Friday, June 2 2023

CHICAGO — The score is 20-19 on a cold winter afternoon in Chicago in favor of the visiting Green Bay Packers. It’s the first lead the Packers have held all game, and they have the ball back after cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepted Justin Fields in his attempt to lead a four-minute offense to victory. The Packers are just past midfield at the Chicago 46.

“Hey, if this comes out of the gate, do you want him to score or not?” quarterback Aaron Rodgers says to head coach Matt LaFleur on the sideline.

LaFleur looked back at Rodgers a little bewildered before saying, “Go down and score.”

Rodgers half-listened.

The ensuing play was a fake to running back AJ Dillon before actually handing the ball to wide receiver Christian Watson sweeping the opposite direction in the backfield. Forty-six yards later, Watson was Superman-diving into the end zone.

Christian Watson carries Packers to win over Bears

Christian Watson had 94 total yards and two touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 28-19 win over the Bears.

“He said don’t worry about it after,” Rodgers said of LaFleur’s reaction.

LaFleur then placed his trust again in his offense, which had just barely eclipsed the 300-total-yard mark before that play, calling for two to put the game away. Green Bay converted on a lofty pass to Rodgers’ old friend, tight end Marcedes Lewis, and Rodgers turned to the crowd and gave the booing masses a salute.

It was met with “a lot of middle fingers.”

“You never know when it’s going to be your last time playing at a place,” Rodgers explained after Green Bay’s 28-19 win, improving the Packers’ record to 5-8. “I’ve had a lot of great moments in this place. As much as the fans don’t really like me, I do have respect for the city of Chicago, and they’re great sports fans here and this stadium. It’s been a lot of fun over the years to go to battle, win or lose.”

The Packers have been on the winning side a lot more than the losing one in Rodgers’ tenure. The infamous game last season, when he exclaimed to another sold-out Soldier Field crowd, “I own you!” is, well, justified. Sunday marked the eighth straight game that the Packers have won over the Bears — all with Rodgers at the helm.

“The win against the Bears is always special,” he said after the game. “There were other things involved like the all-time win total. Another fourth-quarter comeback … definitely didn’t want to come walking in here and lose to the Bears. It’s been a good eight straight for us.”

The Packers now sit on the winning side of the all-time series. The Bears were up 89-80-6 by the 175th matchup between the two teams in 2007. Rodgers started the 176th game, and Green Bay won. He has gone on to amass a 23-5 record against the Bears in the regular season. He’s 1-0 against them in the playoffs, winning the NFC Championship after the 2010 season right here at Soldier Field.

With Sunday’s win, the Packers now have 787 victories as a franchise, which is the most in NFL history — and one more than the Bears. 

And even with that much success, Rodgers wants to pay his respects each time. He was fighting through multiple injuries on Sunday, including a broken thumb on his throwing hand and a rib injury sustained last week. No one would have faulted him for sitting this one out. But Rodgers’ annual payment to the city of Chicago was due.

“It means a lot,” Rodgers said of being the one to ultimately turn the tables for the two franchises. “That’s part of the legacy. You always want to leave the place you’re at better than you found it. Right now, we’ve flipped the all-time series and we’ve flipped the all-time wins. I’ve had a lot of success against them so I think in a few years you look back and you feel pretty good about your contributions to the rivalry.”

It wasn’t an easy go of it, either. The Bears led the Packers until there were just under five minutes to play in the game. The Packers scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, yet another Rodgers comeback to put in the record books.

The series that started the Packers’ turnaround started at the very end of the third quarter, with Green Bay down 19-10.

“The urgency goes up,” said Rodgers. “I think the most important play of the game was probably me just settling in the progression and throwing the ball on the left sideline to [Watson] on third-and-seven, down 19-10. Right before the fourth quarter that kind of settled things down. Then we put together a nice drive, got a touchdown, got a stop and then put together a field goal, then obviously an interception.”

That initial four-play, 82-yard drive that was capped off with a 21-yard Dillon touchdown run following two costly penalties by the Bears and got the Packers within two points. The defense then came up with a stop on the ensuing drive, in which defensive tackle Dean Lowry blocked a 40-yard field goal try by Cairo Santos. Packers kicker Mason Crosby then got the field goal to give Green Bay that aforementioned one-point lead, before Watson broke it wide open with the two-point cherry on top.

There was a cloud of mystery surrounding Rodgers’ postgame comments that alluded to this potentially being the last time he plays at Soldier Field and in front of this crowd. But for now, the likely 12-page mortgage agreement still reads “Aaron Rodgers” on the dotted line.

“It’s been a special rivalry that I’ve been able to be a part of,” said Rodgers. “There were probably a lot of people that felt good at 19-10 … so did I.”

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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Source: FOX Sports


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