GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Bears’ defense Sunday night overcame Jay Cutler’s three first half interceptions, a stupid fourth quarter mistake by long snapper Patrick Mannelly, and the loss of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher due to a dislocated wrist.
What it couldn’t do in the end was exactly what it was supposed to do—stop the Green Bay Packers in the clutch.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hadn’t completed a pass longer than 14 yards all night, but burned the Bears for a 50-yard play-action touchdown bomb to wide receiver Greg Jennings with 1:11 left in the game for a 21-15 Green Bay victory.
"It was pretty simple on what happened tonight," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Any time you have four turnovers you’re normally not going to win a football game, especially against a good Packers team.
"The turnover ratio normally tells the story. We turned the ball over, they capitalized on it and on the other side of the ball we weren’t able to take the football away."
The fourth turnover was Cutler’s fourth interception, the most by a Bears quarterback since Brian Griese threw four at Detroit on Oct. 28, 2007. Cornerback Al Harris produced the pick with 1:06 remaining and the Bears trying to drive to the winning TD after Rodgers’ TD pass. Cutler threw off the left edge for wide receiver Johnny Knox but Harris cheated up and made the game-sealing pick.
"We’re still in a learning process," Cutler said about the offense. "We haven’t been together that long. We haven’t really been together that long in game situations but that is no excuse for what happened out there."
Cutler went 17-of-36 for 277 yards and found Devin Hester for a 36-yard third quarter TD that got the Bears within 10-9 after they had fallen behind 10-2 in the first half, when he threw interceptions to Nick Collins at the Packers’ 43, defensive end Johnny Jolly at the Packers’ 14, and Tramon Williams. Williams returned his 45 yards to the Bears’ one with 4:40 left in the first half and Ryan Grant scored a play later for a 10-2 Green Bay lead.
"Three turnovers," Cutler said. "It’s a tough hole. We can’t do that. We can’t put the defense in that position. We know that.
"It’s hard to win football games with three turnovers in the first half."
The defense, led by defensive end Adewale Ogunleye’s pass rush, not only kept the Bears close despite turnovers, but actually did the offense’s job and scored.
Safety Danieal Manning blitzed and wrapped up Rodgers (17-of-28, 184 yards) for a safety in the second quarter to get the Bears within 3-2 following Mason Crosby’s second quarter 52-yard field goal.
Then, Urlacher went out, but the Bears fought back with Hester’s score and took the lead 12-10 on Robbie Gould’s 47-yard field goal with 3:51 left in the third quarter. However, a special teams snafu let the Packers kick the go-ahead field goal, a Crosby 39-yarder with 10:10 left in the game. Mannelly snapped the ball to blocking back Garrett Wolfe on 4th-and-11 with the Bears back at their own 26. Wolfe gained only four yards.
Mannelly thought he had a free play when he snapped it.
"I thought they had 12 men on the field," Mannelly said. "Originally the count was 12 men. I didn't see the guy run off the field.
"We actually have a play in that if there is 12 men in it's pretty much a free play. It's a direct snap to Garrett and he just tries to get as many yards as he can. I didn't see the guy run off the field, unfortunately. I wish I would have, otherwise I wouldn't have done that. It's just a dumb play on my part not seeing that. Of course I'm going to be disappointed. I felt stupid."
The Bears came right back with a 14-play, 69-yard drive highlighted by Hester’s 24-yard catch-and-run with a short toss to the Packers’ 31. The Bears got to the three, but the drive stalled and Gould kicked the go-ahead 21-yard field goal with 2:38 remaining.
On the Packers’ winning TD pass, Rodgers’ play fake left Nate Vasher guarding Jennings by himself and no safety help because strong safety Al Afalava was near the line of scrimmage in run support.
"We were just playing the down and distance because it was third and short and I just lost my footing a little bit," Vasher said. "It's one of those things you can't do in the secondary. You'll definitely be caught.
"Regardless of whatever else happened in the game, we'll take that the hardest because we had an opportunity to win. We'll hopefully have a short memory about it and go back and get ready for next week."
The Bears also lost tight end Desmond Clark to a back bruise, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to a knee sprain, and reserve cornerback Trumaine McBride to a knee sprain. Urlacher’s injury could be a serious one. He'll have surgery sometime this week.
The Bears got by with Hunter Hillenmeyer in the middle after Urlacher left.
"It was tough," Ogunleye said. "But as you could see we responded really well. My hat goes off to Hunter. He couldn't play that position any better.
"The good thing about this team now is we have good depth. We have some guys banged up but we have good guys to come in."
With the world champions up next in Chicago Sunday, they’ll need the depth.