The Packers and Bears will engage on Sunday in one of the most flavorful games in the long and glorious history of this rivalry. It's as close as you can get to a conference title game rematch in just Week 3 of the regular season.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is the headliner, the result of a knee injury he sustained in last January's NFC title-game clash between the two teams. In most cases, a knee injury doesn't attract as much attention as Cutler's did, but the combination of his sideline body language and the Bears' decision to declare his return to the game as "questionable" struck a nerve, especially among Cutler's peers.
Criticism was heaped on Cutler by other players in the league, for allowing a "questionable" knee injury to bench him in a game that would send the winner to the Super Bowl. The player for whom the Bears traded much of their future to acquire instantly became a lightning rod for dissent and discontent.
In a conference call with Packers media this week, Cutler said it took a "couple of months" for his knee injury to heal, but has the wound of that day healed for Cutler, the Bears and their fans?
If that's a question that can't be answered, then here's one that can: What will make the hurt go away?
That's easy: a win over the Packers on Sunday.
The Packers, no doubt, know they are heading into a hostile environment to face a fierce rival that will never be more focused on victory than it will be on Sunday. The Packers are the team that caused this problem. The Packers are the team that kept the Bears out of the Super Bowl, and it all happened on the Soldier Field turf on which the two teams will tread this Sunday.
Pull your chinstraps tight for this one, folks. This one will be more than a game. This one will be a grudge match.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Bears.
1. Take the game to Cutler—The national TV camera will be sharply focused on him and he knows it. The pressure on him will be intense and any pressure the Packers can add will make Cutler's job tougher.
2. Stop the run early—Mike Martz has gotten heat this week for abandoning the run against the Saints. He'll try to energize fans and ease Cutler into the flow of the game by controlling the tempo early with the running game.
3. Make them score—Trading score for score isn't the Bears' game. A high-scoring game would clearly favor the Packers.
4. Kick it out of bounds—That means out of the back of the end zone on kickoffs and into the first row of seats on punts, anything to keep the ball out of Devin Hester's hands.
5. Blitz—The Saints ate the Bears alive with the blitz. "Right now, we're getting a lot of blitzes and a lot of pressure and guys are getting to us," said Cutler, who has been sacked 11 times.
6. Block Peppers—He can be a game-changer. He's a threat to quarterbacks and he represents one of the most daunting challenges Chad Clifton will face this season.
7. Focus on Forte—He's their star on offense. He's their leading rusher and receiver. Stop him and you stop the Bears.
8. Pass for 300, rush for 100—The 300/100 formula is what works for the Packers. It's the balance they need to keep defenses from concentrating on Aaron Rodgers.
9. Feel it—This is fall, this is football, this is the NFC North.
10. Avoid turnovers—I usually don't use this one because it should go without saying, but it has to be said for this game because if I was doing this column for bears.com, my No. 1 thing would be "Take the ball away." Additional coverage - Sept. 22