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Bears’ blueprint to beat Packers during Aaron Rodgers era? Luck

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — History suggests that the Chicago Bears need unexpected assistance to upset Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.

Whether it was a monsoon, getting knocked out of the game early, a rash of penalties on his teammates or jitters as a first-time starter, Rodgers’ only four regular-season losses to Chicago — against 14 wins — have come with unusual circumstances.

Normally, Rodgers is as dominant against the Bears as he is against the rest of the league. He has 10 games with multiple touchdown passes against Chicago, including seven games with three or more.

Nine of those 18 regular-season matchups have been in prime time, in which Rodgers has thrown for 20 touchdowns and four interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In his past six games against the Bears, Rodgers has completed 66.3 percent of his passes and thrown 17 touchdowns with just one interception.

It’s no wonder the Packers are seven-point favorites Thursday, but with a rivalry this old and the possibility of unforeseen circumstances, nothing can be taken for granted.

Dec. 22, 2008: Bears 20, Packers 17 (OT)

The “rookie” year

Rarely do quarterbacks become great overnight.

Rodgers experienced some growing pains in his first season as a starter. The entire team did. Fresh off a berth in the NFC title game in 2007, Green Bay’s record dropped to 6-10 the following season, as Rodgers tossed 13 interceptions — the most of his career.

Green Bay and Rodgers bested the Bears 37-3 at Lambeau Field in the quarterback’s first start against the NFC North rival in Week 11, but a hungry Chicago team rallied to knock off the Packers in overtime in Week 16 to keep their playoff hopes alive. Chicago (9-7) eventually lost to the Texans in Week 17 and was eliminated from the playoffs.

Rodgers played well that night at Soldier Field, but the Bears still had the core of a team that advanced to Super Bowl XLI, in which a dominant defense fell short against the Colts.

“I thought we were good that year coming off the down season [Bears went 7-9 in 2007] after the Super Bowl,” said former Bears tight end Desmond Clark. “We still had that Super Bowl memory, and we still had the Super Bowl nucleus as players. And the defense was still strong.”

Clark said that in 2008 no one really knew how dominant Rodgers would later become.

“When he first came in the league, Rodgers played well, but it takes a few years before you really know for sure about a player,” Clark said. “I knew for sure Rodgers was great in the 2010 season when they beat us in the NFC Championship game. That’s when I started saying that this dude was really legit.”

Sept. 27, 2010: Bears 20, Packers 17

The penalty game

Rodgers is probably still kicking himself over this one.

You can argue that Green Bay lost this Monday night matchup more than Chicago won it. Rodgers passed for 316 yards, but he couldn’t save the Packers from themselves.

There were flags all over the field that night, as Green Bay was penalized a team-record 18 times. The most costly infraction occurred at the end of regulation, when Packers safety Morgan Burnett was guilty of pass interference against Bears receiver Earl Bennett at the 9-yard line. Nick Collins intercepted Jay Cutler on that play, but it was negated due to the penalty.

Veteran kicker Robbie Gould then converted an easy, chip-shot field goal for the win.

“We played them tough that night,” former Bears safety Danieal Manning said. “Penalties or not, Rodgers is so difficult to play against because he keeps plays alive, and Green Bay also typically has crafty receivers.

“But we still had a talented defense that season with a lot of veteran guys. I think D.J. Moore at nickelback was one of the only young faces in the group. And don’t forget: We had coaches who used to former head coaches, like Rod Marinelli, Mike Tice and Mike Martz. We had the talent and coaching to beat Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.”

“It was an uncharacteristic game on offense for us, well, just for a team. Way too many penalties,” Rodgers said after the loss.

Fittingly, though, Rodgers had the last laugh.

Faced with a win-or-go-home scenario in Week 17, the Packers squeaked out a 10-3 decision against the Bears to reach the playoffs. Three weeks later, Green Bay beat Chicago in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on the way to claiming Super Bowl XLV.

“Of course, my real memory from that year was when Rodgers beat us in the NFC Championship Game later that year,” Manning said. “That hurts to this day.”

Nov. 4, 2013: Bears 27, Packers 20

The Shea game

Former Bears first-round pick Shea McClellin’s career in Chicago might have been underwhelming, but McClellin will always be remembered for delivering the hit that fractured Rodgers’ collarbone in 2013.

With Josh McCown starting at quarterback — Cutler was injured — the Bears were heavy underdogs, but everything changed when McClellin drove Rodgers into the ground on the game’s opening drive.

“It might have been a different story had Rodgers stayed in that game,” former Bears defensive end and current Big Ten Network analyst Corey Wootton said.

“When they tried to pass the ball after Rodgers went out, it wasn’t the same. I mean, I think Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. The guy has an unbelievable ability to extend plays. It just changed the whole dynamic of the night when [Green Bay backup quarterback] Seneca Wallace went in there. He can run, but he can’t throw the same as Aaron Rodgers. It completely changed the game plan, and they tried to run a little more. They were struggling to throw the ball once we got the lead.”

The vibe on Chicago’s sideline changed instantly when Rodgers left the field.

“Whenever Rodgers isn’t in there, you are a little relieved,” Wootton said. “You never want anyone to get hurt, but you’re like, ‘thank god,’ because he’s a beast. I definitely think guys were like, ‘OK, we can do this now.’”

Nov. 26, 2015: Bears 17, Packers 13

The Thanksgiving night monsoon

“My first memory of that game is that it was cold and wet,” Bears guard Kyle Long recalled.

Was it ever.

It poured all day leading up to kickoff, and the Bears were the ones that took advantage of the drenched conditions. Chicago’s defense flustered Rodgers as former Bears cornerback Tracy Porter had the game of his life with one interception and four pass breakups.

The Packers had a chance to win at the end, but Rodgers had passes go off the hands of James Jones and Davante Adams, preserving Chicago’s upset victory — the best win of the John Fox era.

Former Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston also delivered a shot to Rodgers’ elbow that caused him to lose feeling in three of his fingers. It was that kind of night for the Bears.

“I just remember driving up there and reading the scouting reports, and obviously you try not to, but you read what the media says — and nobody picked us to win,” Long said. “It was a really physical game, and that was probably one of the better feelings I’ve had walking out of a locker room in the NFL.

“It’s such an honor to play up at Lambeau, and it’s always an honor to play against the Packers because of the rivalry. There’s nothing better than coming out on top when you play the Packers.”

If only the Bears could experience it more often.

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