(Reuters) – Two of the National Football League’s most storied clubs add another chapter to their bitter rivalry on Sunday when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears clash for the first time since last season’s NFC Championship game.
The Bears’ desire to beat their neighbors is more enhanced than usual after last season’s encounters where the Packers secured a playoff berth with a win at home on the final week of the regular season and then advanced to the with a victory in Chicago three weeks later.
That defeat still stings the Bears players, particularly starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who had to watch their old rival be crowned Super Bowl champions with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cutler was forced out of the NFC Championship game in the third quarter with a knee injury while his team trailed 14-0 and he famously watched his team’s defeat from the chill of the sidelines wearing an oversized winter coat.
The Bears quarterback came in for some sharp criticism, much of it unfair, that questioned his toughness – fighting talk in the macho world of the NFL.
The reality is that Cutler is never afraid to leave the pocket and run with the ball if he feels it is the right move and he takes more hits than most in his role.
In the Bears’ defeat to the New Orleans Saints last week, Cutler came up against a blitzing defense that sacked him six times and he expects more of the same from the Packers.
“It’s a big game, I know what it means to this organization and also to Green Bay. To get this season going and get back on track we need this game,” Cutler said this week.
Sunday’s game will mark the 183rd meeting of the two NFC North teams in what is league’s oldest rivalry that began in 1921 in the era of historic Bears player, coach and owner George Halas. The Bears have a 92-84-6 edge in the series.
The history of the rivalry between the two teams, combined with the recent pain of defeats, means there is not much need for motivating speeches from Bears head coach Lovie Smith.
“We are playing the Super Bowl champions. This week I don’t have to start off with a lot of George Halas speeches about getting ready for this game. We know who we’re playing and the guys will be ready for this game,” said Smith.
The Packers have started the 2011 season with wins over the Saints and Carolina while the Bears’ defeat to New Orleans came after an impressive opening day victory over Atlanta.
The New York Giants will also get a shot at revenge this weekend when they face the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time since having their 2010 season shattered in memorable fashion in front of their home fans.
When the NFC East teams last met the Eagles scored 28 unanswered points in the final eight minutes, including a punt return for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game, to propel themselves into the playoffs.
The Eagles could be without starting quarterback Michael Vick, who suffered a concussion at Atlanta on Sunday.
Week 3 also has another NFC East divisional match-up that evokes great clashes from the past as the Washington Redskins visit the Dallas Cowboys on Monday.
The Redskins are off to a surprising 2-0 start to the season and are clearly relishing the game with starting quarterback Rex Grossman describing the two teams as having “the biggest rivalry in football.”
The Houston Texans have started well with wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins but they will get a tougher test at New Orleans.
The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, both with 2-0 records in the AFC East, meet up with quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady in great form with seven touchdowns each from their opening two games.
It is a sign of the times that the clash between the Steelers and Colts is no longer a headline encounter – the Colts are 0-2 without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)