Tie game, fourth quarter, Bears-Packers.
Even the most hard-core of the 62,372 partisan fans at Soldier Field had to be fearing the worst – another heartbreaking loss engineered by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, like in Week 1.
But Rodgers was not the best quarterback on the field Sunday – Mitch Trubisky was, as he led the Bears’ 24-17 victory that clinched the NFC North title and the first playoff berth since 2010. That also was the last year the Bears defeated the Packers at Soldier Field. Almost as sweet was that the 10-4 Bears erased the playoff hopes for their rivals to the north, who fell to 5-8-1.
Trubisky did to the Packers what Rodgers has been doing to the Bears for the entire decade. In his previous 12 games against the Bears, Rodgers was 11-1 and had thrown 36 TD passes and only three interceptions. That includes the three fourth-quarter TD passes he threw in a 24-23 victory in the season opener, in which the Packers had trailed 20-0.
But Sunday was Trubisky’s day.
He outdid Rodgers in nearly every measurable category. The Bears’ QB completed 20 of 28 passes (71.5 percent) for 235 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 120.4 passer rating. Rodgers connected on 25 of 42 attempts (59.5 percent) for 274 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a 68.9 passer rating. It was only the second time this season that Rodgers has been intercepted on 537 passes, and he had gone 402 passes since his last pick.
With 10:16 left in the game, Trubisky made perhaps the most important throw of his NFL career, a 13-yard TD to tight end Trey Burton that gave the Bears a 21-14 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Coach Matt Nagy grabbed Trubisky by the face mask as he came off the field at the end of that play.
“I told him, ‘That’s a throw,’ ” Nagy said. “That’s a throw that he just made right there with conviction. That was exactly what I said. That was a conviction throw. When he does that, he’s tough to stop.”
As are the Bears, who have now won each of Trubisky’s past six starts, even though he’s been mediocre or worse in three of the victories. In the 15-6 victory over the Rams a week earlier, Trubisky had his worst game of the year with a 33.3 passer rating and three interceptions.
The 24-year-old quarterback, who always is quick to credit teammates on both sides of the ball, was asked how he was able to bounce back only seven days later and what it said about him to his teammates.
“I don’t know what it says about me, but I know what I can say about my teammates is that they always have my back no matter what,” Trubisky said. “I think they see how hard I work and how much I care about this thing and how hard I’m on myself, and I always continually want to do better.
“They believe in me and have confidence in me, so why would I not go out there and be confident in myself as well? That’s what I wanted to show to my guys and just be there for them. I feel like I did my part today.”
Trubisky’s 12-yard TD pass to Tarik Cohen gave the Bears a 14-3 lead 30 seconds before halftime. On the first TD drive, which ended with Jordan Howard’s nine-yard scoring run, Trubisky completed all four of his passes for
After last week, Trubisky took a beating in the media, social and otherwise, and he beat himself up as well. But on Sunday he did what his teammates expected.
“I don’t think he went and did anything crazy,” said receiver Allen Robinson, who had a team-high 54 yards on three receptions. “He went out there, and he was Mitchell Trubisky. He led us to the NFC North championship.”
A defense that sacked Rodgers five times and allowed the Packers into the end zone only once also played a huge role. So did the all-around brilliance of Cohen, who returned a punt 44 yards to set up the Bears’ final points on Cody Parkey’s 24-yard field goal with 6:43 remaining. Cohen’s nifty run after the catch was the key to his TD reception, one of his five catches for 31 yards, and he rushed five times for 21 yards.
In Week 1, the Bears gave away a game to the Packers they appeared to have won. But it was a completely different story Sunday and after the locker room celebration, Nagy talked about how far his team and his quarterback have come since then.
“He’s getting to understand the type of team that we are, and what we ask him to do,” Nagy said. “There’s times I’m tough on him on the sideline, and there’s times I’m tough on him in practice. But he understands the only way that he’s going to get better is with that (input). If I’m (always) content with how he’s playing, then we’re not doing our job. He appreciates that, and I love that about him. The kid’s a fighter, he’s a competitor, and we’re lucky to have him.”