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This was a game that the Packers had to have — and they got it

GREEN BAY WI - SEPTEMBER 13: Clay Matthews #52 Jerel Worthy #99 Green Bay Packers celebrate after sack during first

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 13: Clay Matthews #52 and Jerel Worthy #99 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after a sack during first half play against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 13, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Updated: October 15, 2012 9:56AM

GREEN BAY, Wis. — This wasn’t just a big game for the Packers because the Bears were in town sporting their phantom big-boy offense or because they were 0-1.

It was how they lost last week to the 49ers that made this game more important than a typical Week 2 date with a division rival.

It’s one thing to fall to 0-1. It’s quite another to be mugged, stripped naked and left in the street, which is what San Francisco did to the Packers in Week 1 — at Lambeau Field, no less. That’s why how the Packers responded in Week 2 was as crucial as the possibility of falling two games behind the Bears in the standings or dropping consecutive home games to start the season.

The Packers were looking for a confidence boost — a springboard to their season — and that’s just what the Bears provided.

“We’re not who everybody claims we are,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “They’re a good offense. They have good weapons. It was a big game for us and we wanted to come out and prove we’re a good team.”

The Packers needed to establish an identity on defense, which they did by throttling the Bears new-and-supposedly-improved offense in a dominating 23-10 win on Thursday night. This was about proving they can run the ball as well as throw it. This was about showing the world that they have more than just Aaron Rodger’s right arm.

Their mission was accomplished with relative ease on a night when a much-maligned defense sacked Jay Culter seven times, intercepted him four times and held the Bears to 168 net yards. No Packers running back had more than 20 carries in a game last year, but Bears and Bengals castoff Cedric Benson proved he was a valuable offseason pickup by gaining 81 yards on 20 carries.

“I kind of already had a chance to get at them when I was in Cincinnati,” Benson said when asked if he relished beating the Bears. “The most important thing for me this week was getting the run game going. Most of the week was [about] getting this thing rolling on the ground and establishing the run game and being successful on offense.”

 The Packers owned the worst defense in the league last season and did little in the way of upgrades outside of the draft. They were the league’s 27th best rushing team, which they attempted to remedy by signing Benson. But they couldn’t run the ball against the 49ers any better than they could last season. 

“That’s something we need to do week in and week out to help out Aaron,” tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “We have to do both. It’s vital to our success to do both.”

That means the Packers recipe for winning relies heavily on Rodgers and the passing game, which was enough to produce 15-regular season wins last season. But, as good as the Packers passing game, it’s susceptible to teams that can pressure Rodgers with its front four like the Giants did in the playoffs last season, like the 49ers did last week and like the Bears must do.

Excelling in one phase only — even if that phase is as dominant as the Packers passing game has been — doesn’t give a team a big enough margin for error against other elite teams. The Packers found that out last year, which is why the outcome of Thursday night’s game wasn’t as important as emerging with a new identity.

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