REALITY CHECK PACKERS LOSE TO BEARS 35-7 Jerry Gilbert
In near zero blustery conditions, the youthful Green Bay Packers were no match for the Chicago Bears and suffered their only blowout defeat in an otherwise successful season. On this day, the Packer Defense was facing a team that, because of weather and personnel issues, was compelled to run the ball. The Bears have all season been a low ranked rushing attack. On Sunday, the Packers could not hold them in check.
On this day, the highly regarded Packer passing attack was never established. The wind blew passes. Receivers dropped catchable balls. With an entire game to adapt to the conditions, they never did. By contrast, Bears quarterback Kyle Orton missed some opportunities by throwing too hard in the first half. He adapted to the wind and cold, and had some success throwing the ball throughout the contest.
Special Teams tell the story. Chicago did not even need its great returner Devin Hester, Bears special teams out-hustled the Packers, resulting in two blocked punts and no significant punt or kick returns for Green Bay. The unit that had dominated the Rams one week earlier was itself dominated in Soldiers Field.
There are many explanations. Having clinched the post season, some edge may have been lost. Weather conditions worse than most of them had ever seen further beat them down. A flat performance during bad weather is a recipe for the butt kicking that happened. It is also possible that the run defense truly missed Ryan Pickett. Having already lost for the season two stout defensive tackles, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole, losing Pickett may have been the tipping point. Justin Harrell and Corey Williams made many fine plays, but they also allowed some large holes to be opened. On offense, had Korey Hall been available, the agile fullback may have helped in the slippery conditions.
The game tells us, that this team may be a few players and a season or two away from truly being the team they have appeared to be in last few weeks. Against Oakland and St. Louis, the Packers faced beatable teams and dispatched them as a good team should. The 2007 edition has been more dominant in that type of game than many excellent teams of the past. Even the best Holmgren and Lombardi teams seemed to have had their share of close calls against weak teams. It was a rare pleasure as a Packer fan to relax during some fourth quarters this season. Blowing out the Vikings was a special treat.
The weather and the Bears tarnished that perception. This is a very good team, but it is open to question whether the players have the character to prevail against the elements as well as a determined opponent. These players are generally young, and the season has been a fairy tale. Reality jumped up and bit them last Sunday. We will see how they respond. To succeed in the playoffs, they cannot play as they did against Dallas or the Bears. Tired young players will need to find a second wind and show themselves to be professionals
On defense, coach Bob Sanders has to devise some ways to improve the pass rush. We are hearing that Cullen Jenkins is recovering from a variety of injuries and may be regaining his quickness. Corey Williams also needs to step up as an inside pass rusher. Whatever the reason, that aspect of the defense has been in decline for several weeks.
The offense also must improve, and there is some hope. It was during garbage time of the fourth quarter, but Brandon Jackson showed some hard running against the Bears. If he can provide some quality minutes, Ryan Grant, who is statistically the top NFC rusher since he took over the starting role, will be even more effective. The return of Bubba Franks makes the two tight end offense a threat once again, and he could catch a first down or TD pass in a key situation. Franks saw considerable action in Chicago, and should be ready to be a contributor against Detroit. On the negative side, when was the last time rookie James Jones made a play? Has he hit the "rookie wall"? Problems in the offensive line are not likely to go away soon.
Special teams should also rebound. Korey Hall and Tracy White are two star performers who should be at full strength for the playoffs. Punt protection will likely not break down again. The concern is that there is little margin for any special team lapses at this point in the season. These young players will have to perform like seasoned veterans, and that is asking a great deal.
It is too much to say that the loss to the Bears is either a big negative or positive. It was a single game in very unusual conditions. However, it was a test that this team failed. We will see how they respond.