CHICAGO — Third-and-long. Against the NFL's stingiest red-zone defense.
Aaron Rodgers knew a play was needed on the opening drive Sunday night at Lambeau Field, and he dialed in accordingly. With the Green Bay Packers at the Chicago Bears 12-yard line and trying to finish off a tone-setting march that already had covered 63 yards in 13 plays, the quarterback whom Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano likened this week to Picasso and Michelangelo went to his palette, whipped out his brush and gracefully painted his newest masterpiece.
The play that ended with Rodgers pinpointing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams took 9 seconds from snap to score. It was another dazzling off-script magic trick and a definitive closing argument - if there is such a thing less than 8 minutes into a game - that the Packers remain the class of the NFC North.
Still, Rodgers' comprehensive postgame description of that touchdown pass proved even more striking to anyone in Chicago who might have been listening, just one more reminder of the master class on quarterbacking he has been teaching for the last 13 seasons as the Packers starter, so often at the Bears' expense.
So, Aaron, about that TD .
"I saw that they dropped eight at the snap," Rodgers began. "So I knew I'd have a little bit of time. We ran a two-man concept to that side with Davante and Robert (Tonyan). And I was about 50-50 as to whether 'Te was going to stop his route and break it off at the top of the stem, which actually wasn't in the plan. But I thought he might make that reaction. He didn't. So I went to (Tonyan). And right when I was about to throw it, he slipped.
"So I reset back in the pocket because we had done a nice job on the right side and doubled Khalil (Mack) over there. And as I reset back in the pocket, I saw Davante kind of roll behind (Danny) Trevathan. And I knew based on the presnap, they probably wouldn't have anybody on the left side who would disrupt a throw in that area. So I just tried to put it high knowing Davante has such great leaping ability. Obviously he came down with it."
The Packers were ahead to stay.
Be honest, Bears fans. When's the last time you heard your starting quarterback describing surgery with that level of detail? Heck, when's the last time you had a quarterback do what Rodgers did Sunday night, drilling touchdown passes on his first three possessions, adding a fourth in the third quarter and carving out the Bears' heart in a 41-25 gutting?
Think about it. The Packers scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to open Sunday's bright-lights, big-stage game. During the Bears' current five-game skid/collapse/free fall, the offense has scored only two touchdowns before the fourth quarter. The Bears offense remains consistently unreliable in the first half and downright awful in the third quarter.
That's what made Sunday's biannual check-in on the Packers so jarring and distressing and, if you can bring yourself to appreciate the brilliance of a rival, sort of refreshing.
"So that's what an NFL offense is supposed to look like."
As the Bears season accelerates down the garbage chute with a fan base screaming for heads to roll ASAP at Halas Hall, the Packers are coasting to another division title and eyeing another run deep into January and possibly beyond.
While Rodgers and his offense consistently creating iconic artwork, the Bears seem to be stuck in a first-grade project gone bad, covered from head to toe in acrylic and sheepishly apologizing for the mess.
"This is the stuff through the season that you go through," coach Matt Nagy said. "It's about fighting adversity."
Rodgers, by contrast, was cheerful but characteristically low-key in the afterglow of his team's win, relishing what he called "a fun day of milestones." Follow along for some of the most prestigious.
Adams recorded his 500th career reception on that first-quarter touchdown, becoming the fifth Packer in that fraternity. (For perspective, the Bears' all-time leader in catches is Walter Payton with 492.)
Rodgers became the 11th quarterback in league history to surpass 50,000 passing yards, doing so in style in the third quarter with a well-designed and all-too-easy 39-yard play-action touchdown pass to tight end Tonyan. (Again, for perspective, Rodgers' passing yards total is greater than that of Jay Cutler, Sid Luckman and Jim Harbaugh - the Bears' three career leaders - combined.)
And - oh, yeah - Rodgers was sure to point out that Sunday's victory was the Packers' 100th over the Bears in the historic rivalry, giving them a five-game lead in a series that was once tilted heavily in the Bears' favor. Before Brett Favre and Rodgers, of course.
"I'm proud to be just another one of the guys in the lineage of Green Bay quarterbacks who have had the opportunity to lace them up against Chicago," Rodgers said, "and we've obviously won a good deal of my starts."
When the Bears offense faces gritty, nasty defenses, we tend to hear about it for a month afterward with explanations for why the running game can't get going or why the third-down failures were so extreme or how an untimely turnover or red-zone stall-out led to another maddening loss.
The Packers, meanwhile, sized up a normally rugged Bears defense, decided they had the right combination of playmaking ability and schematic wrinkles and then went out and dominated the night.
Rodgers' four touchdown passes were certainly headline-worthy. But Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams also combined to run for 163 yards on 34 carries.
So while the Bears spent their latest postgame therapy session with Nagy calling for teamwide "soul searching" and an urgent quest to "stop the bleeding" and another wave of appreciation for his team's fight, the Packers suddenly believe they're light years ahead of where they were at this time last year. Remember? When they went 12-4 and fell one victory short of the Super Bowl?
When the 2019 season began, there was leaguewide curiosity about how Rodgers and Packers coach Matt LaFleur would coexist, whether a 15th-year veteran on his way to the Hall of Fame would jell with a green head coach barely four years older than him.
On Sunday night, Rodgers was in a full gush about how LaFleur has worked to refine and improve this high-powered offense, praising "the subtleties of simplicity" that the Packers coach implemented over this past offseason.
"That's really allowed me to feel super comfortable with the plan every week, with my responsibilities and my checks," Rodgers said. "And I think that's why I've been playing well."
The Packers offense had a near-perfect first half. Touchdowns on three of their possessions. Zero penalties. None of their 37 plays lost yardage. Eighteen of them produced first downs.
Rodgers believes LaFleur has "settled into his role as head coach."
"Him and I have really been on the same page all season," Rodger said. "There's just a beautiful trust that has blossomed even more this year between him and I."
LaFleur, meanwhile, paid the praise forward to the effort of an offensive line that has been sturdy all year and helped jump-start Sunday night's beatdown. (The Bears not only never sacked Rodgers or forced a turnover, but they also weren't credited in the final game book with a single quarterback hit.)
"It makes it a lot easier, no doubt about it, when you have your whole playbook open and you can call plays that are complementary," LaFleur said.
None of this sounds at all familiar to Bears fans, who are left to continue envying the Packers' success as they try to unsee interceptions forced into double and triple coverage. Bottom line: Week after week, the Bears make it clear they have few if any answers on offense.
As so many feared, Nagy's midweek praise of Mitch Trubisky's "different focus" and his impressive week of practice and the offense's oh-so-encouraging "huddle mechanics" didn't mean much on game night.
The Bears stalled in the red zone on their opening drive, settled for a field goal and never led. Trubisky threw two picks and fumbled twice, losing one that Preston Smith scooped up for a 14-yard touchdown return.
Trubisky short-hopped throws to open receivers on multiple occasions. He also threw high and away at times.
The Bears' fifth straight loss - and the franchise's third winless November in the last five seasons - brings amplified questions about Nagy and the quarterback situation and general manager Ryan Pace and a genuine curiosity about how many current players, coaches and front-office members still will be here the next time the Bears win a playoff game.
"Right now, this is a very, very difficult time that we're going through," Nagy said.
Meanwhile, the Packers rolled on, satisfied but hardly surprised by Sunday's blowout.
"It says a lot about who we are as a team," Adams said.
Added Rodgers: "I like where we're at. . I said before the game and I believe it: If you want to be a great team, these are the kind of games you have to win."
In this series, the Packers usually do.
Photos: Green Bay Packers cruise past Chicago Bears to stay in control of NFC North