The team with the best quarterback usually wins Bears-Packers games. And while the Packers still will have the edge at that position on Thanksgiving night, it’s a closer call than it has been.
Even after a mediocre performance against the Broncos’ top-ranked defense Sunday, Jay Cutler heads into the game against the Packers with a 95.2 passer rating in his last seven games (11 touchdowns, four interceptions). Rodgers has an 89.8 rating (13 touchdowns, three interceptions) in the same span.
Though he made the key throws in the Packers’ 30-13 victory over the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, Rodgers wasn’t dominating — 16-of-34 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a more Cutler-like 86.9 rating. The 47.1 completion percentage is the fourth-lowest in his eight years as a starter.
After back-to-back games with passer ratings of 100.5 against the Chargers and 151.0 against the Rams, Cutler struggled against the Broncos — 18-of-32 for 265 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a 70.4 rating. He also lost a fumble on a sack. But Rodgers wasn’t any better against the Broncos in Week 8. Coming off a bye (but facing a Broncos defense with DeMarcus Ware), Rodgers was 14-of-22 for 77 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 69.7 rating in a 29-10 loss.
Of course, the Packers tend to bring out the worst in Cutler and the Bears have a tendency to bring out the best in Rodgers. So all bets are off. Just consider this the ultimate test of whether the latest “new” Jay Cutler is the real thing.
2. The Packers game will be a measuring stick for John Fox and his coaching staff as well. It’s the first time this season they will face a team they played previously this season. The Packers beat the Bears 31-23 at Soldier Field in the season opener.
Last year, the Bears’ promised to make adjustments after they didn’t even lay a finger on Rodgers in their first match-up. Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the first half for a 42-0 lead en route to a 55-14 debacle that greased the skids for Marc Trestman’s exit.
Fox was making no such promises this week.
“Do we have more familiarity? Yes. But so do they,” he said Monday. “It kind of all shakes out.”
3. The Bears’ offense and defense had similar performances against the Broncos — good, but not good enough. But the offense had the more difficult chore. The Broncos’ defense came into the game leading the NFL in net-points allowed — just 10.9 per game. They had allowed 148 points, but also scored 30 (on four touchdown returns and a safety) for a net of 98 points in nine games.
4. Jay Cutler is rarely more focused than when the matter is urgent and the Bears are in the fast-paced hurry-up offense. The Bears gained 261 net yards on 37 plays (7.1 yards per play), including 73 on three pass interference penalties drawn by Martellus Bennett, after Cutler’s third-quarter interception — which perhaps not coincidentally came after a delay for the Ka’Deem Carey injury. The Bears had gained a net of 179 yards on 37 plays (4.8 yards per play) at the point of the interception.
“We usually work pretty well when we’re up-tempo — whenever we’re in two-minute drills,” Cutler said. “Guys made some plays on the outside. We got a few pass interference calls. Marty’s playing well. The offensive line — I think we had worn them down a little bit up front. I had some time to throw and move around. But you can’t play two-minute ball for four quarters.”
5. The Bears had no penalties against the Broncos — Christian Jones was called for holding on a 15-yard pass play to Vernon Davis, but the penalty was declined. It’s the first time the Bears have not had a penalty in a game since 1995. It’s the first time any NFL team has not been penalized since the Patriots against the Texans in Week 13 of the 2013 season.
5a. The Broncos were penalized eight times for 118 yards. The Bears’ plus-118 differential
Sunday moved them to plus-47 in penalty yardage differential for the season. In fact, the Bears have a plus-149 differential since they were penalized 14 times for 170 yards against the Cardinals in Week 2.
5b. The Bears had four pass interference penalties that cost them 114 yards in the first two weeks of the season — including two by Kyle Fuller (34 and 42 yards) and one by Alan Ball (38 yards). But they have been called for pass interference only once in the last eight games — by Fuller for seven yards against the Lions.
5c. The Packers have drawn six pass interference penalties for 177 yards — the third most (yards) in the NFL this season.
6. It will be interesting to see what Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio throws at Rodgers on Thursday night after rookie Adrian Amos sacked Brock Osweiler on a delayed safety blitz. It was only the second sack by a Bears safety on a blitz since 2009, when Al Afalava sacked the Vikings’ Brett Favre. Ryan Mundy sacked Drew Brees on a safety blitz last season.
7. In case you didn’t know, the Bears have lost 12 of 14 games against the Packers in the Jay Cutler era. Cutler is 1-11 against the Packers. It can become a mental hurdle, guard Matt Slauson said, “but only if you allow it to be one.”
Slauson faced a similar scenario with the Jets against the Patriots. In Slauson’s four years with the Jets from 2009-12, the Jets won two of the first three games against the Patriots, but lost the next five — by 42, 11, 21, 3 and 30 points.
“My experience is that when you are going up against a really good team, you can already lose the game before it’s even played,” Slauson said. “A lot of times you’re going into the game and you’re already telling yourself, ‘Wow. This is going to be really hard to get a win. But you can’t afford to think like that. And I don’t believe anybody on our team is.”
8. John Fox could take a lesson in accountability and transparency from cornerback Tracy Porter, who played the blame game Monday and pointed right at himself for his part in Demaryius Thomas’ being wide open for a 48-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“That was a miscommunication in the secondary. I take full responsibility for that,” Porter said. “Before the snap, there was a miscommunication on where we were supposed to be aligned, which I should have corrected.
“Once the ball was snapped, [Kyle Fuller] kind of got jammed up and tangled up behind a different receiver and kind of got lost in the shuffle [and Thomas] was wide open. That was on me. That should have been a play I should have made.”
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Buccaneers safety Chris Conte had 10 tackles and an interception as Lovie Smith’s Bucs beat the Eagles 45-17. The Bucs (5-5) have won three of their last four.
Conte, who played 44.5 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps last season because of various injuries, has played 75.7 percent of the defensive snaps with the Bucs this season — including 94.4 percent (337 of 357) in the last five games.
10. It wouldn’t be a Bears Thanksgiving Day game without reminiscing about one of the great Thanksgiving Day moments in Bears history — Dave Williams’ 95-yard touchdown return of the overtime kickoff to give the Bears a 23-17 victory over the Lions in 1980 at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Neill Armstrong’s Bears (5-8) trailed 17-3 in the second half, but tied the game on the final play of regulation when quarterback Vince Evans scored on a seven-yard run. Williams — and the Bears’ kick-return unit — did the rest. In guard Dan Jiggetts’ first NFL start, Walter Payton ran for 123 yards on 18 carries.