Brad Jones (59) and Mike Neal of the Packers tackle Vikings quarterback Joe Webb in the fourth quarter. | Getty Images
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:52AM
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Bears wanted just one more chance to make amends for blowing a 7-1 start. They wanted to put together a competent offensive performance and save their coach’s job.
In the last two weeks, with collective blinders on, they didn’t ponder the “what if?” and expected to beat the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions and get an assist from the Green Bay Packers to back into the postseason.
So did the Packers — gasp — lose on purpose to stick it to the rival Bears?
“Nah, that wasn’t the mindset at all,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said after laughing at the question. “You want to win all games, take care of business.
“But [the Vikings] played a heck of a game last week. But this week, we got the better of them, when it really counts.”
Six days after their inspiring victory, the Vikings looked like playoff pretenders in a 24-10 loss. Last week, they benefitted from a handful of fortunate bounces and breaks to cap a four-game winning streak and secure a playoff spot. This week, they had a 12-men-on-the-field penalty on fourth down, when the Packers were about to attempt a field goal. They had three turnovers.
And they had no quarterback.
The Vikings were without starter Christian Ponder, who had his best game as a pro last Sunday, throwing for 234 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers. But he was a late scratch with an elbow injury, and the Vikings handed the ball to Joe Webb, the athletic backup who hadn’t thrown a pass this season.
The results were disastrous.
Webb was 7-for-24 for 61 yards with one interception and one lost fumble entering the fourth quarter, until he completed a 50-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Michael Jenkins for a touchdown.
But that only cut the deficit to 14 points.
The Packers dared Webb to beat them, structuring their defense to keep Adrian Peterson from getting outside. In the two previous meetings this season, Peterson averaged over 200 rushing yards, but he had 99 yards on 22 carries this time.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, was his usual efficient self, completing 23 of 33 passes for 274 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. DuJuan Harris gave the Packers some punch running the ball. And linebacker Clay Matthews provided a game-changing play (a sack, strip and fumble recovery), while the defense welcomed back safety Charles Woodson.
The Packers seem to be peaking in the postseason, getting healthy and making a statement as they prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers.
There wasn’t much chatter from Bears players on Twitter on Saturday night, but they were surely watching the rout.
“What a waste,” one Bears starter said in an email.
If they had snuck in, could the Bears have upset the 49ers? Could the offensive line have provided solid protection and watched the one-two punch of Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte finally shine in the same game? And could the defense have forced a few more turnovers?
Bears players still are processing the abrupt end to their once promising season and the ouster of coach Lovie Smith. Now all they can do is ponder what might have been and what soon will be when general manager Phil Emery picks Smith’s replacement.