CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears pulled the plug on the Green Bay Packers playoff hopes Sunday with a 24-17 victory at Soldier Field. Those hopes had been on life support for two weeks ever since the Packers lost at home to the woeful Arizona Cardinals and fired head coach Mike McCarthy. A one-week respite thanks to a win over the Atlanta Falcons only delayed the inevitable — the franchise celebrating 100 years of football missing the playoffs for a second-straight season. That it happened for the first time since 2008 with quarterback Aaron Rodgers starting the entire year made it disheartening.
“Last year was obviously a tough year with [my collarbone] injury,” Rodgers said. “This year, with a lot of promise early on, it’s definitely disappointing, for sure.”
Sunday’s loss, that handed Chicago its first NFC North title since 2010, was marred by the same unsightly gaffes the Packers have consistently forced their fans to watch this season — special teams breakdowns, missed tackles on defense and an inability to make big plays on offense. It has been the latter that’s truly stood out, largely because of Rodgers.
Though it’s debatable how much blame should be placed on the shoulders of the two-time NFL MVP, he admitted two drives potentially cost them the game on Sunday. A three-and-out just before the half led to good field position for Chicago and the Bears capitalized with a touchdown to make it 14-3 at the break.
Then, after Green Bay forced a fumble with the game tied at 14 in the fourth quarter, the offense had another three-and-out. This one included Rodgers missing wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on what could have been a long touchdown. It was one of several throws that quarterbacks of Rodgers’ stature — heck, Rodgers himself — have made time and time again.
“Oh, there’s missed throws for sure,” Rodgers said while defending his play. “But some of the ones you probably think are missed throws maybe we’re just not on the same page.”
Rodgers took the blame for missing Valdes-Scantling, along with misfiring on what should have been a touchdown to wide receiver Equanimous St. Brown in the second quarter. He said a third quarter pass that sailed over the head of a wide open Randall Cobb was the result of the wind catching it.
All of those misses left him with a passer rating of just 69.0, the second-worst in his career against a Bears franchise he’s owned. And after throwing 402 consecutive passes without an interception — an NFL record — his throw to tight end Jimmy Graham in the end zone was tipped up into the air and picked off by safety Eddie Jackson. It proved to be the nail in the Packers’ coffin, both for the game and their season.
Green Bay has plenty of excuses for sitting at 5-8-1, a record that guarantees back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990 and 1991 — the years right before Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre arrived. The defense has been decimated by injuries and was missing its top three defensive linemen on Sunday. Offensively, they’ve played much of the season without two of their top three wide receivers, dealt with tons of injuries along the offensive line and then lost electric tailback Aaron Jones to a knee injury early on Sunday. It’s left Rodgers in an unfamiliar spot of not playing for anything significant in the final two weeks of the season.
“Just play,” Rodgers said of his mentality. “We’re paid to play this game and prepare. I think you set different goals, obviously, because playoffs won’t be happening. I think a good one is we can get our first road win of the year.”
It’s hard to imagine that’s what it’s come to for Green Bay, just trying to find a way to avoid going winless on the road when it goes to New York to face the Jets on Sunday. The season started with aspirations of raising a fifth Lombardi Trophy and will end on Dec. 30 when another playoff-less team — the Detroit Lions — comes to Green Bay. It’ll mean that for the 49th time in the last 51 years, there will be no title in Titletown.
“The expectations [here] is competing for championships,” Rodgers said. “[Chicago is] is a good football team, but like I told some of the guys, I look forward to the battles over the years. I like our chances in this division moving forward. Obviously, there will be some changes in the offseason. We’ll finish this year out the right way and then we’ll look to the future, which I think is still really bright in Green Bay.”