GREEN BAY—Packer fans give no indication when it's over. They don't jeer any louder. And they don't head for the exits.
They could have revved up the RV's with six minutes remaining in Green Bay's 28-17 victory over the Bears Sunday, and maybe saved themselves a few toes, but then what fun would that be?
Jim Flanigan body-slamming Packers lineman Adam Timmerman after the whistle with 1:03 remaining, earning an ejection. They would never have seen Dave Krieg posing for one last picture in the end zone in what he obviously thought could be his last appearance here.
But more than anything, they would have been deprived of watching their hated rivals trudge off Lambeau Field and into late-season oblivion.
And that might just beat everything, even six Packers victories in a row over the Bears, a span of dominance unmatched in the last 66 years of the most storied rivalry in pro football.
Happiness, in these parts, is not simply defeating the Bears but demoralizing them. And to that end, the remnants of a disappointing season were best summed up by Bears coach Dave Wannstedt when he was asked what lies ahead for a team virtually eliminated from playoff contention:
"Not to have a losing season," he said. "To win the last three games. That's where we're at."
At best, that would be 8-8 and a long way from what they were thinking last August. "It's going to be interesting to see how people feel and react, coaches and players, as far as knowing we're not going to go to the playoffs and knowing that was our goal we set for ourselves in training camp," said cornerback Donnell Woolford. "Very interesting."
Not as interesting as Sunday's game maybe, but interesting just the same.
Sunday was the Bears' for the taking. Until 54 seconds short of halftime, anyway. It was then that all the momentum the Bears had accumulated en route to a 7-0 lead was sucked up like the last bratwurst at a tailgate party.
After the Bears scored on a 12-play drive on which Dave Krieg completed 7 of 7 passes to six different receivers--concluding with a 15-yard TD toss to Bobby Engram following a fake quarterback sneak--the Packers took command.
A lazy kickoff by Todd Sauerbrun gave Green Bay the ball at its 36, the first time it started from outside its 20. And as long as it took the Bears to stop celebrating, Brett Favre was completing passes of 15, 30 and 19 yards in a four-play scoring drive that culminated with tight end Keith Jackson beating rookie Walt Harris to the corner of the end zone.
To that point, the Bears' defense had held the Packers to just 13 rushing yards and 144 yards overall compared with 177 by the Bears, who held a whopping 13-minutes-38-seconds advantage in time of possession. On offense, Raymont Harris had rushed for 60 yards already and Krieg appeared to be on his way to a successful day, having completed 16 of 21 passes.
But if the Bears were still in it physically, Favre's quick strike had already taken a toll mentally.
"The whole thinking at halftime," said offensive tackle Andy Heck, "was don't panic, stay the course, what we're doing is just fine. Let's just tighten things up special teams-wise and take care of business."
They probably could have emphasized that last point a little more. The Packers missed a 46-yard field goal attempt to open up the second half, but effectively put the Bears away with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Desmond Howard midway through the third quarter. It gave Green Bay a 14-7 lead and all the momentum it would need.
"It came down to two plays. Who're we kidding?" Wannstedt said. "The punt return for a touchdown and the turnover at the 50 (on a fourth-quarter interception by Krieg, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Favre and 28-10 Packer lead in the fourth quarter). . . . That's the difference in the ballgame."
In truth, the Packers were clearly a different and a better team after halftime, exposing one of the Bears' most glaring weaknesses.
"Something we've been guilty of all year is starting off slow and coming on strong, or starting out fast and sputtering at the end," said defensive end Al Fontenot. "As a team, we've failed to finish and play a full game, and that's what happened today."
Green Bay backup fullback Dorsey Levens rushed for a career-high 69 yards on five carries--all in the second half--including a 10-yard touchdown run to open up the fourth quarter and give the Packers a 21-10 lead.
The Bears, meanwhile, managed only a 34-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger late in the third quarter, and just 19 yards rushing (all by Harris) and 31 yards passing after halftime, epitomizing the offensive futility they have displayed much of this season.
"Trick plays are fine," said Curtis Conway, referring to Krieg's fake sneak and his own 5-yard run after taking the center snap in the same second-quarter drive. "But if we want to be a good team, we have to be able to use our offense to beat teams. We shouldn't have to resort to special plays to try to beat teams."
Until then, Wannstedt is 1-7 against Green Bay in his head coaching regime and the Bears are left searching for motivation to finish the season.
"It's embarrassing," Heck said. "There's nobody in this league we want to beat more than Green Bay, and we have to beat them in order to turn things around in our division and win our division. It would've been a huge confidence-booster, but I don't think the team is going to go downhill from here."
"We can't give up," Harris reasoned. "We're professional athletes. We get paid to do this job, and we're going to go out there and do it or we'll be replaced. That should be enough incentive to go out there and do your job."