SOLDIER FIELD — This time was different.
This time, the Packers did not come back. This time, the Bears won. This time, the Bears are NFC North champions.
“I can’t tell you how many times they heard me say ‘finish’ this week,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said after the Bears beat the Packers 24-17 Sunday at Soldier Field.
Finishing has been a problem in a series the Packers have dominated 40-14 — make that, 40-15 — since Brett Favre became Green Bay’s quarterback in 1992.
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All season long the Bears have declared to the NFC North that they are for real. That they are the team to beat in the division. But back in Week 1, the Bears failed to convince their rivals of their arrival, blowing a 20-0 lead in a 24-23 loss.
Earlier this week, Nagy said that loss actually turned out to be a positive event — a lesson in adversity the team needed. That’s an easy spin, but it’s also hard to argue against. The Bears reeled off three straight wins after that brutal loss. And after losing their only back-to-back games of the season in Weeks 5 and 6, they responded with a five-game winning streak. And after sleep-walking through a 30-27 overtime loss to the Giants two weeks ago, the Bears responded with a convincing win over the NFC-leading Rams and Sunday’s home victory over the Packers, a win that has eluded them for eight years.
Once again, adversity struck Sunday. But this time, the Bears made sure the ending against the Packers was different.
After a questionable fake punt helped a 14-3 lead quickly evaporate into a 14-14 tie, the Bears then coughed up the football on a botched exchange between Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard as Nagy called for “Wildcat” trickeration on a crucial 3rd-and-1.
At that point, it wasn’t just the fans saying, “Oh no, here we go again.”
“Forget Bears fans, I mean, I was even holding my breath just because you’ve seen it so much (with Rodgers),” cornerback Prince Amukamara admitted.
And despite all of the fancy play calls that have worked for Nagy and helped them win a division title, the head coach was ready to take the heat for the fake punt and Wildcat call on third down.
“Those are the ones where you’re going to come up here and crush me in a loss and that’s okay, I understand that,” Nagy said.
And he has warned fans of that reality even after the plays that have worked. Those calls represent who Nagy is and it’s not going to change. Hey, it sure beats going 14-34 over three years, which is what the ultra conservative John Fox did during his time in Chicago.
But this time the Bears didn’t let a little adversity against the Packers result in a loss. The entire team rallied together with complementary football down the stretch to make sure that Aaron Rodgers didn’t lead another comeback. Not this time.
And one week after playing so poorly, Mitch Trubisky delivered the dagger with a 13-yard touchdown toss to Trey Burton just a few minutes after the Cohen fumble. Nagy immediately grabbed his quarterback and delivered a message.
“I told him that that’s a throw. That’s a throw that he just made right there with conviction,” Nagy said.
Yes, this time Trubisky delivered the big play that eluded the Bears’ offense in the second half at Lambeau Field.
And this time the defense came up with the big interception in the final minutes of game. Back in Week 1, Kyle Fuller couldn’t haul in the game-clinching interception. Sunday, Eddie Jackson picked off Rodgers in the end zone, ending an NFL record 402-pass streak of not throwing an interception.
“Another lesson,” Nagy said about getting the interception this time. “Another lesson.”
A lot of things have looked different for the Bears this season — almost all of them in a good way. But that’s what happens when you go from worst to first, and Sunday marked the culmination point — not only winning the division, but doing so against the rival the Bears have had so much trouble against.
But again, this time was different. This time there weren’t blown coverages in the fourth quarter. This time there weren’t missed tackles. And, perhaps the oddest sight to behold, this time Aaron Rodgers missed his wide receivers downfield.
And this time the Bears beat the Packers.
This time, the Bears are NFC North champs.