When the Green Bay Packers last visited Soldier Field, they left with a ticket punched to the Super Bowl. Chicago's Jay Cutler left in the third quarter with a knee injury, and he was highly criticized by the masses for weeks.
With the way things have been going for the Bears' banged-up offensive line, it again could be difficult for Cutler to escape injury-free.
In a meeting between the NFL's oldest rivals Sunday, the undefeated Packers again look to frustrate Cutler and a Chicago offense that appeared out of sorts last week.
In last season's NFC championship game, Green Bay beat the Bears 21-14 to earn its first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1997 season. Although Aaron Rodgers was the winning quarterback, much of the attention was on his counterpart.
Cutler suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee - although it originally wasn't reported as such - and immediately had his toughness questioned for leaving a game with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake. Much of the criticism came from current and former players, but Cutler said it is no longer an issue.
"Nothing in the past is going to make a difference in this game," he said.
The difference in the rematch will likely come down to how much time, if any, Cutler has to throw.
After surrendering a league-worst 56 sacks last season, the Bears (1-1) are again leading the NFL with 11 allowed. Cutler was sacked six times in last Sunday's 30-13 loss to New Orleans, although five of them came in the fourth quarter when all the scoring was done.
Cutler now faces a Green Bay team that has seven sacks and got to him 11 times in three meetings last season.
Although the Packers have done a good job of getting to the quarterback, their secondary has been vulnerable in victories over New Orleans and Carolina. It seems like they could have even more trouble with their pass defense with three-time All Pro safety Nick Collins being done for the year because of a neck injury.
Collins was injured while trying to tackle Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's 30-23 win.
"It's definitely a punch to the gut," said safety Charlie Peprah, who will be expected to take Collins' place.
Even with Collins, however, the Packers have had trouble, allowing Drew Brees to pass for 419 yards and three touchdowns and Cam Newton to throw for 432 yards and a TD. The defense did manage to pick off Newton three times and stop him a yard short of the marker on a fourth-down keeper on the Green Bay four-yard line with just over three minutes remaining.
"It says a lot about our character that we can come up with a big play at the end," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "We need to preserve victories by limiting the amount of points they score and not putting ourselves in that position."
While the defense has been susceptible, Rodgers has looked sharp, completing 70.8 percent of his passes for 620 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Although Rodgers is one of the most prolific passers in the NFL - his 104.3 quarterback rating since the start of last season is second only to Tom Brady's 113.6 - the Bears have done a good job of keeping him in check. In five games against Chicago since 2009, Rodgers is averaging 230.6 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Despite the pedestrian numbers, the Packers still won four of those meetings, with Greg Jennings finishing with 23 receptions for 407 yards and two TDs.
The Bears lack a big-play receiver like Jennings, one of the many reasons Cutler is having trouble getting rid of the ball. Roy Williams missed the game in New Orleans with a groin injury, while Earl Bennett left with a chest injury in the first half. Their statuses are unknown for this game.
Cutler is also spending a lot of time on his back because the offensive line is battered. Rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi went out of last Sunday's game with a right knee sprain and is expected to miss several weeks, while guard Lance Louis suffered a sprained ankle in a season-opening 30-12 win over Atlanta and sat out against New Orleans.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz also made things difficult on Cutler by abandoning the running game last week. Martz called for 52 pass plays and only 11 running plays against the blitz-happy Saints.
"We can't win football games with that kind of balance," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have to get the balance a lot better and we will."
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