It has often seemed like the Bears’ plan for conquering Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers has simply been to wait him out.
He can’t play forever, although he looks as good at 38 as he did in his 20s. One way or another, eventually he’ll exit this rivalry and the Bears can start again. Perhaps he’s getting closer to retiring or forcing his way out of Green Bay. They almost got lucky with the latter last summer.
But this year, the Bears took a bold swing by drafting a quarterback unlike any in franchise history. There were many reasons to pick Justin Fields at No. 11, but the undercurrent was the hope that they’d finally have a quarterback who could keep pace with Rodgers.
Fields is a long way from delivering on that potential, but he fought Rodgers deep into the fourth quarter in their first meeting. And Rodgers sees the emerging threat as Fields visits Lambeau Field for the first time Sunday.
“There’s a reason they took him high,” Rodgers said. “He’s a highly talented kid. Got a bright future.
“He’s done some nice things. He’s got a lot of room for growth, as any young player does. Like I told him, this will be a fun rivalry to play in over the years. I’m sure he’ll play in a number of these games.”
That last sentence might be the most interesting one. Fields will play in many Bears-Packers games to come, but this could be Rodgers’ finale.
Rodgers’ future with the Packers has been tenuous since the team drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round in 2020. Rodgers won MVP that season and led the Packers to the NFC title game, then launched into an acrimonious offseason in which it was unclear whether he’d return.
He came back — with the threat that he’d want out again at the end of this season if he didn’t get concessions he wanted from management — and has played with his typical excellence. He leads the NFL with a 5.8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and is top 10 in yards per game (261.6) and passer rating (105.5).
That performance towers over Fields, who has four touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 career games. He has yet to throw for 300 yards, a number Rodgers has hit 76 times over 14 seasons as a starter.
Rodgers has a Super Bowl ring and a long list of epic moments against not only the Bears, but the rest of the NFL. With Fields, the Bears are still basking in his almost-comeback against the Steelers last month.
“I go back to the moment on the sideline,” coach Matt Nagy said, referencing Fields smiling with anticipation before driving the Bears to a go-ahead touchdown with 1:46 left only to lose on a late field goal. “That was a signature moment for him.”
The juxtaposition of Fields’ near-miss and Rodgers’ mountain of “signature moments” isn’t intended to deride Fields, who is off to a good start. It’s meant to illustrate the miles between where he’s at in his NFL journey and where Rodgers stands.
But Fields’ entered the rivalry with good timing. The upstarts don’t always get a chance against the legends they’re chasing.
LeBron James arrived in the NBA one season late to get a chance at playing against Michael Jordan. Patrick Mahomes was fortunate to get a shot at Tom Brady in a Super Bowl despite being 18 years younger than him.
The Fields-Rodgers battle won’t be in that stratosphere nationally, but Rodgers is the one Fields will spend his career trying to catch within this rivalry. He’ll either join the list of Bears quarterbacks who couldn’t upend him, or he’ll thrive and make a run at beating Rodgers’ 22-5 record in the rivalry.
Either way, it’s great for Fields — and everyone watching — that he gets his opportunity to land a punch before Rodgers finally drifts away.