to the ball and put a muzzle on the Packers’ offense.

But a few minutes after Rodgers was announced as “questionable” to return with a knee injury during halftime, he made his way out of the locker room to an optimistic roar from a nervy crowd at Lambeau Field. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he was prepared to go with DeShone Kizer coming out of halftime, but knew as soon as Rodgers walked out of the tunnel that his franchise quarterback was ready to go.

With Rodgers’ return came an updated gameplan designed not only to keep a swarming Bears front seven away from the banged-up quarterback, but to put the pressure back on Vic Fangio’s defense. The result was Rodgers operating almost exclusively a no-huddle two-minute offense with plenty of quick throws.

The Bears knew it was coming, and yet had no answers.

“You figure that into Green Bay’s game,” Hicks said. “We’ve seen it before. They know how to get to the ball quick and hike it and try to catch you in a substitution. It’s something they do and we gotta be able to react better.”

What could’ve been a raucous film review session for Fangio’s defense full of highlight plays will turn into one in which players will be sharply critical of themselves. Rodgers wasn’t sacked in the second half, and he was barely pressured, either, thanks to the get-it-out-quick gameplan.

“It’s a factor,” Mack said, “but you really can’t make excuses.”

One way to counter an up-tempo, high-percentage gameplan for a defense is to limit big plays, take advantage of a mistake or two and, to use a football cliche, bend but don’t break. The Bears weren’t able to do any of that, with big-chunk scoring plays of 39 and 75 yards marring their record, as well as a 51-yard gain that set up a touchdown. And when Kyle Fuller had a chance to ice the game with an errant Rodgers throw right into his midsection, he dropped the ball.

“I had an opportunity and I just needed to make a play,” Fuller said.

Two plays later, on third and 10 with no timeouts and the two-minute warning fast approaching, Rodgers found Cobb for that 75-yard game-winning touchdown.

This isn’t to absolve the Bears’ offense for not making plays as the Packers clawed back into this game. Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and that group will have a lot of questions to answer and could’ve done more to at least avoid a string of three-and-outs that didn’t give the defense much time to rest. The offense needs to be better.

But a defense built around continuity and the big-splash additions of Mack and Roquan Smith (who didn’t play much) wasn’t able to come up with a stop on a single possession in the second half. The Packers went field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown before running out the clock. For a group that entered Sunday night with aspirations of being a top-five unit in the league, it has to be able to put together a complete game, not just a dominant half.

“We were running, gunning, we just started feeling, you know, a little comfortable too much, got a little too complacent,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I think we just need to go ahead and keep ramming it and keep playing our style of ball, which is starting fast and physical and keep running over people and I think we have the makings of a great team.”

If there’s one positive from Sunday night for this team, it’s that the talent gap seems to have narrowed, if not closed, between the Bears and Packers. They’ll get another crack at Rodgers in December when the Packers come to Soldier Field.

Ideally, this defense will have proved by then its disastrous second half in Green Bay had more to do with one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and less to do with their own shortcomings.

“You can talk about potential all day, nobody really cares about it on the football field,” Mack said. “You want to come out and win these games and that’s the only thing that matters.”

Contact Us