GAME 16: Both teams hit hard all game at Lambeau Field. | Mike Roemer~AP
Updated: January 3, 2011 8:09AM
GREEN BAY, Wis. — In one corner of the locker room, Peanut Tillman was expressing a heartfelt belief that the Bears haven’t seen the last of the Green Bay Packers this season, while 10 feet away, Julius Peppers was talking about winning the Super Bowl.
The Bears’ reaction Sunday after a 10-3 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field only seemed to strengthen both players’ cases. The Bears wouldn’t play the Packers again, of course, unless they met them in the NFC Championship Game.
‘‘My goal is to win the Super Bowl; that is it,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘Absolutely. If you don’t win it, that’s a disappointment. I hope everybody in here feels the same way. We have just as good a shot as anybody else.’’
The Bears already have won the opening round of the NFL’s postseason party by earning the second seed in the NFC and the bye. There was no aura of invincibility to lose because the Bears have been viewed as fallible most of the season. They were underdogs in Green Bay, partly because they had nothing of significance to play for, certainly not after the Atlanta Falcons sealed up the No. 1 seed before kickoff.
No, the biggest surprise wasn’t that the Bears tried to eliminate the Packers from the playoffs by starting and sticking with their best players. Coach Lovie Smith claimed he would do that, presumably to appease diehard fans, and Smith was ready to risk life and limb — of Jay Cutler — to get that done.
Top unit a no-show
The real stunner was that the Bears barely made a play on special teams. Not a memorable one, anyway. Arguably the strongest and most consistent unit on the team was a stunning no-show before a playoff-fever-driven crowd of 70,833.
When the Bears beat Green Bay 20-17 on Sept. 27, they forced the Packers into a team-record 18 penalties. They also dominated on special teams.
Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards, and Danieal Manning returned a kickoff 44 yards. Hester had another long punt return, and the Packers gave the Bears great field position by squibbing a kickoff out of bounds.
There was nothing like that Sunday. Manning had a 28-yard kickoff return, and Hester returned two punts for 35 yards, but the Packers won the field-position battle. The Bears were on the plus side of the field only once, opening a drive at Green Bay’s 15 after a Tillman interception and return. Cutler threw a pick in the end zone to end that threat.
Other than that, they had a possession at the 50, another at their 35 and nothing else better than their 27, including drives that started on their 2, 3, 14 and 16.
‘‘We had some opportunities here and there where we could’ve made some good plays, and we didn’t hit them,’’ Hester said. ‘‘They came up with a great game plan. We didn’t hit the home runs we’re expected to hit.’’
Smith played down the aberration.
‘‘They did a good job of keeping the ball out of Devin’s hands,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Their kickers did a great job of placing the ball, especially their punter. It was a field-position game. I thought they covered well. In games like this, both teams are going to deliver blows and take blows.’’
The Bears usually deliver death blows on special teams. It’s one of the things they do best. In fact, the reason the Bears are a viable Super Bowl contender is because they’re capable of winning in all three areas. The offense played very well before this game, particularly when it enjoyed plus field position. But Cutler made a couple of bad throws, and there were serious issues trying to get their receivers open against the excellent cornerback tandem of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
Johnny Knox, who needed 40 yards to reach 1,000, dropped two passes and didn’t have a catch despite being targeted eight times. Hester caught one of the five balls thrown his way. And Cutler took a beating, even if at least two of the six sacks were his fault.
‘‘There is a concern that we lost, and there is a concern that we gave up six sacks,’’ center Olin Kreutz said. ‘‘We haven’t been in this situation, this kind of atmosphere as a line, where the crowd takes away the communication.
“We will learn from this. It’s a lesson that could help us [if we end up in Atlanta].’’
Not all bad
The good news is the defense played pretty well against a strong offense.
If the defense is up to it — and the bye will help an aging unit — the Bears have a combination that will scare a lot of people.
They have a week off, veteran leadership, a unique home-field advantage with a bad field and as much balance as any team in the league. Sounds like a winning formula.