When you ask members of the Green Bay Packers’ defense to put their finger on how they managed to stave off a fiercely determined Chicago Bears offense in front of 61,736 boisterous fans at Soldier Field, that’s what it all came down to. Trust in their teammates. Trust that the process of this past week’s preparation would have each and every man in his proper place on the majority of plays, especially on those that flipped the game decisively in Green Bay’s favor in the second half.
All of this was probably hard for Packers fans see, especially as the Bears piled up 130 yards rushing and another 173 through the air in the first half while jumping out to early leads of 7-0, 10-7 and 17-14. Quarterback Jay Cutler led the way as Chicago seemingly moved the ball at will and controlled the clock, 21:04 to Green Bay’s 8:56.
But Trust is what cornerback Tramon Williams said he emphasized in a short talk with his defensive mates right before the opening kickoff. And trust is what members of this defense embraced as they watched Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers right back time after time, emerging with a 21-17 lead at the intermission.
“We talked about trust issues,” explained Williams. “Trust your teammates. There’s times when you get into a game like today when they’re moving up and down the field. You see some things and want to do some different things but you’ve got to trust the process. You’ve got to trust the guy behind you and trust that the guys will hear what you can’t hear and see what you can’t see. That’s what we did the second half. Those guys still moved the ball but our guys were still in the places they needed to be and eventually we made some plays.”
“It’s always difficult playing the Bears, let alone coming to Soldier Field, so I feel very good about what was accomplished today,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “And, frankly, from my mind-set, we thought today was going to come down to big-play production and turnover ratio. It was pretty much even at halftime and then our defense play an excellent second half with two takeaways and obviously pivotal plays in the game, and offensively we were able to continue being productive.
“Our defense just kept playing. They had a lot of production on first and second down, they were playing with favorable down-and-distance. Just the focus of focusing on the takeaways. We’ve got playmakers on our perimeter. It started with Clay (Matthews), then Sam (Shields). Micah (Hyde) got his hands on one that was close, I didn’t see the review. And Tramon (Williams) had the one that obviously went to review. I thought our guys did a great job. The pass rush was starting to get there and our perimeter defense was getting its hands on the ball.”
As they have in so many encounters with Cutler over the years, Packers defenders felt confident the Bears’ quarterback would give them chances with throwing errors. After Green Bay’s first drive in the second half ended in Mason Crosby’s 53-yard field goal, Cutler drove the Bears from their 15 to the Packers’ 24 before making his first mistake. His short pass intended for Josh Morgan was deflected by Williams right into the waiting arms of linebacker Clay Matthews, who raced all the way to the Bears’ 35 before he was shoved out of bounds.
“I saw the running back motion out a little bit and that was a key for me,” said Williams. ”I knew they were going to do something quick and I kind of moved inside a little bit more to give myself a good breaking angle. It was exactly what I thought at that point. When I made the break, I didn’t make the catch but I made a block on it pretty quick. We made the play as a team and that’s what I was talking about, just having a trust. Anytime you go up against those receivers you’re going to have to work hard. We knew it was going to be a hard day at work but we knew we were capable of making the plays we needed to make to win the game.”
After Rodgers capitalized on the turnover by throwing an 11-yard TD strike to Jordy Nelson, the Packers were firmly in command at 31-17. But the defense was poised to take advantage of another Cutler blunder.
With the Bears again driving at the Green Bay 45, Cutler threw deep for Brandon Marshall but connected with Shields instead. Shields returned it all the way to the Chicago 11 before being pushed out of bounds. Three plays later, Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb for a 3-yard touchdown and, for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
While the Packers were opportunistic in swiping the two passes from Cutler, they know they could have had at least two other picks that were dropped. They also failed to pounce on two Cutler fumbles from center and a strip by cornerback Davon House. The Bears generated 496 total yards and 33 first downs while winning the possession game 36:22 to 23:38. Still, they had nothing but another bitter loss to show for it.
“To have close to 500 total yards and to not have enough points to show for it is the main part we take from this game,” said Bears running back Matt Forte. “A lot of times we’d get down there, and we had a few opportunities to put points on the board. One time we got three instead of seven, which in games like this, three points are good. Scoring is good, but we easily could have got a touchdown instead of that. The offense can’t put our defense in bad positions where we give them a short field.”
“They moved the ball up and down the field,” said Williams. “We’re aware of that. But when you get into a game like that and they’re driving up and down the field we’ve got to figure out a way to get off the field. Those turnovers were a way for us to get off the field and the way our offense was playing it was a key for us. We did what we had to do to win the game. We feel that we’ve got things to work on but we needed those turnovers.”
Julius Peppers, in his first game back at Soldier Field since leaving the Bears to join the Packers, didn’t care much about the statistics, except one. The final score.
“It’s a good feeling to get a win,” said Peppers. “That’s the main thing because it was a division road game and we needed it. So it was good to get the win. As far as their yardage output, we’re not very happy with that but fortunately the game is four quarters and we were able to hold them to 17 points and we got the takeaways when we needed them.”
The Packers also got a huge play from rookie safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. On the last play of the first half with the ball at the Packers’ 9, Clinton-Dix came up fast on a pass to Martellus Bennett close to the goal line. Clinton-Dix slammed into him at the 1 and stopped him just inches short. After a replay, which showed Bennett not having total control of the ball as he reached the ball to the goal line, the ruling was upheld and the Packers kept their 21-17 lead as they headed to the locker room.
“We were in a Cover-2 look and we’re always preaching about stopping a team from scoring, especially right before the end of the half,” said Clinton-Dix. “I knew it was kind of coming and I tried to make a play on the ball and keep him out of the end zone. When I saw the replay I saw that he was bobbling the ball and I knew the play would stand. (When the play was in progress) I really couldn’t tell if he (Bennett) got the ball over the goal line. But I thought the refs made a great call.”
“That was big,” added McCarthy. “It was a big momentum play. It was seven points. It was a big play in the game, obviously a huge play.”
Williams just smiled when he was asked about how well Clinton-Dix is fitting into Green Bay’s defensive backfield.
“No doubt about it,” said Williams. “He continues to get experience in there and he’s going to be a great young player for us as he gets that experience. He shows a lot of ability out there and we’re going to need him in the future.”
Last week, Rodgers said he understood the angst of Packers fans as the team stumbled to a 1-2 start. His message? “Relax.” So how should they feel now as Green Bay slammed the door on Chicago in the 189th meeting of these two bitter rivals?
“Packer fans should feel good,” said linebacker Mike Neal. “It’s always a big deal when you come into an opposing team’s stadium and create the kind of momentum that we did on offense. Our biggest thing is, we know who we are and we know what we’ve got to do. After the first quarter, you could pretty much see what they (Bears) were doing out there. Our confidence level never waivers so I’m not too worried about that. We needed the win and we got it.”