There was a champion in town Sunday, and it wasn’t the Packers
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This is the way it needed to be, the way it had to go.
Well, sure, a franchise as woebegone as the Bears had been the previous four seasons would have taken an NFC North title any way it was offered Sunday. A championship gained through a side door, a back door or a tunnel gladly would have been accepted.
But beating the Packers at Soldier Field? Reducing noted Bear-killer Aaron Rodgers to a 68.9 passer rating? And doing it for the division title?
The Bears tossed aside the Packers 24-17 to win their first NFC North title since 2010. They didn’t need help from another team to do it. They didn’t need help from another team to get into the playoffs. They did it on their own.
Just as it should have been — against Green Bay in front of a flurry of white-towel-waving fans on a unseasonably warm, season-defining day. The important words there are ‘‘Green’’ and ‘‘Bay.’’
‘‘When I first signed here, I knew the hate was real, but you feel it more in games like this, especially when it can determine your future,’’ Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said of the rivalry between the teams.
An addendum to the had-to-be feeling of this game: By cosmic law, whatever transpired against the Packers couldn’t be easy, either. The best things take pain and effort.
This one was won on cruel, coldhearted defense, which these Bears are known for and which the great Bears teams of the past were known for. They sacked Rodgers five times. Before Sunday, he had gone an epoch between interceptions. The only bummer was that safety Eddie Jackson sprained his right ankle after picking off Rodgers in the fourth quarter. The good news? The last two games of the regular season don’t carry heavy meaning for the Bears. The injured can heal up for the playoffs.
There never was the strong sense that Rodgers suddenly would turn into Rodgers. That’s how good the Khalil Mack-led defense was. But there certainly were enduring memories of what Rodgers had done to the Bears in the past, lots of scar tissue, including from the season opener, when he had led the Packers back from a 20-0 deficit to a 24-23 victory.
That loss didn’t push the Bears to play harder; the Packers being in the way of an NFC North title did. Lest you think all of this is sugary romanticism, here was Trevathan after the game, describing the first time he realized the Bears-Packers rivalry was real:
‘‘My cousin is a Bears fan. I guess I wore green, and he was like: ‘Nah, that’s too close, bro. Nah, you can’t even get close to that green.’ That was my first sign of it. But when I played in the game, I really felt it. Packers and Bears fans going back and forth. That’s football. That’s where football started.’’
In light of that, it was kind of cool that the Bears didn’t need to unleash any razzle-dazzle to win, even though that has been an entertaining theme this season. But not Sunday. No tricks, no gadget plays, no rabbits being pulled out of hats. There was an ill-advised fake punt that surprised no one, especially the Packers.
Mitch Trubisky had a nice game, with 235 passing yards and two touchdowns, to bounce back from his three-interception game against the Rams the week before. He didn’t make many mistakes, which could be the most important element for the Bears as they head toward the postseason.
The loss knocked the Packers out of playoff contention.
‘‘I like our chances in this division moving forward,’’ Rodgers said.
That’s the kind of thing the Bears used to say.
They didn’t just go from worst in the division last season to first this season. They went from worst four years in a row to first. Most of the players weren’t here for that stretch of ugliness. Cornerback Sherrick McManis was. Maybe that’s why, after the game, he looked like a kid on the last day of school.
‘‘I never thought it would be this long,’’ he said. ‘‘But when it comes, it comes. I’m just super-excited, man.’’
The Bears raised their record to 10-4. Not to belabor the point, but they had 10 losses or more in each of the previous four seasons. You know what? That point should be belabored to within an inch of its life. It makes what the players have accomplished this season that much more impressive.
‘‘They know we’re not finished, that we want to continue to keep doing what we’re doing and not be satisfied and content with this,’’ coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘We know we want more.’’
For now, this will do.
Beating the Packers and Rodgers to win the division? The way it had to be. The right way. The only way.