GREEN BAY – Last Thanksgiving, the Packers blew their chance.
For several reasons, they can’t afford to blow it again.
The all-time series between the Packers and the Bears hasn’t been tied since 1933. Back on Oct. 22 of that year, the Bears beat the Packers in Chicago, 10-7, to take a 12-11-4 advantage after 27 games.
Heading into Sunday’s 194th meeting, the Bears have led ever since.
Green Bay could have pulled even last year on Thanksgiving night, and how fitting that would have been.
The three greatest quarterbacks in franchise history – Bart Starr, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers – were all in the house at Lambeau Field.
Under Vince Lombardi as head coach, Starr went 12-3 quarterbacking against the Bears. Favre went 22-10 over 16 seasons. Rodgers was 13-3 against Chicago heading into that rainy Thursday night when things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to.
Just looking at the ledgers of Favre and Rodgers tells you how much ground the Packers have made up over the past quarter century. With Favre and Rodgers as the QBs, the Packers have put together separate winning streaks of 10, seven, six and four games against the Bears.
Chicago’s only winning streaks in that time have been three and two games each, and the Bears haven’t won two straight in the series since 2007, Favre’s last year in Green Bay.
So now, the Packers have another chance to even things up.
This year’s 26-10 victory back on Oct. 20 pulled Green Bay within one game again, at 93-94-6 (including two postseason games). Even stranger statistically is that the all-time score between the two teams is one measly point off. The Packers have scored 3,305 points to the Bears’ 3,304.
“It’s been a long time since it’s been tied up,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re aware of that.”
With sub-zero wind chills expected on Sunday at Soldier Field, it’s the next-best setting for the Packers to level the rivalry.
The transition from Favre to Rodgers was made in similar conditions, though not victoriously. In Favre’s last game at Soldier Field for Green Bay on Dec. 23, 2007, the wind chill was minus-18, and the Packers lost, 35-7.
Almost exactly one year later, for Rodgers’ first start in Chicago on Dec. 22, 2008, the wind chill was minus-13 for a night game, and the Bears again prevailed, 20-17 in overtime.
“You want to be on the right side of history,” Rodgers said, “and winning Sunday would help us get there.”
Of course, the Packers’ primary motivation on Sunday is to stay in the playoff chase by getting their fourth straight victory.
“December football,” to steal a pet phrase of McCarthy’s, is alive and well, and for the first time since the head coach’s first year in Green Bay (2006), the Packers finish the regular season facing all three of their NFC North foes.
He hasn’t said so specifically, but it seems McCarthy loves how this is setting up, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, the Packers need a little help in order to land a postseason berth, but if they can run the division gauntlet to finish 10-6, it’s hard to imagine that actually not being good enough to get in.
“You’re talking about the teams that know each other best,” McCarthy said of division rivals. “Coaching staffs spend so much time on each other in the offseason. There’s so much more that goes into it. The intensity burns so high from every angle, internally and externally.”
All the intensity in the world isn’t going to thaw out Soldier Field on Sunday. Mother Nature will have Her way, but the Packers will be ready.
Three-plus months ago they were dealing with 90-degree heat in Jacksonville to start the 2016 season, and 83 years ago their forebears had no idea coming up three points short would matter for so long.
Talk about long times ago, in galaxies far, far away.
“This is the toughest football of the year,” McCarthy said. “That’s the way we’re approaching this game.”