CHICAGO — As the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers rivalry flipped to a new page in the lead-up to Sunday’s season opener, there were no grand pronouncements of ownership from the starting quarterbacks.
If the lasting image of Aaron Rodgers’ dominance in the rivalry will be his riotous, expletive-laced proclamation in the Soldier Field end zone in 2021, the picture in Green Bay and Lake Forest this week during media interviews was of two preternaturally calm, almost reserved quarterbacks as they prepare to begin the post-Rodgers era in the division.
Are you motivated to be the best quarterback in the NFC North with Rodgers gone, Justin Fields?
“Nah, not really. Not really motivated by that kind of stuff,” Fields said at Halas Hall. “I don’t even look at that stuff to be honest with you. … I just try to be the best version of myself, try to get better each and every day.”
What do you think of you and Fields being the new faces of the rivalry, Jordan Love?
“I don’t put too much thought into that whole thing,” Love told reporters in Green Bay. “I let everybody else do that. But I think it’s cool.”
Assume they’re saving the fireworks for the field — though which quarterback is on the verge of producing those is a guess. This game — and this point in the teams’ histories — features a litany of unknowns.
The questions about Fields and whether he can take the Bears passing game to the next level with a new cast of teammates have been documented in Chicago for months. The answers likely will play a part in whether the Bears can end the Packers’ eight-game winning streak in the rivalry and begin their own streak.
What Love will become after three seasons of sitting behind Rodgers is an even bigger uncertainty.
He steps into the spotlight of a town that for decades hasn’t had to think about the quarterback carousel common for so many NFL teams. He will be just the third quarterback to start a season opener for the Packers since 1993, following Brett Favre’s 16 seasons with the team and Rodgers’ 18, including 15 years as the starter.
The Packers are one of 14 teams that will have a different starting quarterback in Week 1 than they did in the 2022 opener.
For the Bears, who have had 13 quarterbacks start a season opener since 1993, the idea that Love could pick up where Rodgers left off might seem absurd. The Packers couldn’t possibly move seamlessly from a Hall of Fame quarterback to a future Hall of Fame quarterback to another long-term solid starter.
“We just know that it’s not Aaron Rodgers,” Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “He’s a Hall of Fame type of guy, so there’s obviously going to be a drop-off. But we still respect Jordan Love and know he can do some good things in the air and on the ground.
“And they’re well-coached, have a really good run game and have some young, explosive receivers. It’s not going to be an easy task now that 12 (Rodgers) is gone, but we’re definitely looking forward to this matchup.”
Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said that when the Packers’ trade of Rodgers to the New York Jets went through this spring, the Bears “right away” began looking at what it would mean for the Packers offense under coach Matt LaFleur.
“As soon as he goes, we smile and we say, ‘Good luck in New York. Hope you enjoy Broadway and enjoy all the stuff that they have out there,’ ” Williams said. “And then we go, ‘Hey, let’s move on. New chapter. Move on.’
“And then you start looking. You start planning. What could they do? But sometimes what they could do takes you down a rabbit hole that you can’t get out of. Then you refocus, you resettle, you reset. Then you go, ‘It’s still about us. It’s still about all those fundamentals.’ ”
The Bears enter the game with limited NFL tape on Love but perhaps a little inside intel from offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who was Love’s quarterbacks coach for two years in Green Bay and said Love’s athleticism, natural passing ability and humility stood out.
Love has just 83 career pass attempts in the three seasons since the Packers drafted him at No. 26 out of Utah State in 2020. He has completed 50 passes for 606 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Packers scored just seven points in his only career start, a 13-7 Kansas City Chiefs victory in November 2021 when Rodgers had COVID-19. Love threw for 190 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a 69.5 passer rating.
“There’s not too much film on him, so we’ve just got to go out there and play our game,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “We feel like he wants to get off on a quick game, get some completions, get his confidence going early, so we just have to be on our Qs.”
Love did not get a snap against the Bears in his first three seasons, so his experience of the rivalry is entirely from the sidelines — and through the eyes of Rodgers, who went 25-5 against the Bears.
And from “Aaron being Aaron,” Love understood what the game means.
“You kind of got a feel for how he spoke about it, the way he played in those games and his emotions when playing,” Love said. “You get here and you get a feel for the rivalry and just how intense it is.”
Meanwhile Fields, who is friends with Love through his agency, has started four straight losses in the series. The Bears’ last victory against the Packers came in Matt Nagy’s first season as coach in 2018, when they won the NFC North.
As the Bears look to take a small first step toward regaining that crown, Fields wasn’t much in the mood to rehash their recent futility in the rivalry.
“It’s the most important game of the season, so I’m not really looking back toward history,” he said. “We’ve got a different team this year. … We don’t really care what happened in the past. That doesn’t affect what’s going to happen on Sunday. We’re just looking to go out there, play our best and put our best foot forward.”
That’s not the juiciest of proclamations. But maybe those are better left for the end zone.