Akiem Hicks couldn’t help but laugh when he heard the question.
When holding his media session on Monday afternoon, the star defensive tackle – who’s returned to practice and will be eligible to play on Sunday – was pressed on whether he’d circled December 15th on the calendar.
“It's a pretty specific date, so, yeah,” he admitted. “I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly. One of the things I really focused on was just making sure my elbow was in the strongest place possible. We still have some finishing up to do and there's all these dates to make gains and get a little bit better. Just working on that.”
He’s certainly not the only one in Chicagoland, or even Lake Forest, who’s had this Sunday circled for a while now. It’s Packers Week, and an important one at that; while a loss in Green Bay (10-3) alone isn’t technically season-ending (a combination of other results would also have to happen), it would sink the Bears’ playoff odds below 1%. The best-case scenario (Bears win, Rams/Vikings loss) would raise that to 17% with two games left.
“The help stuff, yeah, we've created that,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “We're in a position now where we've gotta have help. But none of that matters if we don't win. It means nothing. Let's just control what we can control. Let's win, do everything we can to win this week, see what happens, let it play out. Every week is so different.”
They’re not short on motivation, but there’s never a lack of energy during Packers Week. It helps that the Matt Nagy chapter has almost always featured important and/or exciting editions: Week 1 of 2018 was his first game as a head coach and featured Rodgers’ one-legged comeback; Eddie Jackson clinched the NFC North for the Bears with an interception off Rodgers in Soldier Field’s south end zone 14 weeks later. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last year and the league offices still chose this rivalry to open its 100th season, and while the game wasn’t what you’d call *good*, it was what’d you’d call *close*.
“I think we had some adversity, but I also think we stayed in it,” said Allen Robinson of the Bears’ 10-3 loss. “We got close to making some plays that we needed to – we just didn’t finish. Looking back it, with it being Week 1, I didn’t think we played perfectly, but I don’t think we played that bad.”
The Bears haven’t won in Green Bay since 2015, one of the two times they’ve won at Lambeau Field in the last decade. Aaron Rodgers seems to have taken a particular delight in putting up gaudy numbers against the Bears over that stretch: he has more touchdown passes (46) against Chicago than he does against any other team. Recent history isn’t on their side, but for whatever it’s worth, the Bears will go into Sunday’s game with about as much confidence as they’ve had all year – mostly because, as Nagy said with a smile equal parts amusement and relief, “winning helps. Winning helps for sure.”
When asked about the significance of another chapter in Bears-Packers history playing out during this last three week run, some players were more animated about the rivalry than others. They realistically need to beat everyone to even have a chance at the Wild Card, and given how much the players have talked about a greater attention to detail and execution over this win streak, their focus has felt exceedingly internal. With that said, it’s still Bears-Packers, and Akiem Hicks is coming back.
“No, nothing’s like Green Bay-Chicago, man. It’s just different,” he said.
“One of the first things that I was told when I signed here was, ‘If you don't win any game this year, beat the Packers.”