Packers go down with a fight; no hope left for the season

CHICAGO -- Well, it was fun for Green Bay Packers fans to think about for a week -- that their season still had some meaning, that they could go into Chicago and prevent their archrivals from clinching the NFC North.

The fun is now all but over.

And so is the Packers' season.

The Packers weren't officially eliminated from playoff contention when they walked off Soldier Field after Sunday's 24-17 to the division champion Bears, but they were before they cleared out of the locker room thanks to the Minnesota Vikings' win over the Miami Dolphins.

They are guaranteed another losing season and will have back-to-back losing seasons on their docket for the first time since before Brett Favre came to town. Not since the 1990 and 1991 seasons have the Packers posted consecutive losing seasons.

"I don’t think anybody anticipated having a losing season," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It is what it is. We’re that close to having this whole thing flipped, but that’s all you can say in hindsight. We just haven’t done enough. We haven’t made those few plays that usually turn the game in our favor. It’s kind of been, unfortunately, the theme in most of the losses this year is those couple plays that we’ve made (in the past) but they’re just not happening."

And really, what else could anyone realistically expect?

Last Sunday's convincing win over the Atlanta Falcons was a nice way to start Joe Philbin's tenure as interim head coach, and he got his team to play just as hard against the Bears. But really, it was a pipe dream to think the Packers could win here as 5-point underdogs.

Not against the NFL's fiercest defensive front led by potential Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack (2.5 sacks Sunday).

Not without the starting right side of their offensive line; Byron Bell (knee) went on injured reserve last week, and Bryan Bulaga (knee) was inactive.

Not when third down has been a problem all season.

And not after the Packers' second-best offensive weapon, running back Aaron Jones, was lost to a knee injury after just four first-half carries.

But oh, did they make it interesting, and that's a credit to Philbin, who still must be considered for the job permanently even though he couldn't get the team to pull off the upset. He'll have two more weeks -- and two more winnable games at the Jets and at home against the Lions -- to state his case.

"Last week, we had a team victory where all three phases contributed," Philbin said. "Today, all three phases needed to do better. Coaching needed to be better. And so Chicago certainly deserved to win the game."

The Bears did their best to keep the Packers alive. They tried a fake punt near midfield that the Packers snuffed out and turned into the game-tying touchdown/two-point conversion (a 10-yard run by Jamaal Williams and a successful conversion pass to Davante Adams). And then they botched a Wildcat handoff between Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard that the Packers recovered. But the Packers couldn't make them pay for that mistake, mostly because quarterback Aaron Rodgers got sacked for the third time in the game.

The first two sacks were emblematic of the problems the Packers have had on offense all season. Both came on third downs. Before Sunday, the Packers quarterbacks had been sacked a league-high 23 times on third downs (22 against Rodgers and one against DeShone Kizer). The Bears sacked Rodgers on a pair of first-half third downs to run that total to 25, and Mack was in on both of them.

Even Rodgers' best stat of the season, his NFL record interception-free streak, came to an end. He was picked off by Bears safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth quarter on his 35th attempt of the game. He had 402 straight attempts between interceptions this season. Last week, he broke Tom Brady's record of 358. This one caromed off Jimmy Graham's hands, meaning both of Rodgers' interceptions this season were on tipped or deflected passes.

The Packers moved one game closer to going 0-for-the-road this season. They’re 0-7 and they have only one more chance to avoid a winless season on the road.

That’s about all the Packers have left to play for.

"You just play," Rodgers said. "We’re paid to play this game and prepare. You set different goals obviously because the playoffs won’t be happening. I think a good one is probably we can get our first road win of the year."