THE MORNING AFTER: A difficult, frigid refresher course
CHICAGO – ‘They sat in the stands, shivering and full of dread. For visions of Conte danced through their heads.’
Creative, right? Fitting would be more like it.
You knew when Aaron Rodgers took a few steps back then to the side with right around 30 seconds left to go on a frozen Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon the Bears were in trouble.
When his eyes gazed straight ahead instead of the sidelines, fans knew what was coming. It happened just under three years ago – December 29, 2013.
The saw the No. 18 green numerals on the white jersey and the yellow helmet streaking uncontested to the endzone. They saw Chris Conte helplessly look back, burned by Randall Cobb who scored the game winning touchdown in a 33-28 Green Bay victory.
Game over. Division Championship hopes over. The Marc Trestman era, essentially, was over.
So was this game when Rodgers turned his gaze down the middle and looked deep. Jordy Nelson took off, cutting toward the middle of the field, and in the process got a step on a Bears’ rookie cornerback.
As the separation grew, Rodgers threw the ball. Cre’von LeBlanc never had a chance.
“I am not going to get into the blame game. I think our guys fought hard,” said John Fox of this play, which went for 61 yards and set up the eventual game-winning field goal for the Packers. “We had an opportunity to win a game and we came up short.
“It’s happened quite a few times here late.”
It would be better if it had never happened at all. The Bears should have known better.
For one, Fox declined to take ten seconds off the clock after a penalty against the Packers before the long throw. Giving Rodgers more time is just asking for it.
Maybe it was not running the ball more on the goal line.
Instead of a rush on third down that could have run down more time and gotten the Bears a better shot for a fourth down try should they not make it, the Bears passed. The incompletion left Fox with better odds to kick the field goal then reaching the endzone, hence the tie instead of the potential lead.
Even after that, the decision not to run near the goal line more or take the runoff, all the Bears had to do was keep the Rodgers from making a major gainer.
On that 3rd-and-11, there was little safety help down the middle where Nelson attacked. It left LeBlanc, a promising undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic, one-on-one with one of the better possession receivers in the NFL.
Advantage, Packers. Rodgers wasn’t about to miss and he didn’t. The long gain set up a Mason Crosby game-winning field goal, sealing Rodgers’ 14 triumph over the Bears in 18 tries.
No. 12 for the Packers still hasn’t lost to the Bears in Chicago since 2010 – and even that year he got his revenge in the NFC Championship.
“Nobody in football or the NFL likes to get beat deep,” said a humble LeBlanc after the game. “It hurts, it hurts deep but I can’t hone on it. Just like the pick (Interception for touchdown against the Lions), I can’t hone on it. I’ve just got to come in Wednesday and get better and get better at my craft.”
With a cold, hard lesson for the future. If not heeded, then Aaron Rodgers will make ghosts of the past tap dance in the heads of Bears’ players and fans all over again.