Hoge: ‘Great opportunity’ for Bears to reverse trend vs Packers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Justin Fields knows a thing or two about big rivalries.
And he knows what it feels like to dominate a rivalry, leading Ohio State to a 56-27 win over Michigan two years ago before last year’s matchup was canceled due to COVID-19.
But this is the Bears-Packers rivalry now, and Fields didn’t even smirk when this reporter pointed out the Bears are the Michigan of the rivalry, having won just three of the last 22 meetings against Green Bay.
“Probably beating them,” Fields said when asked what he enjoyed most about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. “Just putting in all that work throughout the offseason and just working towards that game, from workouts to doing extra stuff just to prepare for that game, and then actually like playing the game and winning was the best part.”
Fields’ presence in the Bears-Packers rivalry feels like a big moment, considering the plan is for him to be a part of it for as long as Aaron Rodgers has. Rodgers has faced 11 different Bears quarterbacks since he took over as the Packers’ starter in 2008, a dubious trend that ideally will be ending in what could be Rodgers’ last season in Green Bay.
But talk of Fields stealing the quarterback torch from Rodgers in this rivalry is exactly that — just talk — unless the Bears can actually end their four-game slide against Green Bay.
And as far important games go, this is a big one.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. “The fact that we have the three phases playing together the last couple of weeks – there is a natural confidence that you have.”
The Bears (3-2) are feeling pretty good about themselves this week, and Nagy is correct that all three phases are trending in the right direction after to back-to-back wins over the Lions and Raiders. The Packers (4-1), meanwhile, feel fortunate to still have a one-game lead in the NFC North after kicker Mason Crosby missed three field goals before finally making a game-winner in Cincinnati Sunday.
With a win, the Bears would be tied atop the NFC North with the Packers, but it feels like a victory would be worth even more. It would be validation that the positive swing of the last two weeks — especially on offense — is real. It would be a proclamation that the Bears are true contenders in the division. And it would be an enormous win for Nagy, who is just 1-5 against the Packers in his head coaching career.
“We have a plan and how we want to do it but now we have to have great practices and then it’s about preparation and, ultimately on Sunday, you have to do it, but we are excited to do it at home and I think the fans are going to be a huge part of it,” Nagy said.
On the other hand, a loss would halt whatever momentum the Bears have built in the last two weeks and drop them two games behind the Packers with a trip to Tampa to face Tom Brady looming. Yes, it’s only Week 6, but this is a pretty important football game, not that Fields is showing any signs of feeling the pressure.
"I haven’t noticed an ounce of change in him in the last couple of days,” Nagy said. “I don’t ever think that is going to change. That’s a huge strength of his. When you have a game or a loss like we had versus Cleveland, or you have a win like we just had against the Raiders, you can’t tell a difference. That’s a pretty good deal there.”
Rodgers has never lost to a rookie quarterback in an NFC North game, and that includes a 23-16 win at Soldier Field against Mitchell Trubisky in 2017. In general, he rarely loses to the Bears, owning a 20-5 record with 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions against Chicago in his career.
So, again, if there was ever a time to change the trend in this rivalry, now seems like a pretty good time to start. Especially with Fields making his first start against Green Bay.
“We all understand the rivalry of this division game. We all get it. We understand it. We know it,” Nagy said. “At that position, for him to be as young as he is, I think the experiences he’s been through helps him. The confidence he has in himself and his teammates helps him. And he’s young. It’s only going to get better.”
Expecting Fields’ success in one game against Michigan to translate into a win over Aaron Rodgers feels like an enormous stretch when you put it that way. But in the big picture of the rivalry, Fields might just be the guy capable of swinging the series back towards Chicago.
If that’s the case, it needs to start Sunday. Because until the Bears beat the Packers, they’re just Michigan. And the Packers are Ohio State.