With Bears in his sights, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers feeling ‘pretty good’

The Packers quarterback — 24-5 as a starter in his career against the Bears, including 11-3 at Soldier Field — is recovering from a rib injury he suffered against the Eagles last week but isn’t likely to miss a chance to beat the Bears. “I always enjoy playing against the Bears,” he said.

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Aaron Rodgers (12) rushes for a touchdown to clinch the Packers’ 24-14 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field last season.

Aaron Rodgers (12) rushes for a touchdown to clinch the Packers’ 24-14 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field last season.

David Banks/AP

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Where Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers once knew names — Urlacher, Briggs, Peanut, Pep . . . Khalil, Danny, Akiem, Roquan — he now knows only numbers with this Bears defense.

‘‘They still have a lot of talented players; I think 33 is one of the top corners in the league,’’ Rodgers said, referring to cornerback Jaylon Johnson. ‘‘They’ve got a couple of young guys in the secondary [rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker] who’ve been battling injuries, but when they’re playing, they seem to be playing better. Ninety-nine [Trevis Gipson] is a real solid end, rush guy off the edge. It’s a talented group. They’re simplifying things probably for them, but they’re still professionals.’’

Once upon a time, Rodgers loved the chess matches with Brian Urlacher and enjoyed the personal rivalries he developed with Lance Briggs, Peanut Tillman, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and other established Bears defensive stars.

Not so much this week. With Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith traded and safety Eddie Jackson on injured reserve with a foot injury, the Bears have a cast of young, nondescript defenders with whom Rodgers has little to no rapport.

But one thing hasn’t changed.

‘‘I always enjoy playing against the Bears,’’ Rodgers said.

Therein lies at least part of Rodgers’ motivation as he tries to recover from a rib injury that forced him out of the Packers’ loss Sunday to the Eagles and put his season in jeopardy. The Packers are 4-8. Rodgers will be 39 on Friday. But the notion of missing a game is the last thing on his mind.

‘‘Pride, for one,’’ he said. ‘‘Love of the game. They’re paying me to play. A lot of different issues. I love to compete and want to be out there with my guys.’’

And the chance to beat the Bears at Soldier Field — maybe for the last time — is an elixir right up there with ‘‘my herbs and teas and all the other things’’ as a healing agent for Rodgers.

‘‘For sure,’’ he said. ‘‘It was back in 2013 and still is today in 2022.’’

Of course, Rodgers remembers 2013. How can anyone forget it? It looked as though the Bears had vanquished their nemesis when Shea McClellin broke Rodgers’ collarbone in the first quarter in Week 9 at Lambeau Field. Rodgers missed the next seven games, and the Packers went 2-5-1 without him (including a loss to the Bears in the game he got hurt).

But the Bears stumbled just enough to give Rodgers hope — and that was all it took. With the NFC North championship on the line in Week 17, Rodgers returned and overcame some obvious rust to throw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left to lead the 8-7-1 Packers to the playoffs, burnish his legend and crush the Bears’ soul. It wasn’t the first time. And it wouldn’t be the last. Rodgers is 24-5 against the Bears in his 29 career starts, including 11-3 at Soldier Field.

So here we are again, with Rodgers nursing what he hinted was rib-cartilage damage similar to what Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had earlier this season. But all expectations are that Rodgers will play Sunday. He usually does in these situations.

Rodgers didn’t practice Wednesday but was encouraged enough by some light work — ‘‘I was tossing the ball around and felt pretty good’’ — that he likely will practice Thursday. Let’s face it, though: Rodgers probably could get out of traction on Saturday and beat the Bears on Sunday.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he is expecting Rodgers to start. He’s not surprised Rodgers is going all-out to do that.

‘‘It just speaks to how competitive he is and how much he’s invested in the game [and] this team, regardless of the circumstances,’’ LaFleur said.

Indeed, the circumstances aren’t what they were in 2013. Rodgers is unlikely to spark a late-season rally with a victory, though you can’t put anything past him. And Rodgers can’t crush the Bears’ soul this time. On the contrary, beating the Bears at this point could help them, provided it pushes them into a difference-making player in the draft.

But that’s not Rodgers’ concern. He always wants to beat the Bears.

‘‘I’ve enjoyed the rivalry over the years and have been a part of a ton of these games,’’ Rodgers said. ‘‘This is the 37th one I’ll be a part of, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. It’s a great rivalry. Been around for a long time. Happy to be on this side of it. A lot of good memories of Soldier Field.’’

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