GREEN BAY, Wis. — Hello, Ryan Grant.
Goodbye, “Soldier Field North.”
Grant finally hit his stride — and justified his big contract — for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown in a dominant 37-3 victory over the Chicago Bears.
The win boosts the Packers (5-5) into a three-way tie with the Bears and Minnesota Vikings atop the muddled NFC North. It has been an up-and-down season for the post-Brett Favre Packers, but Sunday’s win puts them in position to win the division again.
“We’re the champions,” Grant said, “until somebody takes it to us.”
Sunday’s win also was the Packers’ first victory over the Bears at Lambeau Field since Lovie Smith took over as Chicago’s head coach in 2004. That’s important, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy was more interested in what happens next.
“Is it going to feel good when you walk through the door? Absolutely,” McCarthy said. “But it was a game that was important for our season. To get to 5-5 and tied with Minnesota and Chicago, that’s where we wanted to be today.”
Chicago, meanwhile, didn’t look much like a playoff contender on either side of the ball Sunday.
Kyle Orton started at quarterback for the Bears after sitting out last Sunday’s game with a sprained right ankle. But Orton was outplayed by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“They ran it, they threw it,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “They did whatever they wanted to do.”
Grant and Rodgers both benefited from much-improved play by the Packers’ offensive line, which pushed around a Bears defense that had been strong against the run but vulnerable to the pass.
A week after taking four sacks and giving up two safeties in a loss at Minnesota, Rodgers wasn’t sacked and barely was touched by the Bears’ pass rush.
“They took some heat, from not only the media but the guys in the locker room, the coaches,” Rodgers said of his line. “I had a lot of confidence in them, every position. But I felt like they had a lot to prove today, and they did.”
Orton was 13-of-26 for 138 yards, completing only two passes to a wide receiver against the Packers’ strong secondary. Orton appeared to take a shot in the leg from Aaron Kampman in the first quarter and was limping at times throughout, but said it didn’t hamper his play.
“We stunk it up,” Orton said. “I stunk it up. I just look at myself, obviously — when you get beat by 30 points, you don’t have to look too far. I just look at myself and say I’ve got to get better.”
Orton fumbled with the Bears trailing 27-3 in the fourth quarter, and defensive end Jason Hunter returned the ball 54 yards for a touchdown. Rex Grossman relieved Orton for the remainder of the game.
Rodgers, meanwhile, started with seven straight completions — including a 3-yard slant to Greg Jennings for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. Chicago answered with a field goal.
Rodgers then made his only major mistake all afternoon, throwing an interception to Urlacher to end a potential scoring drive.
But Grant carried the Packers’ offense on their next possession, carrying six times on a seven-play drive. Rodgers joked that he would have liked to throw more on that drive, but recognized the value of an offense being able to run until a defense can stop it.
“It’s fun to watch,” Rodgers said.
Facing second-and-2 at the Chicago 22, Grant broke free for 18 yards, then plunged in for a 4-yard touchdown on the next play to put the Packers ahead 14-3.
Grant, a breakout star during the Packers’ run to the playoffs last season, sat out part of training camp in a contract dispute. He ultimately signed a four-year deal worth up to $30 million, but immediately was hampered by a hamstring injury.
Sunday’s game was only Grant’s second 100-yard rushing performance this season.
“I have felt better and better,” Grant said. “This is the best I’ve felt all season, so I do feel like I’m getting in a groove. We need to keep it going.”
So does the Packers’ defense, which struggled to stop the run all season and suddenly had to account for the absence of middle linebacker Nick Barnett, out for the season with a knee injury.
A.J. Hawk moved to the inside, with Brandon Chillar filling Hawk’s spot on the weak side. The Packers contained Bears rookie running back Matt Forte, who rushed for 64 yards and added 40 yards receiving.
Notes: Hunter’s fumble return for a touchdown was the Packers’
ninth return touchdown and franchise-record seventh defensive touchdown of the season. … Packers kicker Mason Crosby, who missed a potential winning field goal at Minnesota last week, tied his career long with a 53-yarder just before halftime. … Smith said LB Darrell McClover has a hamstring injury.