This game could have had it all.
So how disappointing, inexcusable and, quite frankly, shameful is it that the 200th meeting of the NFL’s oldest and best rivalry – one of the best in all of sports – very well may have been decided by a completely bogus, blown officiating call that could have been so easily corrected by instant replay?
Halfway through the first quarter, Cordarrelle Patterson was flagged for one of the best special teams plays I’ve ever seen on Packers punt returner Tyler Ervin, forcing a fumble the Bears recovered at the Packers’ 43. Instead of the Bears starting with all the momentum in Packers territory, Patterson was flagged for a phantom catch-interference penalty, and the Packers were given the ball at the Bears’ 35.
Three plays later on fourth-and-4, Davante Adams got a step on Buster Skrine for a 29-yard strike from Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s only score of the half.
It was early, but we will never know how that huge swing in momentum changed the outcome of the game, which the Packers won, 21-13.
That said, the Packers clearly were the better team on the day, that play is not why they won the game, and it’s not as if the Bears didn’t have chances and weren’t their own worst enemies.
They had more missed tackles in the second and third quarters than they had all season on a day when Rodgers really wasn’t the difference other than the Adams touchdown.
The Bears actually took control after that touchdown, owning the ball for 12:22 of the remaining 19:38 of the half and outgaining the Packers, 101 yards to 68, but they never got decent field position after the fumbled punt was taken away.
Starting from their own 15 nine seconds into the second quarter, the Bears drove 44 yards on 11 plays, but on third-and-7 from the Packers’ 41, Mitch Trubisky was slightly off on a throw to Anthony Miller at the 15, and Miller made a casual one-handed attempt on a ball he could have, and probably should have, caught.
On fourth down, Miller made an acrobatic grab on a deep ball to the 4-yard line but only got one foot down before going out of bounds.
On the Packers’ next possession starting from their own 41, on third-and-6 from the Bears’ 36, Rodgers hit Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski right in the hands in front of Packers tight end Jimmy Graham, and with plenty of green grass in front of him, Kwiatkoski dropped the ball.
Trubisky made a lot more plays than he missed and, although not perfect, earned high marks on the day.
But on the Bears’ last possession of the half after driving 52 yards from their own 36 on third-and-7 at the Packers’ 12, Trubisky threw the ball half a yard behind tight end Jesper Horsted at the 4, forcing them to settle for an Eddy Pineiro field goal.
The third quarter belonged to the Packers, who drove 73 and 66 yards to a pair of Aaron Jones touchdown runs on their first two possessions, while the Bears slipped and slid all over the field.
One thing about these Bears, however: They do not quit.
Staring at the end of their season, they took over the game again with 3:27 to play in the third quarter and proceeded to control the clock for 11:47 of the final 18:27, put up 194 yards of offense and scored 10 points.
They were driving again in a one-possession game when they stalled at the Packers’ 49 with 1:42 to play, and even came back again with 36 seconds to play and no timeouts, driving from their own 22 to the Packers’ 34 before the last play of the game ended at the Packers’ 7 on a wild hook and ladder.
Sadly, there are no moral victories, and losing to the Packers stinks worse for Bears fans than anything else.
Yes, the Bears’ playoff hopes are over in a season that started with such great promise.
But all was not lost Sunday at Lambeau.
Akiem Hicks is a warrior, he was heroic, and now you can sit him down until next year.
Trubisky continued to move forward, and there is no question that the Bears now have a top 1-2 combination at receiver in Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller.
Most importantly, while there is much work to do, the window for this team to contend clearly still is open, and the next two games will be two more fascinating tests to help decide what many of those offseason moves should be.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.