A winning backup plan

GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- It's all so easy in theory, so predictable.

The beleaguered Bears season is all but over with Jay Cutler's torn groin muscle and a decimated defense. The Packers are ready to roll to another division title behind the magnificent Aaron Rodgers.

But that's, as they say, why they play the games, which always seem to confound us all.

In the most unlikely of venues, in a most unexpected way, the Bears moved into a three-way tie for the North Division lead with a 27-20 victory on Monday night, the first Bears victory at Lambeau since 2007.

When Rodgers was injured on a sack by Shea McClellin during the first series -- reported by the team to be to his left shoulder -- it was barely noticeable.

He threw on the sideline for a bit before jogging to the Green Bay dressing room for further evaluation. But really, did anyone not expect Rodgers to jog back onto the field after a series or two and get back to the business of crushing any illusions the Bears might have had of wrangling control of the North Division?

Instead, let's face it, the Bears caught a break -- and a big one -- when Rodgers did not return. And to their credit, they took advantage, winning the backup quarterback derby and riding an increasingly impressive offensive line with a game-sealing drive.

Faced with the decision of playing to win or not to lose with a fourth-and-1 on their own 33-yard line, a four-point lead and 7:50 left to play, Bears coach Marc Trestman chose to go for it and Matt Forte made him look good on a second effort with a 2-yard gain.

Bears quarterback Josh McCown and the Bears' offense then made the entire team look good by completing an 18-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 8:58. Robbie Gould's 27-yard field goal gave the Bears a 27-20 lead with 50 second left, and Lambeau Field would have been silent if not for the boom, boom, boom of the Black Eyed Peas.

McCown called it "neat," "really neat" and "special," and his teammates were in agreement that they'd take the victory, regardless of the circumstances, a wise move since they are very much back in the division race.

The loss snapped the Packers' 10-game regular-season home winning streak and a six-game winning streak against the Bears. "Yeah," said Bears center Roberto Garza, "unfortunately, it has been a couple years since we've had a victory here."

Even a loss to Detroit next week and the Bears can still keep their playoff hopes alive while the Packers, with Rodgers' status uncertain, are suddenly on shaky ground. And to make this day that much more dramatic, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Cutler intends to play next week against the Lions.

Not that it wouldn't be a welcome sight if Cutler has indeed fully recovered. If he hasn't, it would be foolish for him and the Bears to push it with an injury that, if aggravated, could send him back to the sideline for the remainder of the season.

McCown was as brilliant as a backup quarterback could be against the Packers, as good as a Bears backup quarterback has been since, well, he last backed up Cutler. Completing 22 of 41 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions, McCown's only problem, his offensive linemen joked, was that he was too amped up at times.

"He's got a lot of energy in the huddle," Garza said. "You have to calm him down every once in a while because he starts screaming a little bit and we didn't want the defense hearing the plays. But we had a lot of fun and he did a great job of leading us."

McCown's 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall in the first quarter was as good a pass under pressure as thrown by any NFL starter, despite the fact that he could not remember it afterward.

"I feel like somebody hit me in my head or something because I remember stepping up, I threw it, and then I can't remember if I got hit again," McCown said. "I don't know if I had a clean view of it but I know he was fighting with a guy when I let it go, so he must have made a great play."

In fact, Marshall did make an outstanding catch. And so did Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter, snatching a 6-yard pass from McCown and out of the defender's grasp with a vice-like grip.

Forte, with 125 rushing yards on 24 carries and 54 receiving yards on five receptions, completed an offensive effort that can also help ride out Cutler's injury a few more weeks if necessary. In the meantime, while we're being frank, it is hard to imagine this Bears' defense as playoff-ready when they continued to get gashed in the run game until the Packers suddenly decided that having backup Seneca Wallace pass on first and second down was a better idea than ramming it down the Bears' throats.

What the Bears can feel confident about looking ahead to the second half of the season is the same thing they felt confident about in the first half -- a much-improved offense and a much-improved offensive line. Their scoring drives at the end of each half were both evidence of that. Their gutsy but smart play-calling. Their solid quarterback play. Their stout run game.

Beyond that, while the Bears were quick to send Rodgers only the most respectful of get-well wishes, the most encouraging thing they might have for them is if his injury keeps him out for any length of time.

The Packers are .663 with Rodgers as their starter since 2008, the sixth-best winning percentage among (qualified) NFL quarterbacks during that period. Wallace is 6-15 as a starter, his last win three years ago, giving him the third-worst record among active quarterbacks with at least 20 starts. After that, it's a crapshoot, the sight of Rodgers and Cutler standing on their respective sidelines in nylon warm-ups another reminder of how unpredictable this game really is.