The Chicago Bears had a mountain to climb on Monday Night Football.
Per OddsShark.com, the Bears walked into Lambeau Field as 10-point underdogs. With starting quarterback Jay Cutler still on the sidelines, and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers riding a four-game win streak, it was going to take a minor miracle for the Bears to come out of Wisconsin with a win.
If the Bears didn't pull off the massive upset, they'd drop two games behind the Packers, one game behind the Detroit Lions and into the murky depths of the NFC wild-card race.
Instead, Bears head coach Marc Trestman put on a coaching clinic, and backup quarterback Josh McCown pitched the game of his life. Rodgers left in the first quarter with a still-unspecified shoulder injury at the time of this writing, and the balance of power in the NFC North shifted.
Now in a three-way tie at the top of the NFC North at 5-3, with Rodgers possibly out for multiple games and the Lions coming to town next Sunday, the NFC North just might be the Bears' division to lose.
Oh, did I mention that ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Cutler's going to be ready to start against the Lions?
Bears injured QB Jay Cutler plans to return this week and, barring no setback, start vs Lions on Sunday, per team source.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) November 5, 2013
The Battle of the Backups
Though it seemed the Bears would be hopelessly outgunned, Rodgers went down in the game's very first series. Taken down by Bears defensive end Shea McClellin, Rodgers quickly jogged to the locker room:
Without Rodgers, the Packers, of course, are much less dangerous. The Packers immediately drew first blood with a Mason Crosby field goal, but McCown and the Bears came roaring back.
After a 29-yard Devin Hester kickoff return, McCown led an eight-play, 71-yard drive in 2:36 that ended with this incredible 23-yard throw (and fantastic Brandon Marshall catch):
Eddie Lacy got off to a red-hot start in what would be a dominating performance for him. The Packers went to Lacy early and often on that first series, rolling all the way from their own 20-yard line to the Bears 35 with only one eight-yard pass by Wallace.
Lacy would finish the evening with 150 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, averaging a whopping 6.8 yards per carry. The Packers offensive line got great push against the Bears front seven, as injuries to key Bears defenders like defensive tackle Henry Melton and linebacker Lance Briggs have taken a painfully obvious toll.
Wallace's second pass attempt didn't go nearly as well, however; it was intercepted by Peppers.
Any thought that the Bears might mount a shocking blowout attempt was immediately erased. The Bears went three-and-out and the ensuing punt was blocked by Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore.
On the very next play, Packers tailback James Starks blew through the Bears defense for a 32-yard touchdown at the 3:38 mark of the quarter, and suddenly the Packers were back on top, 10-7:
The Bears mounted another touchdown drive on Matt Forte's score, and eventually closed out the first half with a Robbie Gould field goal. Despite Wallace looking shaky, that 17-10 halftime lead didn't feel safe.
Sure enough, it wasn't. With the Packers' first two offensive plays of the second half, Lacy ripped off a 56-yard run and one-yard touchdown plunge.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Packers uncorked a surprise onside kick...and it worked. With the free possession, the Packers got another field goal and took a 20-17 lead.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Forte stepped up. On a drive where Forte gained 28 all-purpose yards on three plays, McCown found receiver Alshon Jeffrey for a go-ahead touchdown strike. The Bears defensive line stepped up, too, ending consecutive Packers fourth-quarter drives with a batted pass by Peppers and another McClellin sack.
That's when head coach Marc Trestman took control of the game. With some absolutely brilliant play calls that had the Packers defense flailing and floundering, McCown, Forte and the Bears mounted a massive 18-play, 8:58 drive that went from the Bears 11-yard line to the Packers 9-yard line.
Trestman may well have won the game with the kind of bold fourth-down playcalling for which I've long advocated. Facing 4th-and-1 from his own 32-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Trestman trusted Matt Forte to get that yard—and Forte got three.
Most NFL head coaches are suicidally risk-averse. Even though any decent offensive line and tailback will get that yard far more often than not, most coaches would have punted the ball away there—and, with the ball, their chance of winning.
The Packers did eventually keep the Bears out of the end zone, but not until after far too much time had ticked away. Gould hit an easy field goal to put the Bears up 27-20 with 50 seconds remaining. With less than a minute and no timeouts, Wallace had no hope of driving the length of the field.
Back to the Future
With this massive upset win, the Bears not only are back in the NFC North race, they essentially control their own destiny. The Bears get Cutler back in time to host the Lions in Week 10, and the Bears have beaten Detroit in Solider Field every year since 2007.
If Cutler and the Bears can extend their home win streak over the Lions to six years, they'll take a one-game lead over the Lions—and, if Rodgers misses any significant time, the Lions are the only team the Bears will have to worry about.
After the Lions, the Bears face five teams who currently have a losing record: the Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. Only a Week 14 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys and a season-ending Packers rematch would stand between the Bears and the NFC North title.
Then again, if the Bears fall to the Lions in Week 10, the Lions would complete a season sweep of the Bears, effectively going two games up on Chicago. Further, if Rodgers doesn't miss any time, that Week 17 matchup won't be an exclamation point on a glorious debut season for Trestman—it'll be a desperate fight for their wild-card lives.
Just like at the beginning of the season, almost any outcome is still possible for the Bears. They could finish the season with just one or two losses, take home the NFC North crown and possibly secure a bye and home-field advantage...or, they could hover around .500 and miss the playoffs entirely.
Monday night's win over the Packers, though, revived the Bears' Super Bowl dreams, and put them back in control of making those dreams a reality.
Now, for Trestman, Cutler and the Bears defense, the real work begins.