By ANDREW SELIGMAN / The Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bears were going nowhere and hearing it from the crowd. Good thing the Green Bay Packers were intent on giving this one away.
“I’d rather have an ugly win than an ugly loss,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
This one certainly wasn’t pretty, even if the Bears remained unbeaten and established themselves as NFC contenders.
Robbie Gould kicked a 19-yard field goal with 4 seconds left after Urlacher forced a fumble in the closing minutes, and Chicago took advantage of a Green Bay team-record 18 penalties to beat the Packers 20-17 on Monday night.
Packers receiver James Jones lost a fumble on a hit by Urlacher before Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett was called for pass interference on Earl Bennett, setting up the winning kick.
Jay Cutler threw for 221 yards for the Bears (3-0), who kept insisting they were contenders through a sloppy preseason and less-than-inspiring opening win over Detroit. Since then, they turned heads with a win at Dallas last week and opened some more eyes against Green Bay — with lots of help from the Packers.
Urlacher jarred the ball out of Jones’ hands after he caught a pass from Aaron Rodgers near midfield. Tim Jennings recovered, giving Chicago the ball on the Packers 46 with 2:18 remaining.
“Any time a play like that comes up, that’s a play you need to make,” the Packers’ Nick Barnett said. “Luckily for them they didn’t have any penalties on that call and they were able to get the ball.”
Soon after, another penalty cost the Packers (2-1) in a big way.
On second down at the 33, Cutler tried to hit Bennett deep along the right sideline and Burnett basically hammered him, wiping out an interception by Nick Collins and putting the ball at the 9. Three plays later, Chicago walked away with a wild win and the only undefeated record in the NFC.
“This is where we want to be and we’re going to have to fight to stay there,” linebacker Lance Briggs said.
The Packers will have to cut down on the penalties and general sloppiness that haunted them in the end.
“I don’t feel bad about the penalties,” Rodgers said. “That’s not the way we play. That’s disappointing. We’re a better team.”
Devin Hester delivered his first touchdown return in three years when he ran back a punt 62 yards in the fourth quarter, giving the Bears a short-lived 14-10 lead.
Rodgers threw for 316 yards and a touchdown and scored on a 3-yard run that gave the Packers a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Jermichael Finley had nine catches for 115 yards, but the sloppiness simply caught up with the Packers in the end.
Cutler completed 16 of 27 passes with a touchdown and an interception. Johnny Knox had four catches for 94 yards.
Chicago held its longtime rival to 63 yards rushing, but the Bears had only 77, turning it into an air game for much of the night.
Hester had just put the Bears ahead in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter when the Packers responded with a 62-yard touchdown drive.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on Henry Melton gave them a first down at the 3. Rodgers, who cramped up a few plays earlier, rolled to his right and lunged into the end zone, making it 17-14.
Then the Packers basically gave it away.
Frank Zombo got called for a helmet-on-helmet hit against Cutler on the next drive that erased an interception by Barnett. On second down, Collins got called for a late hit on Matt Forte after a 15-yard reception, putting the ball on the Packers 29.
Gould made a 25-yard field goal to tie it at 17 with 3:59 left.
Hester’s return eased the sting after the Bears again were stopped at the goal line for the second time this season when choosing not to go for the field goal. The Bears had fourth and inches late in the third when coach Lovie Smith decided to go for the end zone, and they failed to score again, just as they did against Detroit in the opener. This time, Desmond Clark dropped a potential TD pass.
Hester, however, showed his old explosiveness. He took a punt at the 38, broke up the right sideline and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone in a familiar scene, albeit one that hadn’t played in a while.
“My first few years it looked far too easy,” Hester said. “Once or twice, every three weeks. It’s been a long time but I’m happy with what happened today. I feel confident in my teammates and I let them know that.”
It was 12th time he’s returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown and the first since Dec. 30, 2007. He is now tied for second with Dante Hall and Eric Metcalf, one behind Brian Mitchell’s 13.
“It’s been a little bit since Devin has really been electric back there,” Cutler said. “So to get him going again, get him feeling it and energized, he brings a whole new feel to the game.”