Bears coach Matt Eberflus avoids fixating on Packers, but rivalry will define his tenure

Around this time last year, just days before Aaron Rodgers stomped the Bears yet again and taunted the crowd at Soldier Field by screaming, “All my [expletive] life, I own you,” he mentioned — unsolicited — an amusing pattern he’d noticed at Halas Hall.

Every Bears head coach — there have been five during his 15 seasons as Packers starter — blusters about the same thing.

“Themain focusforso many of these coaches’ press conferences in Chicago is beatingthePackers,” he said, knowing every word of it would sting a team he has now beaten 23 of 28 times.

The newest coach to take his shot at Rodgers and the longstanding kings of the NFC North is Matt Eberflus, who will make his debut in the rivalry Sunday night at Lambeau Field. And he’s not giving Rodgers any newmaterial.

Eberflus never even mentioned the Packers by name Monday and rejected the premise that he was hired to dethrone them.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I really just focus on our process and what we want to get done and how we want to improve every single week.

“We’re writing our book and we’re turning our pages and we’re going to do that one gameat a time.”

That’s fine, but the central conflict to this tale is that he’s following a long line of fallen coaches who couldn’t defeat this super villain. The plot needs to be one of vengeance, or no one is buying Eberflus’ book.

So regardless of whether he wants to discuss it, there’s no doubt his success or failure against the Packers will be one of the key determinants of how long he keeps this job.

The last Bears coach to post a winning record against the Packers was Mike Ditka, who went 15-5 from 1982 through ’92. Since then, Brett Favre and Rodgers shredded everyone except Lovie Smith, who managed what is considered a relatively respectable mark of 8-11.

Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Marc Trestman, John Fox and Matt Nagy each won two or fewer games and combined to go 6-34. The last three came and went very quickly.

“I mean, sure, I hear things and all that… but we’re going to focus on us,” Eberflus said. “This is going to be about our football team, about how we operate, how we play and what we do.”

There’s prudence in that mentality, but it’s undeniable that the Bears and Packers are always playing a zero-sum game. Their fates are inextricable from each other, and that’s been true for more than a century.

With a new coach and a roster loaded with young players, most of the Bears haven’t been around long enough to truly grasp the exasperation of Rodgers’ domination.

Linebacker Roquan Smith is one of the few who does. His introduction to the rivalry was the maddening collapse in the 2018 opener, and he is now 1-7 against Rodgers and ever eager for his next shot.

He expects Rodgers’ absolute A-game after stumbling in the season-opening loss to the Vikings on Sunday.

“The guy is obviously one of the greatest to ever play the game, and as a competitor myself, I love going against people like that,” Smith said. “I’m sure he will be a little bit [angry] after this last game.

“Hey, you wouldn’t want it any other way — Get the best version of him, and then we get the dub and it will be even sweeter.”

Alright, now it’s getting a little spicier. Anybody else got anything?

“They don’t like us, and we don’t like them,” said wide receiver Byron Pringle, a newcomer. “We already know what type of game it’s going to be.”

That’s hardly a jalape?o compared to, “I own you,” but it’ll do for now.

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