By: Alex Patt
This past weekend marked the ten-year anniversary of the 2010 NFC Championship Game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. Bears fans would love to forget the 21-14 loss that ended their hopes at a Super Bowl title returning to the Windy City. This was more than just a loss in a big game, it was one of the darkest days in team history that set the franchise back.
First of all, it is never fun losing to your biggest rival at home. The Bears and Packers have battled each other since 1921 and the 2010 NFC Championship was only the second time the two had met in the playoffs. Both a Super Bowl berth and major bragging rights were on the line. The Bears had seen Brett Favre own them for so long and this was an opportunity to show the Packers and their young stud quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was boss and turn the tide of the rivalry. Instead it was Rodgers who accepted the George S. Halas Trophy at Soldier Field that night, and the Bears have beaten the Packers only three times since.
The biggest story of the game on the side of the Bears was Jay Cutler. The veteran quarterback was making his first start in a conference championship game and it did not go particularly well. Many fans can still probably picture him in a jacket and hat trying to pedal on an exercise bike on the sidelines after he hurt his knee in the middle of the game. It was sad to see other NFL players, ex-players and analysts creating narratives that Cutler quit and did not care. He was legitimately injured with an MCL sprain and it was recommended by the doctors and trainers that he not go back in according to Bears coach Lovie Smith.
“He was hurt, and he couldn’t go – trainers, doctors and all, they are the ones who really made that decision. As far as Jay he is like everyone else; he was disappointed he couldn’t go out and play to help his team win.”Lovie Smith after the 2010 NFC Championship, quoted by ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright
Cutler had left the game for good having completed six out of 14 passes for 80 yards with a pick and no touchdowns. His passer rating was 31.8. Cannot sugarcoat it, when he did play he was not very good. It is understandable to not be a huge fan of Cutler and question his attitude at times, but it is really hard for me at least to criticize him not playing when he had a knee ligament injury.
Despite Cutler’s injury and the four brutal pass attempts from Todd Collins, the Bears were still within reach. Third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie and the Bears defense gave them a chance. Hanie came in at the end of the third quarter and the Bears got their first touchdown to make it 14-7 early in the fourth. After throwing a pick 6 to B.J. Raji with 6:12 left, Hanie brought the Bears back to 21-14 and was driving the team down in the final minute trying to tie the game before Sam Shields picked him off to seal the deal.
While the Bears never had a lead in this game, it was tough to swallow a close loss. Rodgers completed 17 of 30 passes for 244 yards, no passing touchdowns and two interceptions. For all the times he put up huge numbers in games against the Bears, of course Rodgers still wins while not having that great of a performance. Overall the Packers played the better game and were the better team, but it felt like it was there for the taking until the end.
Still cannot help but wonder what could have been. What if the Bears won and played the Steelers in the Super Bowl? What if Cutler did not get hurt? Could the past decade have gone much differently if they win this game?
We will never know the answer to what could have been, but it seems reasonable to think the following seasons could have been different from what they were had they taken this game. As mentioned earlier, this loss felt like it set the franchise back. The core under Lovie Smith which included the likes of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester, Robbie Gould and Jay Cutler never returned to the playoffs. The Lovie era fizzled out in 2012 and Cutler was out after 2016 when he could not stay on the field and the team went into rebuild mode. How much of the events of 2010 actually had an impact on the future is up for debate, but the way things fizzled out for the Bears and how Rodgers and the Packers took off afterwards speaks volumes.
Now in 2021 the Bears have a whole new set of problems…which flat out sucks but that is another conversation for another time. The 2010 regime is long gone but until the team gets back to contending for an NFC title, this game will live in infamy for many Bears fans.