For the finale, Bears get to face Rodgers
In Sunday's regular-season finale, which will decide the NFC North champion and that division's sole playoff representative, the Bears will get the Packers' best.
At least their best quarterback.
Green Bay's four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, their best pass rusher, is out. But after missing seven games with a fractured collarbone, Aaron Rodgers, the highest-rated quarterback in NFL history (105.2), returns for the Soldier Field showdown.
"It didn't surprise us," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "If he can play (we thought) he would. We prepared for that, and that's no disrespect to the job Matt Flynn has done. They put up 60 points (actually 68) the last two weeks alone, but if Aaron could play we expected him to play."
Rodgers was injured against the Bears after throwing just 2 passes in a 27-20 loss at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4, on a sack by Shea McClellin. But when he's healthy enough to start and finish a game, Rodgers has had the Bears' number since he became the Packers' full-time starter in 2008.
Including the 2010 NFC title game, Rodgers is 9-2 against the Bears when he has played a complete game. His 98.8 passer rating is the result of 19 TD passes and 8 interceptions, 2,712 yards and 68.8 percent accuracy.
Rodgers has won all of his last six complete games against the Bears, with a scorching-hot 110.1 rating.
The 2011 league MVP has been back at practice for three weeks, but it will have been 55 days between games when he suits up Sunday. Rust could be a factor, but the Bears aren't counting on it.
"I don't anticipate him being rusty at all," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. "He's still been out there with the team taking reps. He's been doing this for a long time. He's been making plays. He can find all the guys out there on the field, put them in the right position and make all the tough throws."
Trestman was asked about the "challenges" Rodgers would face after a long layoff, but wanted he no part of it.
"The last thing I want to do is speak for one of the best players in the game," the Bears' coach said. "I'm not going to go there. He hasn't played for a while, (but) I know his expectations and (Packers coach) Mike (McCarthy's) are that he'll play at a very high level. I don't think they have any other way of looking at it."
With Rodgers, the Packers started 5-2. Without him they were winless in five November games, losing four and salvaging a tie with the Vikings as, first Seneca Wallace, then Scott Tolzien and then Flynn tried but failed to replace Rodgers.
Finally Flynn brought some stability to the position, leading back-to-back victories before last week's 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Flynn is no Rodgers.
"It's a big difference," Bears linebacker Jon Bostic said. "He's one of the best at what he does. Not only is he accurate with the football, he's a good decision-maker, and he can move around the pocket as well. He presents a tough challenge, so we've got to make sure the whole defense is playing together and everybody is in their right gaps."
That has been one of several glaring weaknesses for a Bears defense that has allowed an average of 35.6 points in the past five games and is coming off its worst performance of the year in a 54-11 loss at Philadelphia.
"With Aaron back, they have a feeling they'll be at their best," Trestman said. "And we're ready for that, excited about it."
But they're probably not as excited as the Packers are to be facing the Bears' defense with Rodgers back at the controls and so much at stake.