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It will be Aaron Rodgers’ will vs. Bears’ might in season opener

The letdown in the second half of last year’s opener taught the Bears’ defense a valuable lesson — ‘‘keep swinging’’ when you’ve got an opponent on the ropes.

In last year’s season opener, Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to rally the Packers to a 24-23 victory over the Bears at Lambeau Field. But the Bears stymied Rodgers in a 24-17 victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 16.
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The Packers’ 24-23 comeback victory over the Bears in last year’s season opener at Lambeau Field was a testament to the power of Aaron Rodgers and the inspirational impact a great player can have on his teammates, his coaches and his home fans.

“When I came back on the field at halftime [after getting injured on a sack in the first half], I think everybody started to believe a little bit,” Rodgers said. “The ovation was loud. Although we were down 17-0 and 20-0 when I took the field, everybody had that belief.”

But it was an intangible effect on the Bears’ side of things that also played a role.

“On the [Bears’] side, up 17-0 going into the half, [there was] kind of a feeling like, ‘We can coast to the finish here,’ ” Rodgers said.

The Bears don’t deny their culpability in fueling a comeback that would win Rodgers the Moment of the Year Award at the NFL honors show last year.

“Most definitely there was [a letdown],” safety Eddie Jackson said. “You’ve got your foot on their neck, and you took your foot off the gas, and they were able to come back.

“But that was last year. This year’s a new team, new face, and we’ve got new goals. Right now, it’s for us to go out Thursday and dominate. It’s to play four quarters of Chicago Bears football. We want to keep swinging on defense, offense keep making plays.”

But that debacle last year, in retrospect, is seen as a building block for the Bears because they learned their lesson. They wilted in the heat in Miami and were outfoxed by the Patriots, but the Bears showed a much stronger resolve in closing out key games against the Lions, Vikings and Rams — and even Rodgers in the second half of a 24-17 victory against the Packers at Soldier Field on Dec. 16. Rodgers had no touchdown passes and one interception, was sacked five times and put up a 68.9 passer rating in that game.

“I wouldn’t say [the opener against the Packers] was too much of a hurt, just a lesson learned,” Jackson said. “We learned from it and built from it and got better from it.”

The opener against Rodgers and the Packers on Thursday night at Soldier Field will be a chance for the Bears’ defense to confirm a couple of key offseason narratives — that the transition from coordinator Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano was seamless and that with Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith having a full offseason and training camp, the unit can actually get better when many anticipate it might regress.

“We’re excited to let it go and to finally get out there and play,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said, “especially the starters, who haven’t seen a lot of action in the preseason. We’re just excited to take the leashes off.”

With defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, Mack and Jackson giving it elite players at all levels, the Bears’ defense is going in with supreme confidence. And, as coach Matt Nagy indicated, part of the onus is on the offense to keep the pressure on Rodgers instead of providing him fuel with three-and-outs. That was another lesson from last year’s opener.

“We as an offense learned a lot in that game,” Nagy said. ‘‘We just want to try to fix those things.”

And even then, the specter of Rodgers always looms.

“Anytime you have that kind of quarterback, anything can happen,” Nagy said. “He’s proven that over and over again.”