CHICAGO — Given where they were a few weeks ago, the Chicago Bears' odds of grabbing a share of the NFC North lead seemed about as long as a Hail Mary pass.
Back-to-back wins have them in position to do just that. The problem is they're facing a big obstacle with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers standing in their way.
The Bears will try to clear it and move into a first-place tie with Green Bay when they host their rival Sunday.
"We're excited for every game to go out and dominate," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. "It's not like this is our Super Bowl or anything."
Maybe. But as coach Matt Nagy said, "It feels like a great opportunity."
It's one that was difficult to envision not too long ago. After all, the Bears (3-2) were at a low point with a 26-6 loss at Cleveland last month.
The Bears had just 47 yards for one of the lowest totals in NFL history. Rookie Justin Fields threw for 68 yards and got sacked nine times for 67 yards, a nightmarish first start for the No. 11 overall draft pick.
It was so bad, Nagy opted to hand playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor after that game, something he also did when the team was struggling last season.
The Bears bounced back by beating winless Detroit at home and Las Vegas on the road last week in Jon Gruden's final game coaching the Raiders. He resigned over emails he sent before being hired in 2018 that contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments.
For the Bears, wins over Rodgers and the Packers (4-1) have been few and far between. Green Bay has won 19 of the past 22 meetings counting the playoffs, and the Packers are 21-5 against Chicago in games Rodgers has started. In one of the losses, he left with an injury after the opening series.
"I'm just a small part of this journey," Rodgers said. "It's been over 100 years of playing and fortunate to have this little time right now to be able to be a starter and impact the all-time series. Little Green Bay was getting beat up for a long time by our foes to the South and then Favrey (Brett Favre) showed up and we closed the gap and then we've overtaken them. It's nice. But I don't think it's the most important part of the all-time legacy.
"But it is, it's always a battle against them and always fun when we can beat 'em."
The Packers have won four straight since getting trounced by New Orleans 38-3 in the season opener in Jacksonville. They escaped in overtime at Cincinnati last week, 25-22.
Injuries have forced the Packers to play without 2020 All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and 2020 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith (back).
Bakhtiari hasn't played all season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31, though he's getting closer to a return. Smith hasn't played since the season opener. Alexander will be missing a second straight game.
The Bears are also a bit banged up.
They could be without their top two rushers, with David Montgomery (sprained knee) on injured reserve and Damien Williams placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday. RT Germain Ifedi (knee) is on IR.
Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (groin) did not play last week. Fields suffered knee and rib injuries and missed a few plays against the Raiders.
Linebacker Khalil Mack (foot) and receiver Allen Robinson (ankle) were also dealing with injuries.
The Bears showed they can still gain on the ground even with Montgomery sidelined, running for 143 yards against Las Vegas. Rookie Khalil Herbert rushed for 75 on 18 carries, while Super Bowl 54 star Damien Williams rushed for 64.
"The communication right now is really good amongst the offensive line and tight ends, the wide receivers as well," Nagy said. "The running backs are doing a good job with their vision."
Green Bay's Davante Adams leads the NFL in catches (42) and yards receiving (579), and he's coming off a performance in which he caught 11 passes for a career-high 206 yards.
Adams has nearly 2½ times more catches and over three times as many yards receiving as any of his teammates. Running back Aaron Jones ranks second on the team in catches with 17, while Randall Cobb ranks second in yards receiving with 157.
A big reason for the Bears' turnaround following the loss to Cleveland? The defense.
The Monsters of the Midway had three sacks last week to run their league-leading total to 18 — five by Khalil Mack and 4 1/2 by Robert Quinn. Chicago's defense now ranks eighth overall and seventh in scoring.
COMEBACK FOR CROSBY?
Packers kicker Mason Crosby will attempt to bounce back after an uncharacteristically poor performance in the overtime victory at Cincinnati.
Crosby's franchise-record string of 27 consecutive successful field-goal attempts ended in that game when he missed three straight kicks in the fourth quarter and overtime. He missed from 36, 51 and 40 yards away before making a winning 49-yarder.
He also missed an extra-point attempt in the first half.
GREEN BAY (4-1) at CHICAGO (3-2)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT, Fox
OPENING LINE: Packers by 4½, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Green Bay 4-1; Chicago 3-2.
SERIES RECORD: Green Bay leads 101-95-6.
LAST MEETING: Packers beat Bears 35-16 on Jan. 3 in Chicago.
LAST WEEK: Packers beat Cincinnati 25-22 in OT; Bears beat Las Vegas 20-9.
PACKERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (22), RUSH (21), PASS (16t), SCORING (13t).
PACKERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (6), RUSH (11), PASS (10), SCORING (19t).
BEARS OFFENSE: OVERALL (32), RUSH (9), PASS (32), SCORING (30).
BEARS DEFENSE: OVERALL (8), RUSH (12), PASS (12), SCORING (7).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Packers plus-3; Bears plus-3.
PACKERS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Davante Adams. He caught 11 passes for a career-high 206 yards in the Packers’ 25-22 victory at Cincinnati. That’s the highest single-game total by a Packer since Jordy Nelson had 209 yards receiving against the New York Jets in 2014. He leads the NFL in catches (42) and yards receiving (579). Adams, a 2020 All-Pro, has caught a touchdown pass in each of the last three games he has played against the Bears, though injuries caused him to play against Chicago just once each of the last two seasons.
BEARS PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Khalil Mack. The three-time All-Pro is two shy of the league lead with five sacks, and he'll be going against a banged-up line.
KEY MATCHUP: Adams vs. Bears CB Jaylon Johnson. Coming off a promising rookie season, Johnson is tied for fourth in the NFL with six passes defensed. He faces a big challenge with four-time Pro Bowler Adams on the other side.
KEY INJURIES: Packers OT David Bakhtiari hasn’t played yet this season and will be sidelined again Sunday after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31. ... Packers CB Jaire Alexander (shoulder), OLB Za’Darius Smith (back) and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring) also won’t play Sunday. ... OL Elgton Jenkins has missed three straight games. Jenkins was a Pro Bowl left guard last year who had been filling in for Bakhtiari at left tackle until he hurt his ankle. C Josh Myers, a second-round pick from Ohio State, was dealing with a finger injury. ... CB Kevin King injured a shoulder against the Bengals on Sunday. His absence would be bad news for a secondary already missing Jaire Alexander. ... Bears QB Justin Fields suffered knee and rib injuries in last week's game and missed a few plays. He was a full participant in practice on Wednesday. ... The Bears placed RB David Montgomery (sprained knee) on injured reserve prior to last week's game. ... Chicago is down an offensive lineman after placing RT Germain Ifedi (knee) on IR on Wednesday. ... DT Akiem Hicks (groin) missed last week's game.
SERIES NOTES: The Packers have won 19 of their past 22 meetings with the Bears, including playoff matchups. … The Packers are 21-5 against the Bears in games QB Aaron Rodgers has started. In one of the losses, he left with an injury after the opening series.
STATS AND STUFF: Green Bay has won four straight since a season-opening 38-3 loss to New Orleans in Jacksonville. ... Adams has 67 receptions and Randall Cobb has 66 catches against the Bears. No other active players have that many career receptions against Chicago. … Packers coach Matt LaFleur has a 30-7 regular-season record. The only coaches to get to 30 wins faster are Guy Chamberlin (35 games) and George Seifert (36). … Packers LB De’Vondre Campbell has two interceptions and a fumble recovery. All three of his takeaways have come in the fourth quarter or overtime. … Packers CB Eric Stokes has seven passes defensed to rank third in the NFL and to lead all rookies. … The Packers have won their last six road games against NFC North opponents. That’s the longest road divisional winning streak in franchise history, according to Elias Sports Bureau. … Bears senior defensive assistant Mike Pettine was Green Bay’s defensive coordinator from 2018-20. … Chicago has won two straight and would tie Green Bay for the NFC North lead by beating the Packers. ... Though he threw his first career TD, Fields passed for just 111 yards last week. ... RB Damien Williams ran for 64 yards and rookie Khalil Herbert rushed for 75 on 18 carries against Las Vegas. ... K Cairo Santos has made a club-record 34 consecutive regular-season field goals — the league's longest active streak.
FANTASY TIP: Rodgers has carved up the Bears throughout his career, with a 105.3 rating in 26 games against them.