Packers Preparing For Bears' Best

The fact that the Bears have been eliminated from the NFC playoff picture doesn’t change the way the Packers will prepare for them. They’re still a bitter rival, still possess a talented defense, and there’s still too much at stake. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Bears Game Center Notebook: Kuhn Ready As Lead FB Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 19


The fact that the Chicago Bears have been eliminated from the NFC playoff picture doesn't change the way the Packers will prepare for them this week.

They're still a bitter rival, still possess a talented defense, and unlike Chicago's situation late last season, there's still too much at stake for Green Bay.

Some parallels can be drawn between this Sunday's game at Soldier Field and last year's on New Year's Eve. By the time the Packers took the field that night, they had been eliminated from playoff contention and were playing to go out on a good note, like the Bears (5-9) are now.

But last year Chicago had clinched the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, whereas this year the Packers still have that top seed in their sights. And for a young team that's not playoff-tested like the 2006 Bears were, having qualified for the postseason the year before, the 2007 Packers need to do everything they can to keep their momentum going as the regular-season concludes.

"You want to be able to steamroll into the playoffs, not tip-toe," center Scott Wells said. "It's very important to wrap up these next two games and carry that into the playoffs. You don't want to be looking for answers why you lost two games while you're trying to get ready for the playoffs."

Rest assured the Bears would love to raise some questions about their arch-rival's playoff readiness. And even though they lost this past Monday night in Minnesota, the Bears looked like their defense was getting back to its dangerous ways of the past few seasons.

They held Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson, who had shredded them for 224 yards on 20 carries two months ago, to just 44 yards on his first 17 carries before he broke free for two key runs late in the 20-13 contest. The Bears also had four turnovers and two sacks.

"On Monday night, they played with a different swagger," receiver Greg Jennings said. "Their defense was struggling earlier in the year, and now after watching them Monday night it looked like they were back to the same old Bears defense."

The return of cornerback Nathan Vasher from a nearly three-month injury absence helped, but at the heart of it was middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Having a down year by his perennial Pro Bowl standards, in part due to a lingering back injury, Urlacher was simply dominant at times against the Vikings.

He intercepted a deflected pass, recovered a fumble, posted both of the defense's sacks on blitzes up the middle, and was generally in the thick of everything.

"I watched that game the other night on TV and Urlacher made every play," quarterback Brett Favre said. "You can't blink one second because he'll make a play on you. He's very instinctive."

The Bears also appeared to turn him loose a little bit. Wells said that oftentimes Urlacher is brought up to the middle of the line of scrimmage to bluff a blitz, trying to get the center to change his protection call, and then he'll sprint back at the snap to cover the deep middle of the field in Chicago's Cover-2 scheme.

But he fooled the Vikings, actually blitzing and getting two lightning-quick sacks of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

"If the center sets on him, then they'll drop him out, trying to draw the center off a down lineman," Wells said. "This game, (the Vikings) didn't account for him, and he was coming free.

"Everybody has said he hasn't had a good year, but he's still an outstanding linebacker. He's very fast, instinctive. He can cover the pass and still play the run. He's definitely one of the tools they have on defense."

Urlacher didn't make the NFC Pro Bowl squad for only the second time in his eight seasons, a bit of news that left Favre "a little shocked" on Wednesday, but he still made a huge impact in the Bears' victory over the Packers on Oct. 7.

{sportsad300}In that game, Urlacher intercepted an ill-advised Favre pass that in essence turned the game around in the third quarter. The turnover set up a Chicago touchdown that became the first of 17 unanswered points in a come-from-behind 27-20 Bears victory.

That came after two earlier fumbles by the Packers sapped the juice from a strong start that should have produced more than a 10-point lead.

The Bears continue to have injury problems on defense, and their overall health this week is uncertain with defensive end Mark Anderson (knee), linebacker Lance Briggs (hip), defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) and Vasher (groin) all sitting out Wednesday's practice, though it was just a day-and-a-half after playing a game.

Still, the Packers know they can't play into the Bears' hands.

"We can't turn the ball over against their defense because they have a great defense," Jennings said. "We know they're going to force turnovers. They go as their defense goes, and if we give their offense a short field, that's going to put them in excitement mode, and who knows what can happen. We just have to make sure we go out there and execute."

There's plenty of incentive to. Stay alive for the No. 1 seed, beat a rival, keep the momentum going, and maybe get a little revenge, too.

"It's definitely one we remember, especially losing at home," said Wells, who also remembers the loss because he was poked in the eye and had to leave the game. "We felt like we let one slip away from us. We didn't finish. We came out guns a-blazing, and then gave the ball up too many times and didn't finish the game."

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