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Sunday, November 16, 2008
A beatdown at Lambeau

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

 
 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
 Ryan Grant paced the Packers' ground attack with 145 yards.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Tailback Ryan Grant turned the corner and was rumbling toward a mess of players near the goal line Sunday. The pile kept moving backward, and upon closer inspection there was a clear reason: Jordy Nelson, the Packers' rookie receiver, was driving Chicago cornerback Corey Graham backward with a block that would have made the great Packers lineman Jerry Kramer proud.

Graham wound up on his back at the 1-yard line -- a full 22 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage. If there was one visual that demonstrated how Green Bay overpowered the Bears in a 37-3 victory, it was the sight of a 217-pound receiver pancaking a cornerback known for his run support.

"Just part of our job as receivers," Nelson said afterward. Veteran Donald Driver, however, knew better.

"Our coaches told us we needed to have a swagger about ourselves today," Driver said. "We had to come in this week and prove it. Our job as receivers was to come in and block more than we had in previous games. I think we went out and did that."

The Packers didn't just beat the Bears, they beat them up. Nelson's block was only one in a series of physical mismatches Sunday. Green Bay's lines outmuscled the Bears, leading to a 117-yard differential in rushing production (200 to 83), and the its defense limited Chicago to nine first downs and 22 minutes, 32 seconds of possession.

The Bears played into Green Bay's hands by inexplicably pulling back on their run defense. But in the end "we just stunk it up," quarterback Kyle Orton said.

"When you get beat by 30 points," Orton added, "you don't have to look too far."

The Packers, for one, looked inward during practice last week after Minnesota manhandled their lines at the Metrodome. Coach Mike McCarthy elevated the intensity of practice, requiring players who typically rest chronic injuries to participate fully, and made clear he was expecting more fight from his team.

"We were challenged, as we should have been," center Scott Wells said. "We probably had our poorest performance last week and we had a solid performance today. We challenged ourselves. The team challenged us, and it worked out."

McCarthy did his share by calling 38 running plays versus 30 passes, the second-largest differential the Packers have achieved this season. Grant (145 yards) and backup Brandon Jackson (50) typically were 3 or 4 yards downfield before the first Bears defender touched them.

"This is November football and this is how you have to do it," McCarthy said. "There's no doubt about it."

Apparently, someone forgot to give the Bears a calendar. After shutting down Tennessee's vaunted running game last week, the Bears believed they could do the same against Green Bay -- even if they watered down their run defense to protect against the pass.

Coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Bob Babich employed a three-man defensive line in certain situations, using linebacker Nick Roach near the line of scrimmage. But the gamble backfired, much to the delight of the Packers.

"To be honest," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, "I was a little surprised by the way they played us. ... I think they felt like their front seven was going to be able to stop us running the ball, [but] early on we established the line of scrimmage."

The Bears' postgame locker room was a surly place after absorbing the type of beatdown they have long applied to their opponents. Smith denied he had overlooked the Packers' running game -- "They just dominated us today -- period," he said. But safety Mike Brown sounded the alarm.

"[It's] perception and reality," Brown sad. "Our perception is that we have a good defense. The reality is we don't."

Brown, who has been speaking honestly about the defense's diminished state for two weeks, reiterated: "Our defense isn't what it used to be."

He added:

"Everyone wants it to be what it used to be, and it's not that. It's all about performance and we haven't been performing well. Wherever we're ranked that's where we deserve to be ranked. It is what it is. Once we come to grips that our defense isn't what it's supposed to be, we'll all be better off.

For the record, the Bears entered Week 11 with the 17th-ranked defense.

The collapse deprived the Bears of an opportunity to establish some distance with the rest of the division. A victory Sunday would have given the Bears a one-game lead over Minnesota and two games above the Packers. Instead, all three teams are 5-5 with six games remaining.

"Somebody has to emerge from the pack," Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson said. "Hopefully that will be us."

The Packers have as good of a chance as anyone, especially with the Bears reeling and the Vikings facing the possible imminent suspensions of their Pro Bowl defensive tackles. It seemed like an increasingly possible outcome Sunday, especially after watching the Packers throw the Bears all over the field.

Which brings us to another visual, one that puts a book-end on Nelson's block. (We started with an image. Why not finish with one?)

Late in the second quarter, Bears kick returner Devin Hester was knocked out of bounds after a 22-yard kickoff return. Hester ran full speed into Packers defensive tackle Colin Cole, who was standing on the sideline and wasn't involved in the play. The collision stopped Hester cold, knocking him to the ground so violently that officials flagged Cole for unnecessary roughness.

"He ran into me," Cole said. "He fell backwards. I d
on't know what they expect to happen. He's 185 pounds. I'm 325 pounds. You had a little guy running at me and coming to an abrupt halt. I guess it was a little too abrupt."

That's the kind of day it was for the Bears. They were the little guys. The Packers were the brick wall.