GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Akiem Hicks hit Aaron Rodgers on the first defensive snap Sunday, and Hicks' first in eight weeks, since a grisly dislocated left elbow sent the Bears Pro Bowl lineman to injured reserve.
It was a reminder of everything the Bears have missed in the absence of one of the game's most underrated players. Hicks, who tallied two of Chicago's mere four QB hits, tackled the ball carrier on the very next play, showing the other half of his two-way game-wrecking ability.
Unfortunately, there were even more reminders of the pain Hicks was playing through, coming in the form of his frequent trips to the blue medical tent on the sideline during the Bears' 21-13 loss Sunday at Lambeau, eliminating them from playoff contention.
After being activated from IR when first eligible Saturday, Hicks donned a giant brace on his elbow, protecting him from doing additional damage, not alleviating any of the pain he'd endure.
"It just speaks to who he is — his toughness. He aggravated it a few times in the middle of the game, and you're never sure really what happens," Matt Nagy said. "But for him to fight back like that and be back out there as a warrior with his team, we appreciate that."
It's possible the Bears appreciate and value their best defensive lineman so much that we don't see him on the field again this season. Then again, they could have a hard time shutting down Hicks, even with their postseason aspirations officially vanquished.
"It was everything. My defensive line mates saw the energy and they were excited for me to be able to go back out there because they know how much I miss it," Hicks said. "I was happy that I got to play today."
Hicks finished with four tackles for a Bears run 'D' that held Packers offensive MVP Aaron Jones to an average of 3.9 yards on his 13 carries, albeit two of them finishing in the end zone. He was clearly on a snap count, and now the Bears must decide whether to play one of their best players in the final two games that don't count. Perhaps it'll depend on the status of Roy Robertson-Harris, who missed his first game of the season Sunday with a foot injury, though the Bears could also look to Abdullah Anderson — a healthy scratch Sunday and most of the season — for additional snaps.
Officiating blunder: When Cordarrelle Patterson arrived a hair after PR Tramon Williams fielded Pat O'Donnell's 34-yard punt, blasting the longtime Packer and dislodging the ball at midfield around the midway point of a scoreless first quarter, it should've signaled a big edge of Chicago's over its oldest rivals — the third phase.
Instead, it was yet another reminder in an NFL season loaded with them that officiating has never been worse. Patterson's timing was impeccable; the stripes simply blew the call, which wasn't reviewable but was preceded by moments the Packers taking a lead they'd never relinquish.
"It's frustrating, but at the end of the day that's [the officials] job. My job is getting down there and making the play. Their job is to make the right call. ... I don't think it was the right call."
Still, Patterson's special-teams prowess — in coverage in addition to on kickoff returns — has been one of the few bright spots in a dark Bears season, when he's thrived in the less familiar gunner role, while also leading the NFL in kick-return average. Patterson even almost had the first blocked punt of his career later Sunday.
"That was my first time ever [nearly] blocking a punt. I thought I had it and I looked up and the ball was in the air. I was real close."
Indeed, it's a game of inches, and Matt Nagy thought that especially held true Sunday, when Patterson also nearly made a huge third-down conversion in the red zone late in the third quarter but couldn't get his second foot in bounds.
"I thought there was a lot of those types of plays today. It's kind of uncommon for that many plays to be a game of inches," he said.