GREEN BAY—To a man, the members of the Packers defense knew their effort would matter more with the offense missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
That’s what makes Monday night’s showing all the more disappointing in the 27-20 defeat to the Bears at Lambeau Field.
“It’s up to us as a defense to step up,” veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “We lost our best man. That was a great opportunity for us to shine, come out and show the world the kind of ball we can play, and we didn’t. Bottom line, we didn’t handle our business.”
The Bears handled theirs to the tune of 442 total yards in a well-balanced performance. Backup quarterback Josh McCown threw for 272 yards and two TDs without an interception, utilizing all his weapons.
Four players had at least four receptions each for the Bears, led by Brandon Marshall’s seven catches for 107 yards and a difficult 23-yard TD catch in the first quarter. Receiving mate Alshon Jeffery added five catches for 60 yards and a TD.
Running back Matt Forte was the all-around weapon the Bears often showcase, with 125 yards rushing and 54 more receiving, breaking a number of tackles along the way.
The Bears’ production from all comers was plenty to offset the 199 yards rushing the Packers piled up in support of backup QB Seneca Wallace, including 150 yards on 22 carries from Eddie Lacy. A rushing night like that normally translates into a time-of-possession advantage, but the Bears’ balance and efficiency, particularly on a long fourth-quarter drive, generated a six-minute edge for Chicago when all was said and done.
“That’s why it’s a team game,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “We have to step up and play better on defense. Give credit to the offensive line and Eddie. They played hard. The rest of us, we didn’t catch up.”
Two Chicago drives were particularly damaging.
The first came at the end of the first half, after the Packers downed a punt at the Bears’ 1-yard line with Chicago leading, 14-10.
All Chicago did was kill the final 4:16 of the half with a 93-yard drive for a field goal, taking big chunks of yardage along the way, with five plays on the drive gaining 14 yards or more. Those hurry-up situations have troubled the Packers defense all season, and the struggles only continued.
The second long drive decided the game in the fourth quarter. Leading 24-20, the Bears took over on their own 11 with 9:48 left. Using 18 plays, they consumed all but the final 50 seconds of the game in tacking on a field goal for a seven-point margin.
“Frustrating, man, real frustrating,” Raji said. “That’s not like us. But give the Bears credit. They played better than us tonight. They had a good game plan and stuck with it. They executed. They kind of did what they wanted tonight and got the job done.”
The Packers had three big chances to stop that drive and leave the offense more time to rally for a late score.
On fourth-and-inches from their own 32, the Bears made the gutsy call to go for it, and both linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Morgan Burnett had shots at Forte in the backfield. But he wiggled away, picked up three yards and moved the chains.
“It was a tough angle for me, but in my opinion, I feel I could have got him,” Burnett said. “There was a lineman coming to block me … I just tried to sell out. I’m hard on myself. I feel like I could have got him. It could have been a big stop for our team.”
The Bears also converted a third-and-6 with an 11-yard pass to Marshall and a third-and-5 with an 8-yard run by Forte. A holding penalty in the red zone was what ultimately kept the Bears out of the end zone.
When the defensive unit finally walked off the field with under a minute to play, it knew it hadn’t been the backbone the team needed from the moment Rodgers left the field in the first quarter.
“Honestly, my first thought was, we’re going to be fine,” Raji said. “We’re going to rise together as a team and play. That wasn’t the case tonight.”
It may need to be the case going forward, depending on Rodgers’ health. An Eagles team that scored 49 points this past weekend visits Lambeau Field in six days, and with a three-way tie at 5-3 atop the NFC North now, any margin for error the Packers had has been lost.
“This is not the end of the road,” Burnett said. “This is just the halfway point. This is one of those moments where your team faces adversity and you see how you respond to it.
“It’s all about how you bounce back as a team. I’m confident in our team. We’ll stay together.” Complete game coverage