CHICAGO (CBS/AP) – The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have met 181 times in the NFL’s longest standing rivalry dating back to 1921.
Only once have they played with this much at stake.
Chicago hosts Green Bay in the NFC championship game Sunday in the teams’ first playoff meeting since Dec. 14, 1941.
The Bears’ 33-14 victory over the Packers at that time put them in the NFL title game, and a win Sunday will accomplish a similar feat. While there’s sure to be mention of the rivalry between franchises with a combined 48 Hall of Fame players, the history between Chicago and Green Bay takes a back seat to a Super Bowl berth being on the line.
“You just look at our history and it does have a respectful tone, but it can be nasty also,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s going to be a physical game. We don’t like each other.
“Believe me, there is not a whole lot of love for us coming (from the Packers).”
The Bears (12-5) won the first meeting this season Sept. 27, taking advantage of the Packers’ team-record 18 penalties for a 20-17 victory at Soldier Field. Chicago had a chance to knock Green Bay out of the playoff picture in the final week of the season, but the Packers held on for a 10-3 home victory to earn the NFC’s sixth seed.
Aaron Rodgers now has Green Bay (12-6) one win from joining the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers as the only No. 6 seeds to play in the Super Bowl. After throwing for three touchdowns in a 21-16 victory at Philadelphia in the wild-card round, Rodgers went 31 of 36 for 366 yards and three TDs last Saturday in a 48-21 win at top-seeded Atlanta.
Rodgers, who called last week’s performance possibly the best of his career, has a 125.0 passer rating over his last nine games with 22 TDs and two interceptions.
“Aaron is playing as well as anybody has played that position and he’s doing an excellent job spreading the ball around and getting it down the field,” Packers center Scott Wells said.
Rodgers has won four of six career starts against the Bears, completing 68.6 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns and four picks. His 89.7 passer rating against them in the season finale is his worst of the past four weeks, but his TD pass with 12:42 to play was the difference.
Jay Cutler threw for 221 yards and a touchdown in the loss, but he was sacked six times and his second interception ended the Bears’ comeback attempt. Cutler responded in last week’s 35-24 win over Seattle, throwing for 274 yards and two touchdowns – including a 58-yarder to Greg Olsen on his first career pass attempt in the playoffs.
Cutler also ran for two TDs, joining the legendary Otto Graham as the only two quarterbacks to throw and run for two touchdowns in a postseason game. Coming off a 2009 season in which he threw 26 interceptions and had a career-worst 76.8 quarterback rating, Cutler cut his picks to 16 and led the Bears to their first playoff victory since 2006.
However, Cutler is only 1-4 against the Packers with nine interceptions and five touchdowns.
“We feel real good about where he is,” Smith said. “He’s come a long way. … I really like the decisions he’s making.”
One of Cutler’s biggest concerns will be avoiding mistakes, and Packers cornerback Tramon Williams has been forcing plenty of them. Often overshadowed by All-Pro corner Charles Woodson, Williams intercepted Michael Vick in the end zone to seal Green Bay’s win over the Eagles, then had two more picks against the Falcons and ran back the second one for a touchdown at the end of the first half.
“When these playoffs and the Super Bowl are completed, everybody in the country is going to know who Tramon Williams is,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s the type of level that he’s playing at.”
Though Chicago’s defense often receives more notoriety with perennial Pro Bowlers like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, the Packers maintain they’re just as good – if not better. Green Bay gave up 15.0 points per game during the regular season to rank second in the NFL, while Chicago ranked fourth with an average of 17.9.
“They’ve had some guys there for a while that have really been producing, playing well,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said of the Bears. “So if they’re getting more national attention, whatever, that’s fine. That’s OK with us. They can have it. We’ll be fine with the guys we have here.”
After allowing Atlanta’s Eric Weems to score on a 102-yard kickoff return last week, McCarthy hopes to slow Bears return specialist Devin Hester, who ran back a punt for a touchdown in Chicago’s win over the Packers in September. McCarthy said Hester was the Bears’ best player before the teams met in the season finale.
“Natural ability,” Williams said about what makes Hester so dynamic. “From watching film, everything he does is great. He has the vision and the ability, everything. … Coach said he’s the best ever, so I feel the same way.”
Though the Packers have won each playoff game on the road, they have lost three of their last four trips to Chicago. Each of the past five meetings overall have been decided by seven points or less.
The Bears lead the all-time series 92-83-6.
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