Emma’s Tailgater: Bears working to forget the past in rivalry with Packers
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — As Aaron Rodgers proclaimed those pointed words in the southwest end zone of Soldier Field — I own you! I still own you! — for whom were those taunts intended?
Rodgers was truly taunting every Bears player, coach, executive and fan who has held out hope to take him down. He was declaring that this rivalry with the Packers has been lopsided in recent years. Rodgers was ripping out the heart of Chicago once again.
On Sunday night at Lambeau Field, the Bears (1-0) and Packers (0-1) will meet for the 205th time in the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Rodgers will be seeking his 23rd victory in 28 games against Chicago. Meanwhile, this reshaped Bears team will be looking to start a run of success against the rival Packers.
While it has been easy to forget these last two decades, the Bears and Packers have each shared their runs in this rivalry. The 39-year-old Rodgers has dictated these games since becoming Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008. But much of the Bears’ current roster hasn’t yet experienced Rodgers’ hold over their team.
Rodgers has made these games between the Bears and Packers feel personal.
“The more you’re here, the more you understand the history of the rivalry and all that comes with it,” said Bears offensive lineman Cody Whitehair, who is one of the longest-tenured players on this team.
When Ryan Poles was hired by the Bears as their new general manager back in January, he said the team’s most important goal would be to “take the North and never give it back.” Before that can happen, the Bears must first take back this rivalry from the Packers.
The Bears have a young roster with some promising talent, a head coach in Matt Eberflus who is working to instill a new culture at Halas Hall, and a second-year quarterback in Justin Fields who has flashed potential. There’s no certainty for what Chicago is building but there’s a newfound hope.
Beating the Packers would make a statement for the Bears’ new direction.
“I want to win every game that I play,” Fields said. “But of course, just the tradition with this rivalry, it means a lot to us as a team, to the fan base, to the people upstairs. It just means a lot to everybody in the building.”
Truth be told, the rivalry between the Bears and Packers is felt more between these two fan bases more than the coaches and players. Eberflus has deliberately downplayed the significance of going to Green Bay for the first time. But those who have endured these games — they get it.
Indeed, Rodgers has owned this rivalry. The Bears have the chance to change that.
“I really don’t care about the past,” Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said. “Just got to go out and stick it to them this week.”
1. Patrick vs. the Packers
You will have to excuse Bears veteran offensive lineman Lucas Patrick, who won’t be one to stoke flames of this storied rivalry.
Patrick was signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent in May of 2016 and stuck in Green Bay, emerging first as a reserve on the offensive line and ultimately becoming a starter. Patrick won over Rodgers while gaining the trust of the Packers’ coaching staff.
Come Sunday at Lambeau Field, Patrick won’t see the Packers as a rival. He will be feeling something else.
“Probably a lot of gratitude,” Patrick said. “I’m not going to sit here and bash an organization because I wouldn’t be here today (with the Bears) if it weren’t for the opportunity afforded to me. I had a lot of memories there with close family and friends.
“I’ll definitely have some gratitude and some emotions but at the end of the day, I have a job to do. But I got to execute that job.”
The Bears named Patrick an honorary captain for Sunday’s game. After suffering an injury in training camp, he is still wearing a large protective cast on his right hand which is an indication the Bears will not move him back to center.
It remains to be seen whether the Bears will continue to rotate Patrick and Teven Jenkins at right guard.
2. Trap game
In preparing to take on the Packers, the Bears dove deep into the film. They watched as Rodgers scuffled in Green Bay’s 23-7 opening loss in Minneapolis and identified a strategy.
But the Bears aren’t buying the notion that Rodgers is going to struggle this season without star wide receiver Davante Adams. For defensive coordinator Alan Williams, it’s imperative that he doesn’t allow his players to buy that narrative.
“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid that there’s gloom and doom in Green Bay,” Williams said, reiterating the message he offers to the Bears’ defense.
Rodgers finished the Packers’ opener 22-of-34 for 195 yards and an interception, showing a continued discomfort with his reshaped wide receiving group. After Adams was traded to the Raiders, the Packers are relying heavily on rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in addition to veterans like Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb.
While there’s doubt being cast on Rodgers’ future, the Bears know well what they’re up against.
“You’re facing one of the best in history,” Williams said.
3. Statement start
After recording 1.5 sacks in his NFL debut last Sunday against the 49ers, Bears rookie pass rusher Dominique Robinson caught many by surprise.
A fifth-round pick to the Bears, Robinson was viewed as more of a developmental prospect. He converted from quarterback to wide receiver to defensive end at Miami (OH) and was seen as a raw player entering the NFL.
Robinson certainly did not look raw during his first game.
“I just proved I can do this,” Robinson said. “A lot of people thought that it was going to take a little while for me to get into a groove of playing this position and being actually good and contributing. But I work my butt off and I was able to go out there and play and compete with the best.”
The 24-year-old Robinson earned the trust of his coaches throughout the offseason program and into training camp, then played 41% of the Bears’ defensive snaps in the first game.
After getting to 49ers quarterback Trey Lance on Sunday, Robinson will now be tasked with getting to Rodgers. He was reminded of being asked at the NFL Combine which quarterback he would most like to sack at this level.
“At the time, Tom Brady was retired,” Robinson said. “I’m like, the next best is Aaron Rodgers. So, I said Aaron Rodgers. Now I got the opportunity to do it.”
4. Luke’s influence
As the Bears form their game plan defensively and look to contain Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, they have a unique advantage.
Bears first-year offensive coordinator Luke Getsy spent seven of the last eight years in Green Bay, including the last three years as the quarterbacks coach to Rodgers and a key for head coach Matt LaFleur.
“It’s certainly helpful to have a guy that was in the building,” Eberflus said. “It’s helpful to us. We’ll lean on him.”
The 39-year-old Rodgers is certainly a known commodity in his 18th NFL season, a four-time NFL MVP who has had his way with the Bears. But Getsy knows well what has allowed Rodgers to refine his game in recent years and what tendencies Eberflus and his staff can try to expose.
Quote to note
“I’m sure he will be a little bit pissed off after this last game. Hey, you wouldn’t want it any other way. A pissed-off him, get the best version of him and then we get the ‘dub’ and it will be even sweeter.”
—Bears linebacker Roquan Smith on Aaron Rodgers
Lucas Patrick (right hand) — While Patrick isn’t formally on the Bears’ injury report this week, his right hand is still not 100% healthy. Patrick will likely play right guard for a second straight game as he’s still unable to effectively snap the football as a center.
Velus Jones Jr. (hamstring) — The Bears hope to feature the rookie within their offense. First, they need him at full speed. It make take another week for Jones’ hamstring injury to heal in full but he could still play Sunday night.
Riley Reiff (shoulder) — The Bears could be without depth on the offensive line if Reiff is unable to play.
Score Prediction (1-0): Packers 28, Bears 20
Can the Bears make it two in a row to start the season and snap their losing streak to the Packers? Sure, but it will be tough. Rodgers and the Packers will bounce back from their opening loss and hand Eberflus his first loss as head coach.