Rodgers returns for NFC North title clash with Bears
(.com) - Thomas Edison once said: "opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
"We're preparing for the Chicago Bears with Aaron Rodgers as our starting quarterback," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed at a press conference on Thursday.
The Packers are already heading to the Second City with house money, searching for a third straight NFC North crown despite playing without their best player for the past seven weeks.
For all intents and purposes the Packers have been a bad football team since Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone on the first series of an eventual 27-20 setback to the Bears on Nov. 4. In the ensuing seven weeks Green Bay scratched out only two late-game wins, along with a tie against woeful Minnesota, but that was enough to stay in the hunt of what has proven to be a poor division.
Detroit faltered by losing five of six games and Chicago lost out on an golden opportunity to take the crown in Philly last Sunday, getting routed by the Eagles 54-11.
Everything came up Bears on Sunday afternoon in Week 16 but Sunday night was a far different story.
The Eagles were the team with "nothing" to play for but Chicago was the club which played like nothings, getting routed by the Birds as Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes during Philadelphia's 21-point first quarter.
The Eagles came out on fire and built up a three-touchdown lead before the Chicago mustered five yards of total offense. The Bears got the football first and went three-and-out before a woeful Adam Podlesh punt set the Eagles up in plus territory, It took Philadelphia all of six plays to go 43 yards as Foles bootlegged right and found Riley Cooper working the back of the end zone for a 5-yard score.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism the prior week for coaching scared and refusing to kick to dynamic Minnesota return man Cordarrelle Patterson. He learned his lesson against Chicago and let Alex Henery boot it deep after the score.
The Eagles didn't exactly pin Devin Hester in but after a 36-yard return Bradley Fletcher stripped the football and Cary Williams proved to be Johnny on the spot, scooping it up on the Chicago 39. This time Foles needed just five plays to navigate the Birds toward paydirt, culminating in a 1-yard LeSean McCoy plunge.
Twitter was ablaze at that point with negative Bears fans ripping the team's woeful defense despite the fact that their special teams units put the downtrodden group into an untenable position to two consecutive occasions.
That said, the unit quickly earned its criticism, starting with the next possession. After another three-and-out by Jay Cutler and Co., the Bears D faltered badly, allowing Foles to march 72 yards before the second-year signal caller found Brent Celek for a 10-yard score.
The rout was on.
By halftime it was 24-3 and the game was essentially over. Foles completed 14- of-17 passes for 145 yards with a 141.4 passer rating at intermission compared to Cutler's ugly 70.2 rating. Philadelphia was doubling Chicago in yardage and even had a significant edge in time of possession, something Kelly doesn't even care about.
The scored swelled to 33-11 by the end of the third and when Bryce Brown capped the scoring with a 65-yard TD run late in the game, the Eagles had cracked the half-century mark for the first time since beating Detroit 56-21 on Sept. 23, 2007, and Kelly probably thought he was back in Eugene running up the score for style points in the latest AP poll.
Cutler finished the game 20-of-35 for 222 yards with one TD and an interception. He was sacked five times and pulled for Josh McCown after throwing a pick-six to Philadelphia's Brandon Boykin with 8:10 to play.
Meanwhile, rumblings out of Titletown last week said it would have been an "extraordinary risk" for Rodgers to play against the Steelers in Week 16 and he didn't as Le'Veon Bell scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:25 remaining before Pittsburgh survived a last-second throw into the end zone to beat the Packers 38-31 in wild game at snowy Lambeau Field.
Bell's 1-yard run came after safety Troy Polamalu forced a fumble from Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn, and before Micah Hyde's 70-yard kickoff return gave Green Bay, which was out timeouts, a chance to tie it at the end.
Flynn completed passes of seven yards to Jordy Nelson and 19 yards to Andrew Quarless before James Starks' 4-yard run took the Packers to the 1-yard line. But lineman Don Barclay was called for a false start, pushing them back five yards and running 10 seconds off the clock.
Flynn's pass on the final play went off Jarrett Boykin's fingertips.
"It was disappointing and frustrating not to be able to finish it off and get beat like that," the QB said.
Flynn threw for 232 yards with a touchdown pass to Boykin and Eddie Lacy had 15 carries for 84 yards and two Green Bay scores before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
"Extraordinary risk" has evidently turned into "What the heck, they let us stay in it, so why not take it from them" for the Packers.
Rodgers threw for 2,218 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions over eight games prior to the injury. His trio of replacements (Seneca Wallace, Scott Tomlin and Flynn) passed for 2,002 yards with eight TDs and 10 picks as Green bay went 2-4-1 in the former MVP's absence and easily could have gone 0-7.
"We're talking about the best player in football. I feel good about it," McCarthy said.
Rodgers may also be joined by receiver Randall Cobb, who has been on the shelf since Oct. 13 with a fractured right fibula.
No truth to the rumor that the Pack will also roll out Robert Brooks, Sterling Sharpe and Antonio Freeman to further exacerbate their long-time rivals.
Cutler is a dismal 1-8 in his career against the Packers, including a 21-14 home defeat in the NFC Championship Game three seasons ago when he was forced to leave early with a knee injury.
This time some Bears fans are wondering why Cutler will be starting because he has been outplayed by backup McCown, who led the Bears to the win in Lambeau when Rodgers went down. Trestman, though, has been steadfast in his support of Cutler and immediately backed him again after the debacle in Philadelphia.
"I've got to be the voice of reason," Trestman said. "I've got to see the big picture. Every coach handles themselves differently in these situations, and there's no right way to do it for coaches because they all handle them differently."
Trestman has urged his team to develop "good amnesia" in regards to the Eagles game.
One player who won't be back for Green Bay is linebacker Clay Matthews, who is sidelined again after aggravating a right thumb injury. Matthews is by far the best player on a bad defense that must slow down the receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who have combined for 180 receptions, 2,562 yards and 18 touchdown catches.
As shaky as that side of the ball can get for the Packers, though, it's even worse for Chicago, which is allowing 5.4 yards per rush, the worst mark since the 1961 Minnesota Vikings, an expansion team.
Meanwhile, the one thing Green Bay has done well without Rodgers is run the football. The Packers are seventh in the NFL with 131.7 rushing yards per game and McCarthy expects Lacy, who is averaging nearly 100 yards with four TDs in his last three games, to play.
"I feel Eddie is in good place," the coach said.
The rules say somebody has to win the NFC North and that midget among dwarves will be crowned in the Second City. And who knows, maybe Trestman will even alert his team that the affair against its biggest rival is a win or go home proposition.
Take away his cameo appearance in November and Rodgers is 8-2 against Chicago in the regular season and 1-0 in the playoffs. In those 10 regular-season matchups, A-Rod has thrown 19 touchdown passes compared to just six picks for 2,486 yards and a 102.7 passer rating.
Hope he's rusty.
Sportsbooks Predicted Outcome: Packers 28, Bears 17
December 27, 2013, at 09:29 PM ET
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