For the first and only time since 1941, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will be meeting in the playoffs.
Following Green Bay’s surprisingly easy 48-21 throttling of the top-seeded Falcons on Saturday, Chicago — not surprisingly — blew past the Seahawks 35-24 on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
That sets up the biggest Packers-Bears game in almost 70 years. When these ancient rivals kick things off at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Chicago, a trip to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, will be at stake.
The quarterbacks and defenses will be the obvious story lines.
One day after Aaron Rodgers’ record-setting performance against the Falcons, Jay Cutler matched Rodgers by accounting for four touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Packers finished second in points allowed per game with 15.0 while the Bears checked in fourth with 17.9. The Packers’ defense has allowed 30 points in playoff wins against Pro Bowl quarterbacks Michael Vick and Matt Ryan. The Bears held the Seahawks to three points until the game was well out of hand in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, we’re championship caliber, but championship caliber to us isn’t getting to the NFC Championship Game,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said on Saturday night. “We have a lot higher goals than that. We’re where we want to be. We’ve been saying all year, ‘Just give us a chance to get here.’ Now, it’s up to us.”
The Bears won 20-17 in Week 3 at Soldier Field. Devin Hester was the story. He brought back one punt for 29 yards, though it came back because of holding. Late in the first half, he had a 28-yard return — with only a tackle by Tim Masthay preventing a touchdown — to set up a touchdown that pulled Chicago within 10-7 just before halftime. And on the second snap of the fourth quarter, Hester went the distance for a 62-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 14-10 lead.
Green Bay got its revenge in the regular-season finale, beating the Bears 10-3 to earn a playoff berth. It was a meaningless game for Chicago, which had the No. 2 seed wrapped up, but coach Lovie Smith kept his starters in for the entire game. Rodgers hit Donald Lee for a 1-yard touchdown for the decisive score about 3 minutes into the fourth quarter, and the defense sacked Cutler six times and had two interceptions.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the Bears wanted to keep the Packers from getting to the postseason dance. Green Bay, with four consecutive wins, is playing as well as any team in the league.
“I just look at it that it was a rivalry game, and they wanted to beat the Packers and we wanted to beat the Bears,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “I don’t know if they wanted to get us out of there so they didn’t have to play us or not. But we knew they’d come and play the whole game.”
And now, 69 years after the Packers and Bears decided the Western Division title just one week after Pearl Harbor, these rivals will slug it out for a trip to the Super Bowl.
“We just look at it as another obstacle. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Woodson said. “The object is to win. Whoever it is, we look to play our game and come out on top.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.