In a season replete with disappointments of every stripe, a game against the Green Bay Packers doesn’t really stand tall with a 3-10 Bears team. But maybe it should, because so many times, seemingly meaningless Bears-Packers games have taken on epic significance completely apart from any superfluous “rivalry” rhetoric.
Too often at the expense of the Bears.
Now, however, one of those “meaningless” games does mean something to the Bears, for whom every game now effectively becomes a character showcase as much as a football evaluation.
“Everybody looks at record,” said coach John Fox. “Everybody does. We do, too. Obviously, that's very disappointing. But some of the progress we've made, some of the people that study the game, look at it can see statistically quite a bit of growth. Again, we're not at the point where the statistic in the win-loss record is where we would like it and expect it to be. But you do see progress.”
The Packers game is the next test-kitchen for that assessment.
The Bears’ win last year at Green Bay held apparent great significance because it brought the Bears to 5-6 with eminently winnable home games next against San Francisco and Washington, both of which the Bears lost, taking their season with it. The 2015 season-opener vs. Green Bay was potentially of note because it was the first game under Fox and the Bears, who led at halftime, were driving for a potential tying score in the fourth quarter before a Jay Cutler interception, and left the game angry at a statement opportunity lost.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
The Marc Trestman tenure nosed fully over into its death spiral with the Week 17 loss in 2013 to the Packers on the Chris Conte coverage breakdown on Green Bay’s final play. The Week 15 loss in 2012 cost the Bears a wild-card spot and Lovie Smith his job. The loss to the Packers in Week 16 of 2010 allowed the Packers to squeeze into the playoffs as a wild card, which they converted into a Super Bowl trip and victory by defeating the Bears again in the NFC Championship game.
This year the game is critical for the Packers (7-6), who have won three straight to stay within sight of the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North. Limping in as a wild card likely doesn’t happen for Green Bay, with the Giants (9-4) and Tampa Bay (8-5) ahead of them, and Minnesota (7-6) next week for the Packers, who lost to the Vikings in their first meeting.
The Bears are playing for something beyond the standings. Fox has sought since he arrived to effect a culture change, which has looked to be happening even without victories. Since the debacle in Tampa, the Bears have been played their way into position in three of the last four games to win on final possessions (Giants, Tennessee, Detroit). That they didn’t was the result of admitted individual player breakdowns rather than a collective collapse.
“You are only as good as your record says you are,” said linebacker Willie Young, one of the veterans on an overall young defense. “We've been battling, from A-to-Z we've been battling. I really feel that this year, with all of the young guys that we have, and even guys coming from winning organizations who are not familiar with dealing with adversity like such, I really think it's going to help and build us as a team in the future.”
And the winner is...
The Bears have confounded attempts to typecast or clearly predict their performances this year. One prognosticator opined that the Bears were a better pick based on covering spreads, because they are losing games they could have won (four lost leads in fourth quarters this season) but are consistently close in game even with good teams (Giants, Lions, Vikings).
But the Packers come to Soldier Field on a three-game roll, whereas the Bears have been unable to finish strong and close out games with either a defensive stop or offensive strike. The historic cold being forecast won’t favor either team, given the Packers’ familiarity with playing in cold weather.
Wind is the more impactful factor in the NFL, and Aaron Rodgers is simply far, far more experienced that Matt Barkley with game-altering conditions, which will keep the score low.
Prediction: Packers 20, Bears 13
View from the Moon 2016 record: 7-6