Aaron Rodgers was standing on the sideline in a big winter coat, his hands buried in his pockets rather than unleashing a discount double check.
Brett Favre? He was probably wearing a good pair of Wranglers and throwing passes to his dog somewhere in Mississippi.
This was the Bears’ best opportunity to beat the Green Bay Packers in years. And they couldn’t do it.
There was much made of the fact that the Bears were favored against their longtime rivals for the first time in nearly a decade. The chatter all week was that the Bears finally had a quarterback edge, with Mitch Trubisky figuring to be better than Rodgers’ fill-in, Brett Hundley, who led a dismal offensive output during a three-game losing streak that mustered only 44 points.
But the oddsmakers out in the desert didn’t factor in the Bears playing like this.
Sunday’s 23-16 loss was a story told by one self-inflected wound after another, the Bears repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with penalties or defensive breakdowns or challenged touchdowns that resulted in turnovers (don’t ask about that last one, we’ll be here all day).
But the Bears have a struggling offense themselves. Fluky football stuff happens all the time — especially to a team that’s failed to win as often as John Fox’s has. What couldn’t be explained was the performance of this defense, one going up against not Rodgers, not Favre, but Hundley. This should’ve been the Bears defense — which has played at times this season like one of the league’s best — dominating an overwhelmed opponent.
Suffice it to say, things didn’t play out that way.
“This is a game we for sure thought we had,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said, “and we came up short.”
That’s one way of putting it, the Bears’ allowance of 23 points to a team that averaged 14.7 a game in the three contests prior with Hundley at the helm. A defense that took the ball away from offenses led by Cam Newton and Drew Brees couldn’t wrest it from one led by Hundley.
It was a defensive breakdown that allowed the Packers’ first touchdown of the game, a 37-yard scoring dash by Ty Montgomery. But the Packers’ fourth-quarter score stung worse.
Trubisky had just launched a deep-ball touchdown pass to get the Bears within three points. A menacing defense that’s stood tall so many times this season could’ve done it again and given the ball back to the offense with a chance to take the lead — the defense did sack Hundley five times Sunday.
Instead, Hundley did what Rodgers and Favre did to the Bears so many times before.
Hundley immediately responded with a five-minute, 75-yard scoring drive. After marching down inside the Bears’ 40, Hundley faced a key third down and scampered away from the Bears’ defense, toward a wide-open area of the field that picked up 17 yards and the first down and got his team in the red zone. Two plays later, he had his team in the end zone with a 19-yard touchdown toss to Devante Adams.
It was something Bears fans have seen an awful lot of before. They just didn’t expect to see it from Hundley. And maybe the Bears defense didn’t either. But they let it happen, and with it, the game was all but finished.
And so it was another loss to the Packers — the Bears falling to 3-16 against their rivals dating back to the start of the 2009 season, including that 2011 playoff game — this one a little more gut-wrenching than many of the ones that came before it.
“We’re definitely disappointed as a team, but we’re not discouraged by any means,” Amukamara said. “Not taking away from Green Bay did. Brett played a great game, and he’s been getting better ever since he started. But a lot of the stuff was self-inflicted on ourselves, and that’s just been the theme this year. And when we’ve had enough, it’ll stop, but we’ve got to make a decision.”
“We kept giving up too many yards on the run, we gave up some big passes, some big plays. We always want to limit the other team, the amount of big plays and rush yards,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “It’s on us, it’s a team thing. And especially on the defensive side of the ball, everyone will tell you the same thing. We didn’t play our best game.”
In the end, it was one gigantic missed opportunity. Maybe the Bears were asleep at the switch. Maybe they were just outplayed by an upstart group of Packers reserves — in addition to Hundley subbing in for Rodgers, the Packers lost two running backs to injuries in this game and had a less-than-healthy offensive line. Didn’t seem to matter.
But with their team favored, with their longtime tormenter relegated to street clothes, the legions of fans streaming out of rain-soaked Soldier Field probably will all go home with the same memory: “Remember when Aaron Rodgers was hurt and the Bears still couldn’t beat the Packers?”