Aaron Rodgers

Here's a young Jimmy Garoppolo comparing himself to Aaron Rodgers in a pre-draft interview

Here's a young Jimmy Garoppolo comparing himself to Aaron Rodgers in a pre-draft interview

The Bears, you'll remember, aren't playing in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. It's the Packers and the 49ers, which actually works out nicely for Bears fans. Not only can they root for Arlington Heights' own Jimmy Garappolo, but they can actively root against the Packers at the same time.

In the biggest game of his career, Jimmy G's going to get his shot at Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, which will almost certainly make you laugh when you watch this video of him praising Rodgers (which is kind of a bold choice on a Chicago-based TV show?) in a pre-draft video from 2014:

I like to think that I’m pretty close in comparison to Aaron Rodgers. He’s very athletic, just a get-the-ball-out-quickly type of quarterback. He’s very knowledgeable of the game, he controls the offense, totally. You know, it’s something that I try and do ⁠— you know, just know the offense inside and out, and when you can do that as a quarterback it just makes your team that much better. 

They say never meet your idols, though I'm not sure what they say about playing them for a spot in the Super Bowl. 

Bears defense bends, breaks, then fights back in loss to Green Bay Packers

Bears defense bends, breaks, then fights back in loss to Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. — In a bend-but-don’t-break season, the Bears' defense played a bend-but-don’t-break game in the team’s last contest of significance — a 21-13 road loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears' first half energy was palpable. And how could it not be? On Sunday afternoon, the front seven, the defense and the team, en masse, regained one of its preeminent talents and preeminent leaders in Akiem Hicks.

“It was everything,” Hicks said, of being able to return. “My defensive linemates saw the energy and they were excited for me to be able to go back out there, because they know how much I miss it.”

“It was huge, man,” Eddie Jackson said of Hicks’ impact. “He gets us fired up.”

For a time, that was enough. At the half, the Packers led 7-3, but had only 129 total yards (29 rushing on 3.2 ypc) of total offense, had punted twice and turned the ball over on downs twice. Their only score came as a culmination of a four-play, 35-yard drive on a field shortened by a questionably-called kick-catch interference penalty on Cordarrelle Patterson.

But signs of the Packers’ eventual offensive breakout were abundant. On the first play of the game, Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a would-be 70-yard touchdown after roasting Prince Amukamara in coverage. Davante Adams burned a sagging Buster Skrine for a score on a 4th-and-6 play later in the first quarter. Even only 11-of-21 with 100 yards at the break, Aaron Rodgers faced little pressure in the game’s first 30 minutes.  

There’s the bend.

The break came fast and hard on the Packers’ opening two drives of the second half. On the first, Rodgers gashed the Bears twice — once through the air on a 34-yard dart to Adams, then on the ground with a 17-yard scramble. Aaron Jones finished the job with a 21-yard touchdown run from there. Then, after a Bears’ three-and-out, Green Bay snapped off a five-play, 66 yard touchdown drive that featured a 49-yard Josh Kumerow catch-and-run. 

Coverage breakdowns and missed tackles abounded. The Packers led 21-3.

“Nobody anticipated coming out of the half and having them rally that way,” Hicks said. “So we just kept fighting.”

As the Bears’ offense gradually came to life over the game’s last quarter-and-a-half — eventually cutting the deficit to 21-13 — the defense held tough. Eddy Pineiro opened the fourth quarter with a 27-yard field goal. From that point on, the Packers didn’t get a first down.

“Guys stepped up. You could see the fire in guys’ eyes, because we felt that,” Hicks said. “We stayed in the game. It’s impossible not to have a good deal of respect for these guys because there’s no quitters.”

But that last, over-the-hump moment eluded the Bears. After drawing within eight points, the offense failed to push the ball deep into Packers territory until the last play. On the drive directly after an Anthony Miller touchdown made the score 21-13, the defense nearly flipped the game’s script with what appeared to be a forced fumble on Rodgers at the Packers’ 20-yard line. After replay review, officials ruled Rodgers’ elbow down.

Last season, a play like that might have swung the Bears’ way (the Packers did, with a Dean Lowry pick of Trubisky late in the fourth). But not tonight — a night when, it should be noted, the defense sacked Rodgers only once and didn’t force a turnover. The D was solid, but the big plays were lacking, as they have been all year.

“We always wanna get [big play turnovers], but right now they’re not there. That’s something you feel as a player,” Jackson said. “You know, a lot of stuff changed from last year to this year, just with the type of play calls and everything. But that’s expected. Everybody’s still getting used to everything, finding your finesses, your disguises, things like that.”

Of course, the offense will be decried for not putting up more than 13 points in a must-win game. And the defense, playing without multiple starters for the majority of this season, will be criticized for the lack of takeaways. There's ample criticism and explaining away to go around. Ultimately, the Bears’ locker room was ripe with disappointment over the result of this game and this season, but the confidence in each other and the emphasis on finishing the final three games on a high note remained.

“Just finish man. Just finish. You just lay it all on the line. That’s it,” Jackson said. “You gonna see who gonna stand up, you gonna see who gonna lay down.”

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

1. Don’t let Aaron Rodgers beat you. Really! 
You’d think this goes without saying, and yet here we are, going and saying it. There’s some truth to the counter-argument, I guess: Rodgers hasn’t thrown for more than 243 yards since mid-October, and over the last 2-3 years, his QBR has leveled out well below where it was when he was tearing the souls from every other NFL team’s body. It helps when you have Aaron Jones and the 4th-ranked (DVOA) rushing attack, but I just find it hard to believe any Bears fan can look at this game and think they have a better chance to win if they let Rodgers throw the ball 40+ times. Over his career, he’s averaged more yards per game, and has more touchdown passes, against the Bears than any other NFC North opponent. Getting Akiem Hicks back, even in a limited fashion, obviously helps on both fronts. If the Bears are going to be comfortable putting the ball in someone’s hands and hoping they don’t beat them, maybe don’t make it the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who has a history of humiliating your franchise? 

2. Give the ball to David Montgomery and let him cook. 
Montgomery’s finding a groove, evident by the fact that he’s been given more rushes and gained more yards in each of the Bears’ last three wins. I’ve probably hammered this point a half dozen times already this season, but the Bears are 7-2 when they run the ball 20+ times. 7-2! And they’d be 8-1 if Eddy Pineiro hit the game-winning field goal against the Chargers. And while you could probably find one or two moments in most NFL games that swing the outcome, the bigger point remains: the Bears’ run game isn’t pretty, but they win when they commit. It’s also going to be like, four degrees out and the Packers’ have the 26th-ranked run defense (DVOA) in football. Run the ball! 

3. It’s just a football field – treat it like that. 
The Bears talked at length this week about how the spectacle of Week 1’s Bears-Packers game kind of got to them, and that they were disappointed with how players and coaches seemed shell-shocked for much of it. Now think back to Week 1 of 2018, when the Bears let a big halftime lead slip away. Since then, Nagy’s admitted that the moment may have been a little big for him that night, too. And frankly, there’s so much noise and so many narrative retreads during Packers Week, so it’s not exactly hard to blame them. It’s a lot easier said behind a keyboard than done on a (cold, so damn cold) field, but if the Bears want to find themselves in bigger moments down the road, they’ll need to minimize the one coming on Sunday. 

Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24 (OT)
I don’t think the Bears are going to make the playoffs, and I think if you got them in a moment of honesty, they’d agree and admit they’re playing these last three games for pride. That’s not a slight against them at all – they’ve looked legitimately better across the board over the last month. The Packers don’t seem like a 10-3 team to me; they’re a 7-5 team according to their Expected W-L, football’s version of baseball’s Pythagorean formula. Their best win of the season came against a Chiefs team that didn’t have Patrick Mahomes. And while this game means everything to Chicago, there is actually not a whole lot on the line for Green Bay: per FiveThirtyEight, the Packers’ odds of winning the division currently sit at 93%. A loss would drop that to 86%. There are fair gripes out there about what Nagy’s shown as a play caller though two seasons, but these types of motivational situations are where he does his best work. The Bears get their biggest win of the season, and are rewarded with a week of Pat Mahomes prep.