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Rodgers beats Cutler in cage match

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Updated: April 21, 2011 4:47AM



I tried this week. I really did.

First I urged the Bears to embrace the Green Monstrosity, that bad haircut of a grass surface at Soldier Field. Make it an advantage for you against the Packers, I implored them. Let it get inside their heads. Let them worry about their footing on the slippery sod.

Then I wrote about how silly it was for Green Bay to even consider punting the ball to Devin Hester, a credible security threat every time he touches a football. With one good return and the defense causing a turnover or two, I said, the Bears could win Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Talk about a winning formula!

But all the while, the power of my positive thinking was flickering. And now I can’t buy enough of my own arguments to think the Bears will beat the Packers on Sunday.

I can’t get past Aaron Rodgers, and I don’t believe the Bears can, either.

It’s not just that Rodgers is on fire. To say he’s on fire is to imply that it’s a fleeting thing. And it’s true that the crazy numbers he put up inside the temperature-controlled Georgia Dome last week probably aren’t going to be seen at cold Soldier Field on Sunday. But underneath his flame-retardant uniform is as smart and talented a quarterback as there is. And, yes, I’ve heard of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They can’t run like he can.

I know what to expect out of Rodgers. I don’t know what I’ll get from Jay Cutler. Even in the Bears’ playoff victory over Seattle — one of Cutler’s best games of the season — there were two, maybe three passes the Seahawks could have picked off. Could have, but didn’t. Will Cutler be so careless and lucky against the Packers?

You’ll often hear quarterbacks say they’re playing against the opposing defense, not the opposing quarterback. But this is as close to a cage match of two QBs as you’re going to get. Rodgers the wise, skilled operator vs. Cutler the physically gifted, mercurial question mark.

The Packers have gotten through their share of injuries and are playing their best football of the season.

The Bears are a good football team, and, more important, they’ve improved as the season has gone along. In terms of injuries, they’ve been incredibly fortunate.

The Bears are capable of winning.

The Packers should win.

You can call that an unfortunate case of doubt, if not treason, if you want. I prefer to think of it as an absence of that last little bit of belief necessary to see the Bears through. I don’t have it. Maybe it’s because I have windburn from all the times I let the bandwagon blow past me this season. When they beat the Eagles at the end of November, they proved they could play with anybody (except, as it turned out, New England). But the Philly victory didn’t give them a police escort to the Super Bowl.

Bears fans can take consolation in the fact I’ve been wrong often this season. The team has surprised me at almost every step, and it might surprise me again Sunday. But I don’t think so.

I know all the arguments for a Bears victory. Their defense is better than the Packers’ defense. The Bears’ offensive line has come a long way. Of the three other teams left in the playoffs, the Bears have beaten two of them: the Packers and the Jets.

And then there’s this: The two Chicago-Green Bay games this season were close — 20-17 Bears at Soldier Field in Week 3 and 10-3 Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 17.

This is anybody’s game, but Rodgers isn’t just anybody.

Soldier Field is going to be a madhouse Sunday. It’s so much more exciting when a team arrives unexpectedly. There is going to be so much appreciation in the air for what the Bears have accomplished this season.

But Rodgers is too hot, and even if the Bears are able to lower the burner on his stovetop a bit, he’s still too good.

Oh, and Cutler’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. A jinx can’t help.

Packers, 14-7.



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