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Bears' D needs to play like it did in season opener
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/11/2009 12:00 AM

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If the defense can duplicate its performance from the first meeting with the Packers, the Bears could spoil the playoff push of their neighbors to the north Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears allowed the Packers just 226 total yards in the season opener on Sept. 7, at Lambeau Field, and no opponent since then has come close to shutting down the Green Bay attack as well.

Even more impressive, the Bears had held the Packers to just 156 yards of offense with 2:35 left in the game, and they led 15-13. But 84 seconds later, Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings got behind free safety Kevin Payne, and Aaron Rodgers found him for a 50-yard TD, which proved to be the game winner.

"We played a good football game all the way around, but we didn't finish," coach Lovie Smith said. "For three-plus quarters we did everything well. I feel like we shut down the run and didn't give up any big pass plays until that last one."

Jennings' 50-yard TD is the longest pass play against the Bears all season, and it was the Packers' only play that picked up 20 yards or more in that game. Rodgers, who was sacked four times, had only 184 passing yards, his lowest total of the season and 99 yards less than his average. Green Bay rushed for just 76 yards and averaged only 3.5 yards per try.

"The guys played hard with energy," Smith said. "All the things you want to do going into the game we were able to do - except finish. That's what we need to do this time."

After that game, the Bears were No. 5 in the league in total yards allowed, but now they're 15th. They were No. 10 in rushing yards allowed, now they're 25th. They were tied for third after sacking Rodgers four times, but now they're 20th and have had just one game with that many sacks in the previous 11 games. They were tied for No. 8 in third-down efficiency but have plummeted to No. 29.

"We played great defense that first game," said Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. "It just came down to that last big play. We're always going to play the Packers tough. They are definitely on a roll right now. The offense is kicking. They have the best defense in the league. As a team they are playing better, but when it comes to the Packers, man, throw all that out the window."

What did the Bears do better in that first game than they've done in any game since?

"It was a lot of the things we've been struggling to do all year," said middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. "We were great on third downs (the Packers converted only 2 of 14), stopped the big plays and had some pretty sure tackling.

"Obviously we did some good things, but I think in some ways that almost gives them an advantage because they'll know what to adjust, but we don't really know how they're going to attack us this time. They'll certainly try to do some things differently than they did last time."

By halftime of that first game, the Bears had lost four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher for the season, and Pisa Tinoisamoa, the starting strong-side linebacker, missed all but the first two plays and played in only one other game before he suffered another knee injury, this one a season-ender.

Urlacher and Tinoisamoa couldn't finish the first Packers game. Neither could their healthy teammates, but they'll get another chance at that Sunday.