|Packers TE Jermichael Finley gets ‘juiced up' playing at Soldier Field. (US Presswire)|
Packers TE Jermichael Finley is probably one of the only offensive players in the NFL who looks forward to playing the Bears at Soldier Field in December.
While most players detest the cold weather of the old outdoor stadium, the injury risk on the shabby turf and the punishing hits of the Bears' brute defense, Finley was positively buoyant at the prospect of taking not only the field but the division in Chicago on Sunday.
“I get juiced up there,” Finley said Wednesday. “The atmosphere gets you juiced up. Just the game period. Bears-Packers gets you juiced up.”
That's because, for Finley and the Packers, there's more riding on this game, the 186th matchup between the two classic rivals, than usual. If the Packers win, they clinch the NFC North crown. And Finley knows with his track record against the Bears in Chicago, he's the one that can help them do it.
“Oh, of course,” Finley said when asked if it would mean more to wrap up the division at Soldier Field. “There's a lot of trash talk, a lot of animosity. … It's going to be a hostile environment and it's going to be a great thing for our fans to seal up the division there. So it's a must-win for us.”
The brash 25-year-old tight end has been outspoken on a lot of topics in his career and especially this season. But his latest claim is less brazen than it is backed up by history and personal performance.
Since 2009, when Finley became the primary tight end, the Packers have gone 3-1 in Chicago. And in three games against the Bears at Soldier Field –- he missed one due to injury –- Finley has 24 catches for 270 yards and three touchdowns. That's an average of eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown per game, a tad better than his 2012 averages of 3.3 catches, 35.7 yards and .15 touchdowns a game.
Finley's been more the monster of the midway than any Chicago defense that's tried to cover him. He's adroitly worked the middle and seams of the Bears' Tampa-2 scheme, never more evident than in the three-touchdown clinic he put on early last season in the Windy City.
Finley agreed with a reporter who said it seemed the Bears' defense has given him more favorable matchup opportunities.
“They've got a tight-end friendly D. I just try and expose it as much as possible,” he said. “It's a Tampa-2, they created that D, and hopefully we can exploit some of that and expose them out there.”
Part of Finley's success against Chicago has been his ability to beat the coverage of linebackers such as 34-year-old Brian Urlacher, who isn't expected to play Sunday because of a lingering hamstring injury. Regarding the likely future Hall of Famer, Finley said Urlacher had been “playing a little slower out there. I don't think they're losing too much if he sits out.”
Finley sounded confident that he'd be able to have his way with whichever Bears defender matched up on him.
“Urlacher's at the end of his career, he wasn't moving too well out there,” he said. “So they're putting another guy in. That might help them a little.”
Chicago leads the league in takeaways with 35 and is tied for first with seven defensive touchdowns. Veteran CB Charles Tillman, who won the praise of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and WR James Jones, has a league-high nine forced fumbles and two interceptions.
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But Finley, who has lost two fumbles to the Bears in his career, said he wasn't worried about turnovers. There's a simple preventative measure.
“You just have to secure the ball,” Finley said. “What's his name, (No.) 33 (Tillman), he goes for the ball often and he gets it out often. You just have to secure the ball.”
Bears week is always charged up. But for a Packers team that's won seven of its past eight games and is looking to secure a second straight NFC North title, and for a player seeking to reassert his dominance, this week it means even more.
“I need it, team needs it, we need it,” Finley said. “We need to get rolling for ourselves this week for the end of the season and the playoffs.
“December's when you're supposed to play great football, so hopefully that happens.”
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter: @CBSPackers and @jimmycarlton88.