No joke: Akiem Hicks, Bears’ defense look to end Packers’ success at Soldier Field
GREEN BAY — Whatever Aaron Rodgers did to irritate Akiem Hicks — mentioning the Green Bay Packers’ string of victories at Soldier Field, going an NFL-record 368 passes without an interception, or shooting that headphone commercial in which Chicago Bears fans disappear — it sounds like the Bears’ loquacious defensive tackle would like to take his frustrations out on the Packers quarterback on Sunday.
When, in the wake of his team’s 24-17 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 25, Rodgers rattled off the Packers’ remaining schedule — an easier-said-than-done list of games he deemed must-win at the time, even smirking by answer’s end — Rodgers apparently annoyed Hicks by mentioning Chicago is “a place we’ve won a number of times.” It’s worth noting the Packers promptly lost the first game on that to-do list, to Arizona on Dec. 2, resulting in coach Mike McCarthy being terminated.
Appearing early in the week on Chicago sports radio station 670 The Score, Hicks said: “Nobody forgot Aaron’s little comments after they lost that big game (to the Vikings) where he said, ‘All we got to do is win out, and go to Soldier Field and win like we’ve done a bunch in the past.’ I’m real excited for Aaron to come down here and play this game.”
For the record, the Packers have won eight straight meetings with the Bears at Soldier Field, dating to their victory in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. And Rodgers is 17-4 as a starter in his career against the Bears, a ledger that includes a 2013 loss at Lambeau Field in which he fractured his left collarbone. Rodgers missed the next seven games, then returned for the regular-season finale and beat the Bears at Soldier Field — on a 48-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with less than a minute to play — to win the NFC North.
The Packers last lost in Chicago on Sept. 27, 2010, a 20-17 setback on Monday Night Football. They lost back-to-back bitterly cold games in 2007 (35-7, when Rodgers was backing up Brett Favre) and 2008 (20-17 in Rodgers’ first year as a starter), with kickoff wind chills of minus-18 in 2007 and minus-13 in 2008.
“Yeah, we’ve won eight in a row. I’m not talking trash to their squad or Akiem or anything — that’s just the facts,” said Rodgers, who has thrown 45 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions against the Bears for a passer rating of 105.9 — the best of any quarterback with 200 or more passes against Chicago. “Great place to play. They have a fantastic fan base, they know when to cheer, they’re loud, they’re involved in the game. Their field has always been kind of a wild card. The length of the grass over the years has been interesting.
“We’ve had some great games over the years there, some fun ones, some memorable ones (and some) you’d like to forget, like ’07 in the cold there and ’08 in the cold in that night game. But we’ve had some big memories there, also.”
Maybe Hicks was annoyed by the Bose commercial which depicts Rodgers at Soldier Field going through pregame warmups wearing his noise-canceling headphones, which make everyone disappear except a young Packers fan seeking an autograph. Rodgers said the ad, which runs during many NFL games, was filmed at the Los Angeles Chargers’ temporary home stadium (the StubHub Center) and required the Bears’ OK.
“(The Bears) agreed to that, they really did. Chicago had to sign off on that,” Rodgers said with a smile. “I didn’t pick Chicago. Not saying I wouldn’t have, but I didn’t pick that.”
All kidding aside, the Packers are well aware of how dominant the Bears have been this season defensively, and if they didn’t all they’d have to do is look at the weekly printout of NFL stats that the league distributes. Both Rodgers and Packers interim coach Joe Philbin remarked that the Bears are in the top 10 of virtually every category imaginable.
“They’re talented. They’ve got good players at every level of the defense,” Philbin said. “It will be a great challenge for us. The NFL, they put out those comparables and they rank, what, 15 stats? And you can look at it in a straight vertical line and you look at their defense and it’s a bunch of a single digits all the way down. So yeah, it’s going to be a good ballgame.”
That Bears’ defense, in turn, would love to get a pick against Rodgers, who broke Tom Brady’s NFL record last week for most consecutive passes without an interception. The Bears lead the NFL in takeaways (34) and interceptions (25), led by cornerback Kyle Fuller, who is tied for the NFL lead with seven. The Packers signed Fuller to a four-year, $56 million offer sheet that the Bears quickly decided to match.
“The No. 1 thing we have to do is try to break that,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Rodgers’ streak. “It’ll be a big-time challenge for us. But I think our guys will be up for it.”
Fuller had an interception in his hands against Rodgers in the Packers’ 24-23 come-from-behind win over the Bears in the season opener — a game Chicago led 20-0 before Rodgers came back from a left knee injury to ignite the rally — but Fuller dropped it. He’s never picked Rodgers off during his career.
“It definitely feels good to get one off of Aaron Rodgers,” Fuller said. “So (I’m) just looking forward to the game, that challenge facing him.”