Preview: Packers try to continue mastery of Bears

Playing every few minutes on a video in the Packers' locker room since January is an inspirational sentence by a coach. Not a line by Curly Lambeau or even Vince Lombardi. No, the simple sentence was spoken by Lovie Smith when he was named the Chicago Bears' new coach this off-season.

"The No. 1 goal that we'll have is to beat Green Bay," Smith declared.

Not win the NFC North. Not win the Super Bowl. Beat Green Bay.

The goal seems modest, but considering how thoroughly the Packers have owned the series between ancient rivals, Smith's simple sentence sent a message to the franchise's beleaguered fans.

Green Bay has beaten Chicago 18 of the last 20 times, a run of nearly unprecedented dominance in the long history of the National Football League. Only Miami going 20-0 against Buffalo from 1970-79, Miami going 19-1 against the Colts from 1977-87, Washington going 19-1 against Detroit from 1956-97 and San Francisco going 19-1 against the Rams from 1989-98 can trump Green Bay's run against the one-time Monsters of the Midway.

A big reason for the Packers' dominance is Brett Favre, who has owned the Bears in his historic career. Favre is 20-4 against the Bears, with his 48 touchdown passes being his most against a single opponent. Meanwhile, during Favre's tenure in Green Bay, Chicago has used 16 starting quarterbacks.

The latest to be tested by the Packers will be Rex Grossman. Grossman, in his second year, started three games last season before being handed the job for this season. Unlike most of the preceding 15 quarterbacks, Grossman is a legitimate, big-time NFL prospect. He's neither big nor fast, but he's got a strong arm and he knows what he's doing with the ball.

"I think he's the best quarterback they've had there in quite a while," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "He gets rid of the ball quickly and makes good decisions. He looks the part."

Here are five keys that will determine whether the Packers win their eighth straight against the Bears.

1. Wrecking Rex

Green Bay threw everything but the kitchen sink at Carolina last week, turning in an outstanding defensive performance. The Packers gave up a few big plays in the passing game, but the constant blitzes prevented Jake Delhomme from getting into a rhythm anywhere close to what he experienced during his breakout run to the Super Bowl.

Grossman had a shaky game against Detroit last week, completing just 16 of 35 passes for 227 yards, two interceptions and a lost fumble. If the Packers rattled Delhomme, then the young Grossman could be in for a long day. On the other hand, Smith and the Bears' coaching staff have had a week to study film and pick up tendencies.

"I feel we have a young guy who has kind of a defensive mentality at the position," Smith said of Grossman. "We always talk about being a tough football team. That's what we've got at our quarterback position, similar of course to Brett Favre, who is as tough as there is."

2. Unbeatable Brett

Five years after he's retired, Favre will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Just imagine how amazing his statistics would be if he faced the Bears every game. Favre has thrown a touchdown pass in 24 straight games against the Bears, tied with Dan Marino (against the Jets) for the longest streak in NFL history.

Another big game against the Bears will go a long way to pushing the Packers to 2-0 on the season. With Ahman Green coming off a 35-touch night against Carolina and with backup Najeh Davenport unlikely to play with a hamstring injury, the Packers may lean on Favre to move the offense.

"I think he's the best quarterback to ever play the game," Bears safety Mike Brown said this week.

3. Take care of the football

The surest way for a heavy favorite to lose is to turn the ball over. Favre occasionally makes bad decisions — such as last year when he blindly threw the ball to Bears linebacker Lance Briggs for an interception that was returned for a touchdown — and Green has had fumble problems when it's hot.

Chicago's defense, meanwhile, has some big-play players, notably linebacker Brian Urlacher, the aforementioned Brown, safety Mike Green and the makings of an outstanding young defensive line led by standout pass rusher Adewale Ogunleye.

"Adewale (Ogunleye) coming here has definitely helped our pass rush and he's been a good leader, too," said Smith. "He's been a good fit."

4. Keeping up with the Jones

The last time the Packers saw running back Thomas Jones, he ran for 134 yards and a touchdown on just nine rushes while with the Buccaneers last season. That breakout game is a big reason why Jones is wearing the blue and orange of Chicago. In Jones, former Rams defensive coordinator Smith sees a young Rams running back Marshall Faulk.

Jones certainly has a big-time line to run behind. By the time this group gels, it could be one of the best in the league. Center Olin Kreutz is a Pro Bowler, new guard Ruben Brown was a Pro Bowler in Buffalo last season and former Chiefs right tackle John Tait is one of the best at his position.

Look for Chicago to test the Packers on the ground, especially with run-stuffing nose tackle Grady Jackson out with a dislocated kneecap.

Even without Jackson after the third play last week, however, Green Bay allowed just 38 yards on the ground — second-best in the league.

5. Show the same fire

Sherman had been pointing to the Carolina game since the minicamps. Knowing that last year's slow start nearly kept the Packers out of the playoffs, Sherman was determined to prevent a repeat. Mission accomplished. At least for a week.

If the Packers come out as focused as they were last week, when they delivered a nearly impeccable performance, then they will handle the Bears with ease. But after an emotional victory, coming off a short week and facing a team they've owned for more than a decade, a letdown is a possibility.

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