The 200th meeting between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, on a frigid day at Lambeau Field, ended much like the 199th meeting: one drive to tie the game and force overtime for Mitchell Trubisky and Chicago. Just like in Week 1, Mike Pettine’s defense came through in a 21-13 win, buoyed by a 14-point spurt in the third quarter to break the game open from Aaron Rodgers and the offense.
Symmetry abounded in another iteration of the storied rivalry, with the Packers essentially ending the Bears’ playoff chances in Week 15, the same week Matt Nagy’s team eliminated Green Bay last year. The Packers won each of the last two home meetings in one-score games with late stops and at a certain point the idea of a “rivalry” fades away with the Packers moving to 19-5 against the Bears under Aaron Rodgers.
In another beautiful bit of symmetry, in the NFL’s 100th season, the Packers rookie head coach is having the best year by a first-year head coach since Curly Lambeau, and he became the first coach since Dan Devine to sweep the Bears as a rookie.
Rodgers and the Packers offense missed a golden opportunity on the opening drive with a beautiful deep shot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, one the second-year receiver alligator armed, missing the chance for a 70-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. Davante Adams dropped a couple passes of his own and despite some stellar throws from the quarterback, the offense failed to find the all-elusive rhythm.
Instead, they came out of halftime roaring and scored all the points they’d need. Up 7-3 at halftime, the same score as Week 1, the Packers took just five plays to go 73 yards thanks to big gainers from Adams, Rodgers with his legs, and a 21-yard Aaron Jones touchdown run. On the next possession after a fourth down stop, Rodgers found Jake Kumerow down the right sideline for 49 yards, setting up another Jones touchdown plunge and staking the Packers a 21-3 lead.
Ten fourth quarter points brought the Bears back into the game, demanding the Packers make not one but two late-game stops including a heart-in-your-throat final play. This has been how seemingly every game for them as gone this season, but winning ugly still means winning.
The Packers came out playing zone coverage, confusing Mitch Trubisky and forcing him to go through his progressions. With B.J. Goodson a healthy scratch, Mike Pettine’s plan centered around Trubsiky having to, as Tramon Williams said after Week 1, “play quarterback” and it worked well early, limiting the Bears to just 14 first-quarter yards. Green Bay’s front dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen’s running lanes, and didn’t let Trubisky get outside the pocket to beat them with his legs.
Trubisky played an uneven game, firing seeds to receivers to convert third downs, and on the next play throwing to no one in particular. The Packers didn’t consistently pressure him, but kept him off balance with a mix of coverage and blitz schemes. Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson each went over 100 yards, but Green Bay played its best game of the season defending the run (39 yards on 14 carries for David Montgomery) and got their hands on two Trubisky passes for interceptions.
For those wondering about an identity, we saw it again on Sunday: the Packers are capable of flourishes, bursts of beauty and execution, but remain unable to sustain them. They balance inconsistency with mental toughness and resiliency. Pettine’s group, led against the Bears by a relentless Kenny Clark, makes the crucial plays. They embody the cliche of finding a way to win. The sister cliche, to bend and not break, worked against the Bears as well, with Nagy’s offense finishing 1-3 in the red zone scoring touchdowns.
If this is the version of the Packers defense we see in January, this Packers team has a chance. Drops and misfires still plague the offense, but because they’re so explosive and dynamic at points in the game, they’re like a streaky three-point shooter. If they keep taking shots, at some point they’re going to make a four in a row. And LaFleur has made sure they’ve gotten up shots. They’re still not turning the ball over and hitting on enough big plays to score.
They’ve let big leads slip away in the second half of games, but building those leads count too. For a team who went through its share of losing the last two seasons, they’re having to rebuild a winning culture in Titletown. Scraping out wins aids in that foundation, but discovering a killer instinct to finish teams off would go a long way in assuaging the fears of fans who see a team struggling to close games.
A monster matchup with the Vikings looms in Week 16, a first-round bye on the line for the Packers, and a chance to lock up the division crown for the first time since 2016. No one will fault Green Bay for winning ugly so for as they take care of the winning part.