It means virtually nothing to the Bears this season other than sardonically costing them a little higher NFL draft choice.
But the Bears' 35-7 victory Sunday over Green Bay before a weather-battered Soldier Field crowd of 55,419, the sixth in eight games under coach Lovie Smith against the Packers (12-3), was one the Bears needed as a springboard to next year. It should matter that they didn't quit when the game didn't matter much to them even if it does cost the Packers some home-field advantage in the playoffs.
"You never want to be a team that quits and you don't want those kinds of guys around," center Olin Kreutz said. "That's a statement that can be made. What does it do for us? I don't know. But it seemed to help the Packers last year."
Last New Year's Eve it was the Packers who won a seemingly meaningless season-ending game in Soldier Field. This year roles are reversed as they will be the ones still playing after the Bears have packed up and gone home.
But Smith told the Bears (6-9) Saturday night that this marked the first game of their 2008 season. Perhaps professionals are supposed to be at their best at all times but that message appeared to get through at a time when discouragement was setting in.
"[Some discouragement] is only natural but you come out and play," defensive end Alex Brown said. "We don't think about what might have happened. What happened is the way it is."
In the run of losing four of the last five before Sunday that killed their playoff hopes, the Bears consistently found ways to lose. When something went wrong against the Packers, they uncharacteristically played better.
They blocked two punts for the first time in franchise history, one by Charles Tillman that Corey Graham returned for a touchdown. They intercepted two Brett Favre passes, one Brian Urlacher returned 85 yards for a touchdown.
They needed Kyle Orton to control the game and the ball, which he did with 8-for-14 passing for 101 yards, a touchdown and a 103.6 rating. The defense needed to stop Favre, which it did, sacking him once and harassing him into a 40.2 rating.
"You never know how you're going to react when you're out of the playoff hunt," Orton said. "To show up and play well shows a lot about the character of our team."
The Bears scored on a 31-yard Robbie Gould field goal after a dominant opening drive and on Gould's 35-yarder in the second quarter. But in between were possessions starting at the Green Bay 34 and 7, the latter after Darrell McClover blocked a punt. That possession ended when Muhsin dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone.
Two plays after Gould's second field goal, the defense misplayed a Ryan Grant run into a 66-yard touchdown to trail suddenly in a game they were controlling.
But instead of collapsing, the offense drove 55 yards just before halftime for a go-ahead score on an 8-yard run by Adrian Peterson, who powered straight through the middle of the Green Bay defense behind near-perfect blocking.
"The thing I'm most disappointed about is we didn't match and exceed their intensity," Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "That's something we have to look at."
The Packers outgained the Bears in the second half 168-53. But an Alex Brown interception on Green Bay's third play of the half led to a 3-yard touchdown pass from Orton to Desmond Clark, followed by a touch pass for a two-point conversion to Greg Olsen.
The game then effectively was put out of reach by Tillman's blocked punt a possession later. Urlacher's touchdown return set the point total at 35, the most the Bears have scored against the Packers since the 61-7 game in 1980.
Sunday was especially gratifying for Bears coaches. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich, the target of intense criticism because of the defense's slide from No. 5 to 29 in yardage allowed, was without four of his starters facing Favre and a Green Bay offense ranked fourth in scoring and third in yardage.
The Packers scored only on a 66-yard run and managed just 274 yards.
"If we could bottle this up and use it," Babich said, "we would."
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner, pilloried for an offense among the NFL's worst, was awakened by howling wind at 3 a.m. Sunday, changed his game plan and then modified it again exactly one play into the game. The Bears ran the ball or threw to backs on 17 of the first 18 plays and rushed for a season-high 139 yards, 102 by Peterson.
"We actually did have some runs scripted, more than normal, because we thought we would have a chance to run the ball," Turner said. "But we got off the script after the first play and ran different plays than we had scripted because of the conditions."Copyright © 2015, CT Now