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Sports Saturday

The Power of 12: Aaron Rodgers’ history of torment vexes Bears

With Rodgers possibly playing his last game against the Bears with the Packers, here’s a look at the odd, uncanny and crushing moments that have marked his domination of the Bears and have tortured already-suffering Bears fans.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (celebrating a touchdown last year in front of Bears safety Eddie Jackson) is 22-5 against the Bears in his 14-year career.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (celebrating a touchdown last year in front of Bears safety Eddie Jackson) is 22-5 against the Bears in his 14-year career.
Jeffrey Phelps/AP Photos

The Matt Nagy era started in glory. Even Aaron Rodgers was caught in the undertow.

Facing their arch-nemesis and the Packers at Lambeau Field in the 2018 season opener and Nagy’s debut as head coach, the Bears started with a flurry on offense and defense that seemed to signal the dawn of a new era just by the end of the first half.

Mitch Trubisky ran Nagy’s offense like a maestro on the opening possession of the Nagy era — driving the Bears 86 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead. The Bears’ defense, seemingly invigorated by the notion of the Bears having a threatening offense, turned up the heat. Akiem Hicks sacked Rodgers. Roy Robertson-Harris, with help from Khalil Mack, sacked Rodgers, who suffered a knee injury on the play and limped off the field.

As it turned out, Mack was just warming up. In the second quarter, he sacked back-up DeShone Kizer, forced a fumble and recovered it. On the next series he intercepted Kizer and returned the pick 27 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-0 halftime lead.

It was likely the most giddy halftime for Bears fans since Super Bowl XX. Matt Nagy was a hit. Khalil Mack was even better than advertised. Mitch Trubisky was … better than DeShone Kizer. It was reminiscent of the 26-0 blowout of the Packers at Lambeau Field in the 2006 opener that put Lovie Smith’s Bears on a path to the Super Bowl. This was going to be fun.

And then Aaron Rodgers happened. Again.

Undaunted by his injury, the Packers’ deficit and the Bears’ halftime momentum, Rodgers seemed to will the game into the Packers’ favor. Just by returning to play the second half after the Bears had extended their lead to 20-0, a noticeably gimpy Rodgers energized his teammates and the Lambeau Field crowd and seemed to take a little life out of the Bears, or at least plant a seed of doubt.

Whatever it was, it made the difference. Rodgers was spectacular in the second half, completing 17-of-23 passes for 273 yards, three touchdowns and a near-perfect 152.7 passer rating.

And the Bears’ once-ferocious defense suddenly was helpless. The Bears had no sacks in the second half after getting four in the first half. And, in mystifying fashion, the Bears gave Rodgers the big break he needed to finish the job, paving the way for their own demise.

On a first-and-10 from the Packers’ 25-yard-line, with the Bears leading 23-17 with 2:39 to play, Rodgers misfired on a pass to Davante Adams that went straight into Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller’s breadbasket at the Packers’ 32-yard-line. And Fuller missed it, angrily swatting the ball downfield in a rare display of emotion — knowing he had missed a golden opportunity to all but seal the game and slay the dragon.

Sure enough, Rodgers finished the job. Two plays later, on third-and-10 from the 25, Rodgers scrambled away from pressure and hit Randall Cobb at the Packers 35. When Cobb turned away from Bears safety Eddie Jackson, it was as if the Red Sea had parted — and Cobb went in for a 75-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 24-23 lead 2:13 left in the fourth quarter.

It held up — of course, it did — and that Packers’ victory stands as a testament to the power of Aaron Rodgers, a spell that has tormented the Bears for 14 seasons: His resilience. His excellence. His mental toughness. His command. His ability to make everyone else better. And his uncanny knack for having fate move its huge hands in his favor. Kyle Fuller would go on to lead the NFL in interceptions with seven and make the All-Pro team in 2018. But on that night in Green Bay, he dropped the easiest pick he’ll ever get. Go figure.

From a 37-3 rout at Lambeau Field in his first start against the Bears in 2008 to the Packers’ 24-14 victory at Soldier Field on Oct. 17, Rodgers has tortured Chicago fans like no other villain.

Rodgers not only is 22-5 with a 105.9 passer rating against the Bears as a starter, but always comes out on top in the most crucial moments. And sometimes in the most uncanny fashion. This is a guy who suffered a broken collarbone against the Bears in Week 9 in 2013 — and recovered just in time to beat the Bears in Week 17 to give the Packers the NFC North title and knock the Bears out of the playoffs.

So with Rodgers possibly playing his final game with the Packers against the Bears on Sunday at Lambeau Field, here’s a look at some of those events — big, odd and uncanny — that have given Rodgers an almost mystical domination of his biggest rival:

Rodgers fumbles — Packers score

In the 2013 regular-season finale that was a de facto NFC North championship game between the Bears (8-7) and Packers (7-7-1) at Soldier Field, the Bears actually sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble — and the Packers still scored a touchdown on the play.

It happened in the second quarter, with the Bears leading 7-3 when Bears defensive end Julius Peppers strip-sacked Rodgers on a first-and-10 at the Bears 17. The Bears though, thought it was an incomplete pass, so when the ball hit the ground, linebacker James Anderson ran over towards it, leaned down and left it on the ground.

Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin picked up the ball and when the Packers sideline alerted Rodgers that it was a live ball, Boykin ran into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 10-7 lead.

The gaffe was rife with irony. Under Lovie Smith, Bears defensive players instinctively pounced on any loose ball — a big reason why the Bears led the league in takeaways during Smith’s nine seasons (310). In their first year under Mel Tucker, they had already lost that instinct and it cost them.

Anderson was a first-year Bear who had never played for Lovie. Lance Briggs was in pass coverage. Charles Tillman was on injured reserve. Brian Urlacher, who would have been in Anderson’s linebacker spot, was unceremoniously not re-signed by general manager Phil Emery after the 2012 season.

The Packers did not initially react to the live ball, either. If Anderson had recovered it and scored, the Bears would have led 14-3. Instead they trailed 10-7 and ended up losing 33-28.

Rodgers-to-Cobb I

Despite the Boykin touchdown, the Bears were one play from victory — leading 28-27 with 46 seconds left — with Rodgers facing a fourth-and-eight at the Bears 48-yard line.

But a failed blitz and a miscommunication in the secondary led to Randall Cobb being wide open at the 10-yard line for a 48-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 33-28 victory and stunned the Soldier Field crowd.

Zack Bowman and Tim Jennings thought the Bears were in zone. Coach Marc Trestman said they were in man, and Cobb ran past flat-footed safety Chris Conte to make the game-winning play.

The loss was additionally painful because it wasted the best big game Jay Cutler played as a Bear. Until the Rodgers-to-Cobb play, Cutler had a 137.7 passer rating — 14-of-20 for 211 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. After the Cobb touchdown, Cutler was intercepted by Sam Shields at the goal line on a last-gasp Hail Mary pass to end it.

Until that game, Cutler had a 54.8 passer rating against the Packers (eight touchdowns, 17 interceptions) in five seasons with the Bears.

Cutler’s debut ruined

The Bears went into the 2009 season opener with renewed confidence after trading for Cutler, which presumably gave them the edge over the Packers.

But Cutler vs. Rodgers went bad nearly from the start. Not only did Cutler throw three interceptions in the first half, but Urlacher suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist in the first half.

The Bears still were clinging to a 15-13 lead with 1:18 to go when Rodgers applied the first of many daggers against the Bears. On a third-and-1 play from midfield, Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher stumbled and Rodgers hit Greg Jennings with a 50-yard touchdown pass with 1:11 to play to give the Packers a 21-15 lead.

On the Bears’ first play after the touchdown, Cutler threw his fourth pick of the game to end it.

Jordy Nelson burns … Cre’Von LeBlanc

In 2016 at Soldier Field, the Bears rallied from a 27-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the Packers 27-27 on Connor Barth’s 22-yard field goal with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter. And Vic Fangio’s defense had put the clamps on Rodgers — holding the Packers to five yards on six plays in the fourth quarter.

But Fangio made one mistake — and Rodgers made him pay for it. On third-and-11 from the Packers 26 with 31 seconds left, the Bears left Jordy Nelson — in his prime as one of the best receivers in the game — one-on-one with undrafted rookie Cre’Von LeBlanc.

All it took was one hand signal from Nelson and Rodgers found him for a 60-yard completion to the Bears’ 14-yard line. Mason Crosby kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to win it.

“Obviously, if anybody’s at fault there, it’s me,” Fangio said. “I wouldn’t lay that blame on Cre’Von.”

Bears miss their chance

In 2010, the Bears had already clinched the NFC North and could have coasted in Week 17 into the playoffs. But Lovie Smith instead loaded up for a chance to eliminate the Packers from the postseason at Lambeau Field.

Late in the third quarter of a 3-3 game, the Bears converted a third-and-15 play when Cutler threw a well-executed screen pass to Chester Taylor for 16 yards to the Packers 39. But the Bears had called time out just before the snap and the play was nullified. After the time out, Cutler was sacked by Erik Walden and the Bears punted. You can’t make this stuff up.

Rodgers, who had been stifled to that point, took advantage of the Bears’ gaffe. On third down, he threw to Donald Drive for 21 yards, then hit Jennings for 46 down the right sideline to the 1-yard line. A 1-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Donald Lee gave the Packers a 10-3 victory and a playoff berth.

Bears stifle Rodgers — and lose

The Bears’ failure to eliminate Rodgers and the Packers came back to bite them in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. And while Rodgers was largely neutralized by the Bears’ defense, he made a defensive play as good as anything he did on offense.

The Packers led 14-0 and threatened again at the Bears’ 6-yard line early in the third quarter. But Urlacher intercepted Rodgers’ pass and had a clear path upfield, with only Rodgers to beat — only to have Rodgers trip him up at the Bears’ 45-yard line.

(When Cutler tried a similar move after throwing an interception against the Chargers the following season, he suffered a broken thumb — without even getting to interceptor Antoine Cason — and missed the rest of the season. The 7-3 Bears lost their next five games and failed to make the playoffs.)

Rodgers’ tackle of Urlacher saved a much bigger return if not a touchdown that would have given the Bears momentum and at least a chance to recover. Instead, the Bears were doomed when a mysterious injury to Cutler forced him out of the game. Todd Collins replaced Cutler and threw an interception before he was replaced by Caleb Hanie, who led two touchdown drives but also threw a pick-6 as the Bears lost, 21-14.

Rodgers’ completed barely more than half his passes, He did not throw a touchdown pass. He threw two interceptions. And his his 55.4 passer rating still is the lowest in his postseason career. But he still managed to beat the Bears in the biggest game the two teams would play.

Bears win, and lose

Even when the Bears beat Rodgers, it still was painful.

With a chance to clinch the NFC North against the Packers in 2018 at Soldier Field, the Bears sacked Rodgers five times and Jackson snapped Rodgers’ NFL record of 402 passes without an interception in a 24-17 victory.

But Jackson’s interception in the end zone with the Bears leading 24-14 with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter came with price, when he suffered an ankle injury on the return. Jackson, who was having an All-Pro season with three defensive touchdowns, missed the final three regular-season games and the Bears’ 16-15 playoff loss to the Eagles.

42-0 … at halftime

While Rodgers’ torment of the Bears has been pretty steady, his dominance over them peaked in spectacular fashion in 2014 at Lambeau Field when he threw six touchdown passes in the first half as the Packers took a 42-0 lead en route to a 55-14 victory in Week 10.

The Bears’ inability to cover Nelson again was the biggest culprit. Rodgers threw touchdown passes of 73 and 40 yards to Nelson on back-to-back drives to give the Packers a 28-0 lead with 12:09 left in the first half.

The six touchdown passes in one half tied an NFL record and all but sealed the fate of not only Bears coach Marc Trestman, but general manager Phil Emery, who were fired after the season.

“I own you”

Rodgers’ performance in the Packers’ 24-14 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field on Oct. 17 was pretty standard fare — he completed 17-of-23 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 128.0 passer rating.

But his taunting of Bears fans after scoring on a six-yard run to clinch the victory in the fourth quarter has become part of the Rodgers legend.

“All my [bleeping] life I own you. I still own you,” a delirious Rodgers said while being mobbed by teammates after the touchdown.

And there was nothing the Bears or their fans could do about it.

“Let’s face it — he’s not totally wrong,” said Bears tight end Cole Kmet, who grew up a Bears fan in Lake Barrington and starred at St. Viator.

The game was marked by an ironic mistake by Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who threw an interception in the end zone in the first quarter when he thought he had a free play on a Packers offsides penalty.

The free play is a Rodgers specialty — it’s often a big play for him. But it was a bust for Fields. No penalty was called — though the infraction looked legit — and the interception stood.

Rodgers worked his magic on the ensuing play, with the Bears leading 7-0. After Mario Edwards, Jr. took him to the ground with a pressure that forced an incomplete pass, Rodgers grabbed Edwards’ face mask, and Edwards responded by taunting Rodgers. The penalty — of course — was on Edwards for taunting.

“They usually get the second guy,” Rodgers said.

When the NFL reviewed the play, Edwards was fined $9,522 for taunting. Rodgers got away scot-free — again.

It ended up being that kind of day, punctuated by Rodgers taunting Bears fans — there’s no penalty for that — and leading the Packers to yet another victory over the Bears.

Coincidence or not, the Bears’ 2021 demise can be traced back to that moment. They were 3-2 heading into that game, coming off a road victory over the 3-1 Raiders. They’ve lost six of seven games since then, beating only the Lions on a last-second field goal.

Their season is in tatters. Nagy is likely to be fired. And now the Bears are facing Aaron Rodgers in a prime-time, nationally televised game at Lambeau Field. If this is Rodgers’ last Bears-Packers game — only he knows for sure — he’s likely to make it one he’ll never forget.