The Bears don't always just roll over against the Packers, it only feels that way. Jay Cutler was sacked seven times and intercepted four times in the Week 2 loss at Lambeau Field that ultimately served to foreshadow how this regular season would play out, but it was a long fake field goal for a touchdown by Green Bay that really did the Bears in. Even in the NFC Championship two seasons back, the one that still leaves real emotional scars, the Bears nearly completed a second half comeback with the now immortal Caleb Hanie at quarterback. After again fighting and again falling to the Packers in a hyper-critical Week 15 matchup at Soldier Field on Sunday, Green Bay has now won six straight against the Bears and eight of the last nine. It's true, the results might hint that this is a rivalry in name only. I'm not so sure.
Rivalries are inherently about the fans and stakes that are often more personal than tangible. Yes, the stakes were too real this time around; a home loss to Green Bay now means Chicago no longer controls its own playoff destiny after a 7-1 start. But even beyond that, only a game vs. the Packers leads to this much nervous pacing, this many pleas for help directed at the TV, this many near remote slams . Packers Week has its own distinguishable level when it comes to sports-induced anxiety attacks. The world is far from caving in when the Bears are getting worked by the Packers, but forgive Chicago for making such outlandish claims in the moment. Even when the Bears compete, as they valiantly did again on Sunday, this is still very hard to watch.
We can make excuses. Only Titans receiver Kenny Britt has drawn three offensive pass interference calls in 2012, Bears rookie Alshon Jeffery drew three questionable ones on Sunday that proved too much to overcome. You can wonder if the Green Bay passing game would have found so much success if Tim Jennings was healthy. You can wonder how things would have played out if Devin Hester and Cutler were ever on the same page.
But that's the thing: Green Bay doesn't make it excuses, and it's the difference between the Bears and the Packers. Rodgers has been sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL -- the Packers' offensive line is every bit as horrible as Chicago's. Green Bay has sustained even more injuries than the Bears, missing Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson on Sunday and going without stars Greg Jennings and Clay Matthews for long periods this season. Rodgers has turned mid-round draft picks like Randall Cobb and James Jones into stars. Rodgers eats third-and-longs for breakfast, the Bears go 0-for-9. In Chicago, it's the same refrain: if the Bears had better receivers, if the Bears had a better offensive line, if the Bears had better play calling, if the Bears could only stay healthy....
There's merit to some of it, but there's also something to be said for the Packers' ability to overcome. Much of it comes straight from Rodgers, who's simply on another level. This town has lionized Cutler after a century's worth of poor quarterback play, but truth be told Cutler simply isn't that good. He's good, sure, but he's not Rodgers and never will be. The Bears got an up-close view of what a true franchise quarterback looks like on Sunday, and he ran circles around a proud defense and had his way with whatever coverage the Bears threw at him. Rodgers had two or three 'holy shit' moments, eluding a fierce Chicago pass rush with that vaunted mobility of his and making picture-perfect throws into tight spaces to get Green Bay the yards they needed. I love Cutler, but let's never get carried away with the praise. There is a tier above him and the Packers employ one of the guys who exists in it.
Following the loss, Brandon Marshall took the podium for an emotional rant that might ultimately be the most indelible image of the season. Just like everyone else in Chicago, Marshall believed the Bears were a Super Bowl contender after a 7-1 start. Now that the Bears have lost five of their last six, Marshall didn't sound much different from the people who call into sports radio following a bad loss:
"Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs," said Brandon Marshall, who struggled to compose himself as he spoke before cutting short his post-game interview. "It's been this way all year. There's no excuse. We still have two games left. There's still hope, but at the same time, we need to be held accountable."
Marshall -- who gave the Bears their lone offensive highlight when he stiff-armed a Packers defender to the ground to hand Chicago an early 7-0 lead -- deserves all the praise in the world for his performance and composure this season. As ESPN's Jon Greenberg noted, he's just the latest in a long line of purported saviors who has failed to turn around Chicago's consistently dreadful offense. Some things just aren't fixable.
The Bears have two games left and still have a real shot at the postseason, though they'll now need some help. A win over Arizona should be manageable enough, and a trip to lovely Detroit to close out the regular season is also winnable. Will it matter? Of course not. These are dead Bears walking, even if they do somehow find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Their problems are too real and there's no combative plan in place to overcome them. Instead, maybe it's time to root for losses. Lovie Smith has had a great stay as the head coach of the Bears, but it might be time for a schematic shift and a different voice in the locker room. His Bears are consistently what they were on Sunday: competitive, but ultimately flawed. In a Super Bowl starved city, that isn't quite good enough.