GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was rainy and sloppy and unpleasant for man and beast alike.
But it’s amazing what you’ll put up with when you’re hungry. And the Bears, the human kind, certainly are that. Say what you want about their middling talent level, but don’t tell them what they’re not capable of accomplishing. That only seems to steel their resolve.
They waded into archenemy territory Thursday night, to a place where they hadn’t had much success, and beat the Packers 17-13.
Jay Cutler outplayed Aaron Rodgers, and when, pray tell, was the last time that happened in this lifetime?
It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of what occurred at Lambeau Field on this raw night. The Packers came into the game with a 7-3 record. Brett Favre was having his retired number unveiled at halftime. And the script called for the 4-6 Bears to be background scenery to whatever this production was called. Let’s go with “Broadway Comes to Cheeseland.’’
Then it was curtains for the Packers.
With his team at the Chicago 8-yard-line in the final minute, Rodgers dropped back to pass four times. And four times the Bears’ defense denied him. The odds of that are what? Perception-wise, probably a million to one. Reality-wise against a determined Bears defense, much, much smaller.
Speaking of huge odds, Cutler had never won at Lambeau Field until Thursday. He came into the game with a 1-11 record against the Packers as a Bear. But he looked nothing like the guy who had struggled so many times here. Well, sure there was the fumble on a snap on third-and-six in the fourth quarter, but he recovered that.
That’s what separates this season from others. In past years, the Bears always seemed to pay for his mistakes. This year, Cutler’s sins end up forgiven.
He completed 19 of 31 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown pass to Zach Miller, and had a 90.8 passer rating. Rodgers finished with a 62.4 rating.
The Bears were excellent on defense Thursday. Yes, Green Bay ran the ball down their throats, but it couldn’t take advantage of the 177 rushing yards. Eddy Lacy fumbled after a 15-yard run in the second quarter and Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston recovered.
Bears cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted a Rodgers pass with three minutes, 19 seconds left to help push back the Packers. Those things aren’t supposed to happen to Rodgers. Those things never seem to go Chicago’s way, especially here. Rodgers came into the game with a 13-3 record against the Bears.
You can’t help but go back to the debacle last season, when the Bears, coming off a bye week, got clobbered 55-14 by the Packers in Green Bay. What happened Thursday was a repudiation of whatever that was. That Bears team looked almost un-coached, like a bunch of former grade-school buddies holding their 32nd annual Turkey Bowl. This Bears team was in it right from the beginning, just as they’ve been in almost every game this season.
Down one week, up the next – these are your Chicago Bears. But they have been a lot more entertaining than most teams that hover near the .500 mark. This is supposed to be a rebuilding year, which is usually code for “really, really bad.” If the Bears are rebuilding, they didn’t get the memo about stinking up the field. They don’t seem to know they’re not supposed to be doing this, not against the Packers and certainly not at Lambeau.
There were lots of standouts — even Marc Mariani, the Bears’ much-maligned punt returner. He came up big as a receiver Thursday, catching three passes for 35 yards.
The Packers were complimentary of the Bears after the game but were adamant that the Packers had beat the Packers.
“It’s a game we expect to win, but we didn’t play well enough to win,’’ Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
“This is on us,’’ Rodgers said.
Maybe it is, but the Bears looked every bit the Packers’ equal. Afterward, Cutler was asked if the victory could be a springboard for the Bears for the rest of the season.
“I don’t know why not,’’ he said. “We look at our schedule, and I think we like the remaining schedule. We go home next week, have kind of a mini-bye this week. It’s a confident group in there. At the same time, we haven’t arrived.’’
Just know that the Bears keep making strides. I don’t know where they’re going ultimately, but they seem to be headed in the right direction. At the very least, they’re headed back home with a victory.