Considering that both teams had little to play for--the Central Division rivalry angle is wearing paper-thin and the game was a dud--it's tough to imagine a national television audience hanging in with the Bears and Packers on Sunday night.
Any of the 56,146 spectators who actually remained in Soldier Field until the conclusion of Green Bay's 28-6 victory over the Bears could only have been reminiscing about the venerable stadium, given the last week's developments.
If they want to take any consolation from Sunday night's game, it will have to be the fact that even with the victory, the 6-7 Packers still trail nine teams in their fading playoff quest.
With three games remaining, the Bears have considerably less to build on. "We'll play it out and play them hard," said coach Dick Jauron. "Obviously, we'd like to win all three of them."
Eluding the Bears was their first sweep of the Packers since 1991, but the Bears had more important matters at hand.
Like scoring, for instance.
Going without a touchdown despite several chances inside the Packers' 20-yard line, the Bears have now managed only one touchdown in the last 18 quarters, 14 of which have come with Shane Matthews as the starter at quarterback.
Matthews was 22-for-43 for 233 yards and two interceptions, and his fourth-quarter interception, returned 38 yards for a Packers touchdown by cornerback Tyrone Williams, put the final touch of embarrassment on a game already long out of reach.
"I'm sure Cade [McNown] will play next [Sunday], and I'll do whatever I can to help out," Matthews said.
The Bears seemed to have their priorities confused when they elected to go--successfully--for a 46-yard field goal, trailing 28-3 with 9 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the game, then attempting an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff.
This worked for the Bears as well, with Macey Brooks recovering, though they ended up turning the ball back over on downs on the Packers' 49-yard line with 7:07 remaining.
The remainder of the evening was spent mostly padding the stats of James Allen, who finished with 80 yards rushing in 17 carries and 93 yards receiving on 11 completions, and trying to stop Packers backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck while Brett Favre chilled on the sideline.
Favre had his way with the Bears' defense all night, completing with 19-of-31 passes all told for 225 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Favre looked as sharp as ever on the Packers' first scoring drive, a 12-play, 80-yard march that included passes of 19, 21 and 20 yards to wide receivers Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder, and tight end Bubba Franks, before Ahman Green backed in for a 2-yard touchdown run.
Green, starting his eighth game this season and fifth straight for the injured Dorsey Levens, left the game temporarily with a knee injury following his first carry on the Packers' next possession, but that didn't slow the Packers' offense.
An eight-play, 64-yard drive gave Green Bay a 14-3 lead. The march included a 33-yard pass from Favre to Schroeder on the first play and culminated with a 5-yard bullet from Favre to Freeman, who came down just inside the back of the end zone. It was vintage Favre, who rolled out to buy just enough time to locate his favorite receiver.
The Bears challenged the call before getting a good look at the replay, which showed conclusively that Freeman got both feet inbounds.
For Favre, the 33-yarder to Schroeder put him over the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season and tied him with Dan Marino for successive 3,000-yard seasons with nine straight.
Despite a scoreless first quarter, both teams' offenses moved downfield with ease, though the Bears continued to have trouble getting into the end zone.
Matthews, operating without the benefit of Marcus Robinson, who sat out Sunday night's game after spending two nights in the hospital last week with back spasms, has been criticized for his inability to get the ball downfield.
But he connected on a 41-yard completion to Marty Booker, who showed excellent concentration in snaring the ball despite the close coverage of Packers corner Mike McKenzie to give the Bears a first down at the Packers' 19-yard line.
The Bears had a first-and-goal from the Packers' 8-yard-line after an 11-yard third-down completion from Matthews to Allen. But the Bears were penalized for an ineligible receiver downfield when center Casey Wiegmann was caught across the line of scrimmage and never recovered, and they settled for a 32-yard field goal by Paul Edinger.
Matthews, who got away with uncharacteristic scampers of 14 and 5 yards in the first quarter by sliding out of harm's way, was shaken up and missed one play after being nailed by Packers linebacker Nate Wayne following an incomplete pass. Third-string QB Mark Hartsell ran the play.
"I blacked out," Matthews said. "It was the first time in my entire career I had to have a doctor come out on the field. It was a little embarrassing."
The Bears' defense, which has surged to the 17th ranking overall in the league, up from 27th four games ago, could not continue the momentum against the Packers.
Not that it did not have its chances.
Favre hung up two deep passes in the third quarter that eluded the grasp of safeties Mike Brown and Tony Parrish. In between, Favre continued to find Freeman and Schroeder, completing one vintage 38-yarder across the field to Schroeder that led four plays later to an 8-yard touchdown run by Green, who returned to open the second half.
"As a quarterback, I'll stand here and take the blame," Matthews said. "As I told someone the other day, I'm ready to get the year 2000 over with."
Packers 28, Bears 6
No sweat for Brett
Favre hits 3,000 yards for year as Packers drub Bears
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