There’s always a tinge of apprehension in the air anytime the Bears are playing the Packers.
Maybe it’s because the Packers have had back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks suit up for them for the better part of three decades. Maybe it’s because I loathe the Green and Gold more than I do drivers who activate their turn signals after they’ve already merged into a turn lane (don’t get me started on that). It’s probably a combination of the two.
But as enjoyable as the Bears were for the first 35 minutes of action in Sunday night’s 24-23 loss to the Packers, I was never able to kick back and fully enjoy what was looking to be a major upset.
Because there was always that sliver of doubt lingering in the back of my head.
The Packers are who we thought they were … crown their ass
The manner in which the Packers mounted a comeback victory in one half of play was eerily similar to the one the Bears unfurled against the Arizona Cardinals back in 2006.
In that prime time, nationally televised game, the Cardinals built an improbable 20-0 lead. Sound familiar?
But after exploding out of the gates to build that 20-point lead, the Cardinals offense only managed a single field goal the rest of the way. Now, where have we seen that before?
The Bears in the second half of that 2006 game showed total grit and utter determination to close the gap and claw back into the game, ultimately winning 24-23. Experiencing déjà vu yet?
The major difference between the Bears’ 24-23 comeback win in 2006 and the Packers’ 24-23 win last night is that the Bears did it all with their defense while the Packers did it with the hobbled Aaron Rodgers and their offense.
That, plus we Bears fans got to experience the “other side” of the comeback.
It’s not prophecy, it’s familiarity
When the Packers emerged from the tunnel to begin the second half, Rodgers came jogging onto the field amid reports that he was going to give it a go and return to action after exiting the first half following what looked like a serious knee injury.
I immediately sent the following text message to some friends:
I’ve got too much respect for Aaron Rodgers to not be worried if he comes back.
Not long after that, I received this text from a different thread:
I don’t mean to be this guy, but I’m having awful PTSD right now about the Packers beating the Bears in miraculous fashion.
And then, as the Packers mounted their comeback, this text came rolling in:
Don’t feel good about this at all.
Officially uh-oh time.
Completion after completion, yard after yard, Rodgers and the Packers’ offense systematically picked apart a Bears defense that looked like a Top 5 unit in the first half.
Even as the offense stalled and failed to put points on the board after two consecutive three-and-out series, the Bears looked like they had one final shot to close out the game and secure the improbable victory.
Nursing a 20-17 lead about midway through the fourth quarter, Mitch Trubisky led the offense on a 14-play, 61-yard drive that chewed up 6:22 of game clock in the fourth quarter.
That’s when I sent this text message (edited for clarity):
The Bears either need seven points here or they have to run out the clock with first downs. A field goal is not an option.
What happened next will be one of the most hotly debated topics among Monday morning quarterbacks.
As the Bears were gashing the Packers’ run defense on that drive and forcing them to use up their timeouts, Matt Nagy controversially chose to dial up a passing play on third-and-two, instead of feeding it to the red-hot Jordan Howard to grind out a first down, or, at the very least, force the Packers to use up another time out.
Trubisky’s third-down pass fell incomplete and the clock stopped at 2:47. My next text, sent immediately after the chain gang switched the down marker to fourth down:
Bear in mind, it was still 20-17 at that point.
That’s not prophetic on my part. That’s common sense. That’s familiarity with a tired old story line right out of Hollywood.
How the Bears choked this one away
A lot will be made about how poorly the Bears’ defense played in the second half of Sunday night’s game. And yes, while they were considerably less impressive in the second half than they were in the first, I wouldn’t pin the loss entirely on them.
Allowing Rodgers — even as he hobbled around on a bum knee — to score 24 points in one half is not unheard of. It’s not good, obviously. But it’s not a shocker.
What is appalling, on the other hand, is the way the offense played in the second half. Picking up 138 yards and 6 points will not get the job done most Sundays.
And when you consider that Khalil Mack had a pick-six in the first half, the Bears offense scored just 16 points the entire game.
Does this mean they’re still bad? No, not necessarily. But they’re still raw and have a ways to go before we’re ready to claim they’re legitimate playoff contenders.
A loss like this can set the Bears back a long way
I’m not going to go all Cris Collinsworth on you and say that this comeback defeat will set the Bears back 100 years (yes, he really said that). But it will hurt, and it will set them back in their growth and development.
That is, unless they’re mentally tough enough to overcome it.
These kinds of losses have devastating effects on the psyche of young players. There is a certain confidence that gets shattered when you repeatedly lose tight games. And there’s even a greater detriment done to one’s fortitude when losing to a division rival as often as the Bears have succumbed to the Packers.
Every time the Bears find themselves in a tight game from this point forward, the memory of this blown opportunity will inevitably enter their minds. It’s human condition. It’s unavoidable.
That’s where their mental toughness will come into play. What kind of team is this? What kind of players are these? Will they play scared and timid, afraid to lose? Will the anxiety and nerves that accompany a tight game cripple their abilities to go out and make plays?
It’s happened before, but that doesn’t mean it has to happen to these Bears. In all of life, there are exceptions to rules because we can not lump everything into neat little packages. The Bears can become that exception if they learn from this demoralizing defeat and use it as fuel for redemption as opposed to fodder for failure.
That all starts next Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks, in another prime time appearance against yet another good quarterback in Russell Wilson.
The silver lining in Sunday night’s debacle is this: Bears general manager Ryan Pace has methodically built an intriguing team of talent. And I’ll leave you with one more text message I sent last night, right around halftime.
Ryan Pace has assembled a squad. I’m not ready to “crown ‘em”, but they’ve come a long way since the Phil Emery/Marc Trestman era ended.
Pace is who I thought he was.