On a grand scale, there are no two teams more familiar to each other in the history of the sport: the Bears will play the Packers for a NFL-record 192nd time Thursday.
From a practical sense, though, the Bears might not know them at all.
Nine of the Bears’ starters from Sunday’s loss to the Broncos did not start when the Bears hosted the Packers in the season-opener. Five starters didn’t play in the game at all. Three projected starting offensive linemen Thursday — Charles Leno, Hroniss Grasu and Patrick Omameh — were non-factors, with Leno serving as the blocking tight end and the other two not playing at all.
Cornerback Tracy Porter was held out with a hamstring injury the first time the Bears played the Packers — and lost, 31-23 — but enters Thursday’s game at Lambeau Field as one of their best defensive players.
“It will be my first time going against them physically, but mentally when I was out I played the game through the other guys,” he said Monday at Halas Hall. “I prepared as if I was going to play. I took all the necessary notes on these guys, knowing what they like to do.
“But it’s a different ballgame once you’re out there on the field.”
The Bears say they’re different than they were in Week 1. They’re more comfortable in their own skin.
“I think we’re a little more confident, a little more comfortable in the offense,” guard Matt Slauson said. “(Sunday), it didn’t really show that, but we are. We’re feeling better as an offensive line. We’ve had a lot of growth this year in this offense. We just need to put it out there on game day.”
Slauson looked at the first Packers game Monday as a refresher, but said the Bears also need to remember that each game is unique in and of itself.
“Now we have to make the leap,” he said. “And these other guys who are having to play and step in can’t look at themselves as like a fill-in role any more. They’ve got to be playmakers now.”
The turnover is a byproduct of injuries, sure, but also of John Fox continuing to mold the team in his own image. Jared Allen has been traded, Jermon Bushrod benched and Sherrick McManis deemed unreliable on defense.
The downside? The mental database of the veterans won’t help the Bears much Thursday.
Fox, who last coached on Thanksgiving as a Steelers assistant in 1991, did not watch film of the Broncos loss with his team Monday and will dial back practice intensity this week.
Familiarity with Thursday’s foe, he said, doesn’t help much. The Packers have won 10 of their last 11 against the Bears, who lead the series by one game, 93-92-6.
“Really not much about this is easy,” he said. “Do we have more familiarity? Yes, but so do they. It kind of all shakes out.”
Porter was blunt when asked about playing twice in five days.
“It sucks, actually,” he said. “It’s not good. You’re sore from the games before. Your body’s used to having more games in between.
“But it’s part of the game, and you learn to adjust to it.”
Two veterans might not have to. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Matt Forte, who didn’t play Sunday because of groin and knee injuries, respectively, could return.
They might be the only ones on the field who feel fresh.
“It’s all relative,” Slauson said. “At this point in the year, nobody feels good.
“I just know I really hope they come back soon. It would be really good for them. Really good for us.”
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