Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
By John Mullin
There is only one real objective when the Bears face their most storied rival Sunday in Green Bay. Lovie Smith set forth that target way back in 2004 when he succeeded Dick Jauron as Bears coach.
It is not to defeat the Packers. The Bears have done that more often than not under Lovie Smith, including in a nationally televised Monday night game in week three of this season.
It is not to win the NFC North. The Bears have done that already. It would be an accomplishment for the Bears to go 6-0 in the division, something they have never done under Smith. They were 5-0 twice before, in 2005 and 2006, but basically chose to rest starters and lost last games to the Minnesota Vikings and the Packers in successive years.
No, the only meaningful target now is the Super Bowl, Smiths third stated goal from 2004 and one which can only be accomplished by advancing in the playoffs. And that now is the only objective that matters when the Bears visit Lambeau Field.
The debate has been whether or not to rest key players ranging from Jay Cutler to Brian Urlacher. Actually, rest is not the mission statement so much as play it safe so the Bears stay as healthy as they have been.
But more important is to lay in a course based on playoff preparation, whatever that is determined to be. Nothing else matters.
Beating the Packers does carry some significance. The Bears are all too familiar with what Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay defense are capable of, and they would not like the prospect of the Packers showing up in front of them again in something like the NFC Championship game, which could happen if Green Bay wins, qualifies for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and wins two games.
The Packers are a great team, and I dont want to keep facing the Packers, said receiver Devin Hester. So Im hoping we can go out and eliminate another great team, because I do give them credit. They are a great team, and Id hate to see them three times in one year.
The Bears are expected to pull selected starters as Sunday plays out. One scenario is to look at the Green Bay game as a form of third preseason game that counts: a game in which the No. 1 units overall need to play for purposes of continuing development but not at the expense of health or getting in-game experience for reserves who may be called upon due to injuries in the playoff run.
Hester does not need extra punt returns for developmental purposes. Nor does Matt Forte need work on his receiving or cuts. They and others will be among No. 1s who will see some cutbacks in playing time Sunday.
Receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) are expected to be on the inactive list in order to give them two full weeks of rehab and recovery.
Weve asked our players to get better each week, said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Thats how we coach; thats how we play. Thats what were going to try to do this week. This is a very important game for us, pure and simple.
Take it away
The primary interest and concern for the Bears is turnovers. It was their undoing last season when Jay Cutler couldnt stop committing the. It is the key to their 2010 postseason if the defense cannot resume creating them at a level that had the Bears among the league leaders in turnover ratio.
Now they are a pedestrian 10th with a plus-4 largely because the defense has forced zero or one takeaway in five of the last six games. By comparison, only once in the first nine games did they have fewer than 2 takeaways.
As far as getting it back, one of the things that we havent been pleased with is just the amount of takeaways, Smith said. This time of the year, that turnover ratio is big. We havent taken the ball away enough. Hopefully we can get back to that this week.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.