GREEN BAY—The Packers can clinch the NFC North Division title this Sunday and continue their mastery of the Chicago Bears, or maybe this is the game that will change the course of history.
“In a rivalry game like this, you go through spells when one team has the other one’s number for a period of time, and then you get to one game and that changes. We’re hoping that’s the case this weekend,” Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith told Packers media on Wednesday.
The Packers have won the last five games between the two teams, which includes a 2010 NFC title game win at Soldier Field, a sweep of the series last year and a head start on a second consecutive series sweep by virtue of a 23-10 in Week 2 of this season, when the Packers sacked quarterback Jay Cutler seven times.
This rivalry has become so one-sided that the Packers even scored on a fourth-and-26 fake field goal play in that Week 2 game.
Should the frustration continue for the Bears this Sunday, the Packers will spend the final two weeks of the season playing for playoff seeding. The Bears, however, would be playing for their playoff lives, in a season that began 7-1.
“There have been some highs, some lows. Not playing our best football as of late, but there are still three games left for us to turn it around,” Cutler said when asked to put the year in perspective.
Cutler left last Sunday’s 21-14 loss in Minnesota in the second quarter with a neck injury.
“I’ll be ready by Sunday,” he said on Wednesday.
A lightning rod for controversy, Cutler could be facing a defining game in his Bears career. He needs to lead the Bears to a win that will stop a skid of four losses in the last five games, and a slump of seven losses in the last eight games against the Bears’ hated rival.
“They’re definitely in the way. They’ve controlled this division. They’ve had our number and this is going to be another good one,” Cutler said.
How intense is this rivalry for the Bears and their fans?
“In the city of Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. They are very, very disliked in this part of the country. If we win only one game a year, they want it to be against the Pack,” Cutler added.
Sunday’s game is of critical importance to both teams, but it is the Bears that are the most desperate. At 8-5, they still have a date left in Detroit, and there are no guarantees at 9-7.
“Just getting to the playoffs is the important part. You can be 9-7 and win the Super Bowl. Just getting in is our focus,” Cutler said.
Again, the Packers are in the way.
“Teams normally get hot at the end. We want to be one of those teams. It’s about this three-game season we have, beginning with Green Bay,” Smith said. “We’re not living in the past. Before that, we had their number. All of that is in the past. We feel good about our chances at Soldier Field this week.”
Injuries caused the Bears to limit practice to a walk-through on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Packers appear to be on the mend, as Clay Matthews returned to practice after having missed four games with a hamstring injury.
“We’re a little banged up; we’re going to heal up,” Smith promised.
The Bears relied on takeaways in their early-season spurt. Smith is emphasizing a return to that style of play this week.
“In our series lately, we haven’t won the turnover ratio in a while. We’re talking about it a lot this week,” he said.
“We’re going to do whatever we possibly can to get pressure on (Aaron Rodgers), keep him pinned in. In order for us to do that, we’re going to have to win some battles on the outside, whether it’s against a tackle that hasn’t played a lot or one that’s been around a lot.”
The Bears might be facing a one-game season. They need the lift a win over the Packers would give them.
“You get some confidence rolling and you can be right back in a snap,” Cutler said.
Or else. Additional coverage - Dec. 12