Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings jukes through the Chicago Bears defense of Brian Urlacher, left, Danieal Manning (38) Chris Harris (46) and Tim Jennings (26) during the first quarter of the game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., on Jan. 2, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette
Brian Urlacher couldn’t have been more clear five days before the regular-season finale when he said that he and his Chicago Bears would love to knock the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.
“Nothing better than that right now,” the Bears linebackers said at the time. “If we could do that, that’d be great.”
By now, everyone knows that didn’t happen.
Bears coach Lovie Smith played his starters the entire game even though they had already wrapped up the NFC North title and couldn’t improve their playoff seed. The Packers won that Jan. 2 meeting, beating the Bears 10-3 at Lambeau Field, to clinch their wild-card playoff spot. Two postseason wins later, and the Packers head into Sunday’s NFC championship game against the Bears at Soldier Field as not only favorites in that game, but the odds-makers’ pick to win the Super Bowl.
Perhaps Urlacher knew that the Bears would be on a collision course with the Packers and though admitting fear goes against every fiber of an NFL player’s being, maybe, just maybe the Bears were afraid the Packers would end up as the biggest threat to their Super Bowl aspirations.
“That’s between them and their coach,” Packers left guard Daryn Colledge said. “The situation was we went into that game knowing we needed to win to get into the playoffs and have the opportunity we have now, and we’re going in with that same mindset. We need to knock them out.”
Yet, according to the mild-mannered Bears coach, eliminating the Packers from the postseason had little to do with it.
“I’ve been asked that question a few times on whether we were trying to knock Green Bay out,” Smith said Wednesday. “We’re not trying to knock anyone out. We’re just trying to win a football game as much as anything. Yeah, they’re our rival. We want to beat Green Bay every time we get a chance to play them, but as far as that day, we were trying to get better as a team. We knew we had a week off. We wanted to get some work in, and I felt like that’s probably why our guys went up there and competed without a lot on the line.”
So who’s to be believed, Urlacher or Smith?
At least one player on the Packers’ side questioned whether the Bears really did go all out in the season finale. To injured running back Ryan Grant, from his perspective on the sideline, something seemed amiss that afternoon.
“Honestly, it didn’t look like necessarily that they might have been giving it their all,” Grant said. “But who knows? This is a different atmosphere. They’re going to want this game.”
Whether or not the motivation was to do away with the Packers once and for all this season, it didn’t work.
Grant said a third meeting between the two teams isn’t an ideal situation. He recalled that during the 2007 season, when the Packers went 13-3, some players were hoping that they wouldn’t have to play Minnesota again in the postseason after sweeping them during the regular season. But the Vikings lost their last two games of the season to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
That the teams split the regular-season series this year, with the Bears and Packers each winning at home, makes little difference, according to Grant.
“Regardless, you never want to play a team three times,” Grant said. “You just don’t want to do that. In ’07, the Giants and Dallas, the Giants got beat twice (in the regular season) and that third time they went to Dallas and romped. You don’t want to play a team three times, not necessarily saying it always plays out that way.”