Progress report: Loss to Packers gives Bears chance to show how far they’ve come
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Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller said he never has lamented the dropped interception against the Packers in Week 1 that would have all but clinched a thrilling victory in Matt Nagy’s debut — not even for a moment as the disappointing loss has loomed larger in a glorious season.
“I don’t worry about it,” Fuller said.
Fuller’s ability to move on is one of his strongest traits. It’s a big reason why he has developed into one of the most consistent cornerbacks in the league, with seven interceptions since that dreaded drop.
But with the rematch Sunday at Soldier Field, that loss at Lambeau Field has come back into focus. The Bears dominated the first half and led 20-0 early in the third quarter, but lost 24-23 when Aaron Rodgers threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, capped by a 75-yarder to Randall Cobb with 2:13 left.
“It’s not something we’ve been thinking about all season. But we haven’t forgotten about that game,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “And since we’re playing the same team this week, it resurfaced. We’ve just got to get the job done.”
A few things have changed since that game. Mike McCarthy no longer is the Packers coach — he was fired on Dec. 2 after a 20-17 home loss to the Cardinals. The Packers (5-7-1) have won just four more games. They traded starting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Rodgers, who suffered a leg injury in that first game, is healthy.
The Bears (9-4), meanwhile, have taken control of the NFC North. They’ll be without nickelback Bryce Callahan, who led them with eight tackles against the Packers in September. But more importantly, the Bears are 13 weeks older. Nagy, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the offense are 12 games further invested in their development. Linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, who had virtually no practice time in training camp and zero preseason snaps, are fully integrated into Vic Fangio’s defense. And linebacker Leonard Floyd won’t have a club on his now-healed right hand.
So besides revenge and the opportunity to clinch the division, the Bears have a chance to show how much they’ve grown and how much they’ve learned in the last three months.
As encouraging as the first game was, the Packers’ success in the second half gave the impression the Bears were outcoached on both sides of the ball. The offense averaged 7.3 yards on its first two possessions — scoring a touchdown and a field goal — but was held to 3.3 yards per play after that.
The defense throttled Rodgers and backup DeShone Kizer. They not only shut out the Packers in the first half but scored a touchdown on Mack’s interception return. But a gimpy Rodgers toyed with them in the second half — 17-for-23 for 273 yards, three touchdowns and a 152.7 passer rating.
“We feel like we’re different in a better way,” Nagy said. “That was our very first game ever playing together, standing on the sidelines together, calling a timeout for the first time, talking through situations. We’ve done that now. We’ve been calloused. So we feel stronger, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to change. We’ve got to go out and play.”
Nagy wouldn’t say what lessons he learned from the first game, when Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine got the best of him. But it sure sounded like he learned something, and he’s anxious for a second shot.
“I’ll say this: coach Pettine is a really good defensive coordinator,” Nagy said. “He’s a really strategic-type guy that has a lot of different schemes that keeps you off balance as a play-caller.
“So we’ve got to really take advantage of knowing exactly what we’re doing at all times against a lot of different looks.”