GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Yes, the Green Bay Packers were miffed in the days and hours leading up to Thursday night's divisional showdown with the Chicago Bears. No, it had little to do with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's challenge to their defensive backs. The issue was much larger than that, and it goes all the way back to March 13 -- the day the Bears made their surprise trade for receiver Brandon Marshall.
"We thought it was kind of funny," cornerback Charles Woodson said, "that all of a sudden they were the team to beat because they got a couple new guys."
So it was with great delight that Woodson and his defensive teammates tore up the Bears' offense in a 23-10 victory at Lambeau Field. It wasn't because Cutler had wished them "good luck" this week if they tried to play press coverage against Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery. It was the larger notion that Marshall's arrival had elevated the Bears to a level where they would challenge the Packers' supremacy in this division.
As a result, this game had an edge rarely seen in what is normally a friendly rivalry. The Packers got under Cutler's skin early, sacking him on the Bears' first play from scrimmage and ultimately forcing him into one of the worst games of his career. They sacked Cutler seven times, including 3.5 by linebacker Clay Matthews, and intercepted him four times. Cornerback Tramon Williams grabbed two of those interceptions, but even more notably, he blanketed Marshall for almost the entire game.
The Packers left the Bears' hype in ruins, limiting them to 168 total yards and 11 first downs in 57 plays. Woodson, for one, appeared quite satisfied afterward to have challenged the Bears' narrative.
"Their offense didn't look any different to me," he said. "We know those guys. We've played them a lot. They didn't look much different. They just have some new players."
The primary newcomer, Marshall, didn't see a single pass thrown his way until Williams slipped in coverage with 8 minutes, 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Wide open for a touchdown, Marshall dropped the ball in the end zone.
Williams said Cutler's words this week didn't get him "out of whack" but made clear that "guys wanted to come out and put on a good performance, and we did that."
Said Woodson: "Tramon is a tremendous player, and he helped us dominate today."
Indeed, Bears coach Lovie Smith said there were plays called throughout the game for Marshall "that we couldn't get off."
This was as complete of a defensive game as I've seen the Packers play in some time, even dating back to the elite level they played during portions of their 2010 Super Bowl season. They limited tailbacks Matt Forte and Michael Bush to 85 yards on 21 carries, putting the Bears' offensive line in the unenviable position of pass-blocking against rushers highly motivated to reach Cutler. As a result, the Packers' blitz was highly effective. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers sent an extra rusher on 13 of Cutler's 35 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They sacked him on four of those blitzes and recorded interceptions on two others.
Most importantly, I thought, the Packers' defense got after it in a way that permeated the entire game. Cutler was hit a total of 12 times, frustrating him to the point that he was screaming at his offensive linemen and even kicked Woodson after a third-quarter blitz. Bears left tackle Gabe Carimi was penalized 15 yards in the second quarter after retaliating to a shove from Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, and Bears players protested loudly when Packers cover man Rob Francois roughly shoved returner Devin Hester out of bounds.
You could see the tension on both sides of the ball, and even Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gestured angrily and screamed at receiver James Jones after a fourth-quarter interception put the Bears in position for their only touchdown. (Rodgers said afterward he and James were "not on the same page" on the play call.) The Packers' best offensive player Thursday night might have been tailback Cedric Benson, who helped set the physical tone by grinding out 81 tough rushing yards.
"There was definitely words out there," Packers cornerback Sam Shields said. "You could tell Cutler was getting frustrated. We know what Cutler does. We were just out there as a defense trying to take advantage."
Matthews, meanwhile, now has six sacks in two games this season after abusing Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb all night. Matthews said he hopes the performance "becomes our theme for this defense and this team."
Yes, the Packers revealed Thursday night how amused they were by the Bears' new status as media darlings. But were you expecting their defense to be the group that realigned our thoughts on that? I'm not sure I was. So it goes. That's, as they say, why they play the games.