Bears know stakes vs. Packers on Sunday — ‘It’s all here for us’
A month ago, having lost six in a row, Bears coaches stressed what the players could control. They were promised four more games — and had a chance for the playoffs if they could find a way to win them.
The last time the Bears hosted the Packers, Matt Nagy walked into Soldier Field wearing George Halas’ fedora on his head and the weight of the football world on his shoulders. The rivalry game opened the NFL’s 100th season in place of the reigning champion’s home opener. The Bears were considered a Super Bowl contender.
And then they lost 10-3, crushed under the weight of the moment and by an underperforming offense that would only grow more spurious as the year went on. Three months later, the Packers eliminated them from playoff contention.
The Bears finished their most anticipated season in a generation 8-8 and seemed destined for a worse fate this season. The last time Nagy walked into Soldier Field, his team had lost six straight. His job status — and that of general manager Ryan Pace — was in peril.
Now, one three-game winning streak later, the 8-7 Bears can reach the playoffs with a victory against the Packers on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field. They can sneak into the postseason as the No. 7 seed even if they lose —provided the Rams beat the Cardinals in a game that kicks off at the same time.If the Bears and Cardinals both win, the Bears will be seeded sixth.
If the 12-3 Packers win for the 101st time in the rivalry’s 202 games, they’ll earn the NFC’s No. 1 seed and a bye in the first round.
“We’re playing our rival and we’re playing it for playoff implications,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “You really can’t write it any better than that.”
Nagy doesn’t need to talk to his players about what it means.
“The social media world is so big, they get it, they can learn from there,” Nagy said. “But we also respect that part and all the former players and coaches that have been a part of this greatest rivalry in the history of sports.
“If you have to be told that and get juiced up for this, then you shouldn’t be here.”
It’s the Bears’ biggest regular season game since the 2013 finale, in which Aaron Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left to keep the Bears out of the playoffs.
“This is what we worked for,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “And no matter what happened throughout the course of this year, we always know there are going to be ups and downs, some very high and some very low, which we’ve experienced this season. And I’ve been there myself personally. ...
“We have a great opportunity in front of us, so our job is to just stay in the moment.”
It would be easy to let your mind wander. Had Trubisky not fumbled in the final two minutes of the Lions game on Dec. 6, the Bears’ playoff spot would be already clinched. The same would be true had Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins not caught a Hail Mary to beat the Bills at the gun in November.
The Packers led the Bears 41-10 last month and are a step up in weight class from the three losing teams the Bears beat last month: the Texans, Vikings and Jaguars. Needing to run the table, though, has hardened the Bears for the intensity of Sunday’s game.
“We’ve been in the playoffs for three weeks now. ..,,” said tight end Jimmy Graham, who spent the previous two seasons in Green Bay. “ We’re excited to be in this position, to be going up against such a rival, obviously.
“It’s all here for us.”
A month ago, mired in a six-game losing streak, Bears coaches stressed what the players could control. They were promised four more games — and had a chance to make the playoffs if they could find a way to win them.
“This is our last guaranteed one,” receiver Allen Robinson said. “The chips are all in.”