CHICAGO (AP) — Given where they were a few weeks ago, the Chicago Bears’ odds of grabbing a share of the NFC North lead seemed about as long as a Hail Mary pass.
Back-to-back wins have them in position to do just that. The problem is they’re facing a big obstacle with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers standing in their way.
The Bears will try to clear it and move into a first-place tie with Green Bay when they host their rival Sunday.
“We’re excited for every game to go out and dominate,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “It’s not like this is our Super Bowl or anything.”
Maybe. But as coach Matt Nagy said, “It feels like a great opportunity.”
It’s one that was difficult to envision not too long ago. After all, the Bears (3-2) were at a low point with a 26-6 loss at Cleveland last month.
The Bears had just 47 yards for one of the lowest totals in NFL history. Rookie Justin Fields threw for 68 yards and got sacked nine times for 67 yards, a nightmarish first start for the No. 11 overall draft pick.
It was so bad, Nagy opted to hand playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor after that game, something he also did when the team was struggling last season.
The Bears bounced back by beating winless Detroit at home and Las Vegas on the road last week in Jon Gruden’s final game coaching the Raiders. He resigned over emails he sent before being hired in 2018 that contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments.
For the Bears, wins over Rodgers and the Packers (4-1) have been few and far between. Green Bay has won 19 of the past 22 meetings counting the playoffs, and the Packers are 21-5 against Chicago in games Rodgers has started. In one of the losses, he left with an injury after the opening series.
“I’m just a small part of this journey,” Rodgers said. “It’s been over 100 years of playing and fortunate to have this little time right now to be able to be a starter and impact the all-time series. Little Green Bay was getting beat up for a long time by our foes to the South and then Favrey (Brett Favre) showed up and we closed the gap and then we’ve overtaken them. It’s nice. But I don’t think it’s the most important part of the all-time legacy.
“But it is, it’s always a battle against them and always fun when we can beat ’em.”
The Packers have won four straight since getting trounced by New Orleans 38-3 in the season opener in Jacksonville. They escaped in overtime at Cincinnati last week, 25-22.
Injuries have forced the Packers to play without 2020 All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and 2020 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back).
Bakhtiari hasn’t played all season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31, though he’s getting closer to a return. Smith hasn’t played since the season opener. Alexander will be missing a second straight game.
The Bears are also banged up.
They could be without their top two rushers, with David Montgomery (sprained knee) on injured reserve and Damien Williams placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday. RT Germain Ifedi (knee) is on IR.
Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (groin) did not play last week. Fields suffered knee and rib injuries and missed a few plays against the Raiders.
Linebacker Khalil Mack (foot) and receiver Allen Robinson (ankle) were also dealing with injuries.
The Bears showed they can still gain on the ground even with Montgomery sidelined, running for 143 yards against Las Vegas. Rookie Khalil Herbert rushed for 75 on 18 carries, while Williams had 64 yards.
“The communication right now is really good amongst the offensive line and tight ends, the wide receivers as well,” Nagy said. “The running backs are doing a good job with their vision.”
Green Bay’s Davante Adams leads the NFL in catches (42) and yards receiving (579), and he’s coming off a performance in which he caught 11 passes for a career-high 206 yards.
Adams has nearly 2½ times more catches and over three times as many yards receiving as any of his teammates. Running back Aaron Jones ranks second on the team in catches with 17, while Randall Cobb ranks second in yards receiving with 157.
A big reason for the Bears’ turnaround following the loss to Cleveland? The defense.
The Monsters of the Midway had three sacks last week to run their league-leading total to 18 — five by Khalil Mack and 4 1/2 by Robert Quinn. Chicago’s defense now ranks eighth overall and seventh in scoring.
COMEBACK FOR CROSBY?
Packers kicker Mason Crosby will attempt to bounce back after an uncharacteristically poor performance in the overtime victory at Cincinnati.
Crosby’s franchise-record string of 27 consecutive successful field-goal attempts ended in that game when he missed three straight kicks in the fourth quarter and overtime. He missed from 36, 51 and 40 yards away before making a winning 49-yarder.
He also missed an extra-point attempt in the first half.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Green Bay, Wisconsin, contributed.
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