THE MORNING AFTER: A defensive stand to end a narrative, jump start an era
GREEN BAY – There he sat in his personal house of horrors ready to feast away six years of frustration.
Funny thing is, Jay Cutler didn’t even take a bite.
Per a tradition that began years ago with former color commentator John Madden, NBC presented Cutler and cornerback Tracy Porter a turkey as reward for being named the players of the game on Thanksgiving. It came after a monumental 17-13 victory by the Bears over the Packers for just their second win at Lambeau Field in eight years.
But a reserved Cutler didn’t partake in the meal despite the fact that the victory was his first in five tries in Green Bay. The previous four trips were full of misery as Cutler threw just three touchdowns while finding Green Bay defenders for 12 interceptions.
He deserved to take a bite after playing his first game at Lambeau Field without a turnover and led the Bears to a comeback win by hitting 19-of-31 passes for 200 yards with a touchdown. Even after a sluggish start, Cutler was able to generate just enough offense in the middle of miserable weather to get the victory.
But as he conducted his interview in front of the food, the other Bears’ MVP of the game dug in. Unlike Cutler, Tracy picked up the turkey leg and feasted on the Thanksgiving delicacy presented to him.
Like the quarterback, he deserved it. If anything, the cornerback had as much to do if not more for this win that’s the biggest of the still infant John Fox era of Bears football.
For once, Aaron Rodgers didn’t break their hearts. The defense was the reason.
The scenario was set up for such a typical ending when Rodgers, hurting from an earlier hand injury, managed to get the Packers inside the Bears’ ten-yard line in nine plays in the final three minutes. A third-and-seven completion got a first down to the Bears’ eight as the familiar narrative was ready to transpire.
But then things changed.
On first down Shea McClellin, a once forgotten defensive lineman, came from his middle linebacker spot to pressure Rodgers and took a good enough angle to force the incompletion. On second down more Bears pressure to Rodgers’ right forced an arrant pass that flew out of the endzone.
On third down, here’s comes Willie Young.
The player many though might be shipped out of Chicago came once again with heavy pressure on Rodgers and nearly got the sack, yet the quarterback somehow got the ball out. But Porter was there, reaching in front of James Jones to knock the ball away on what usually is another brilliant escape for a score by the Green Bay quarterback.
4th down. It’s hero time for Rodgers right? Nope.
Heavy Bears pressure once again forces him out of the pocket. With a number of Bears in coverage and the heat coming, Rodgers throws it to Davante Adams but it’s a bit high. The ball sails out of the ends zone, the air goes out of the Packers fans, and the Bears have the win.
What did you see in four plays?
The culmination of the development of Vic Fangio’s defense meant to bring pressure. The continuing improvement of Young, who now has two sacks and an interception in his last three games. The strong presence of Porter in the Bears secondary has he came up with four pass deflections on the night and, if not for a bad call in the first quarter, would have had an interception too.
Most importantly, a script was flipped on the final play. The constant Rodgers comeback narrative has been shut down for the moment. At 5-6 the Bears are by no means a team assured of a postseason spot but at the very least there are signs that a new regime is establishing foundations of good.
At least it made a Thanksgiving meal more satisfying in 2015.