In a game that proved a microcosm of their season, the Green Bay Packers displayed enough fortitude Sunday to wipe out a quick deficit on the road, then held on despite silly mistakes for a 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. With the win, the Packers clinched an NFC North title and paved the way for a total Bears collapse.
The Packers' second straight division title was a triumph over injuries and a display of depth not unlike the one they made two seasons ago when they won the Super Bowl. They were 4-3 on Oct. 21 and two games behind the Bears, yet clinched it with two games left as their makeshift offensive line Sunday gave Aaron Rodgers the chance to throw for 291 yards, and three touchdowns to wide receiver James Jones.
Armed with the lead, the Packers turned it over to a defense that seems to have mastered Bears QB Jay Cutler. They limited the Bears to 190 net yards and held Cutler to 12 of 21 for 135 yards. CB Casey Hayward picked off Cutler near the half to help change the game, while the defense kept the Bears out of the end zone in the fourth quarter when a pass interference penalty and a botched razzle-dazzle play on a punt return gave Chicago two chances at TDs deep in Packers territory. Kicker Mason Crosby missed two more field goals to leave the door open for the Bears, as well.
The loss came with controversy for the Bears as one TD to Alshon Jeffery got called back due to an offensive pass interference, and he was called for two more offensive interference penalties. Then Jeffery failed to get the benefit of a call when CB Sam Shields knocked him backwards on a fourth-and-nine incompletion near the sidelines on the final legitimate Bears scoring threat.
After winning their 12th straight division game, the Packers (10-4) now have a chance to move into the second seed spot, which would mean a first-round bye. To do that, they'll have to pick up a game on the second-seeded 49ers. The 49ers were play Sunday night against the New England Patriots.
The Bears (8-6) have now fallen into a tie for the final wild-card playoff spot, and in many cases are trailing teams they are tied with on tiebreakers. Washington and Minnesota both own tiebreaker edges on the Bears.
When the game turned: DB Casey Hayward's INT and 24-yard INT return to the Bears 26 gave the Packers a chance to break a 7-all tie with 1:25 left in the first half. With no receiver in the direct vicinity, QB Jay Cutler threw it right to Hayward and the Packers took a 14-7 lead on an 8-yard Aaron Rodgers-to-James Jones TD pass that left the Bears chasing all day long.
Highlight moments: WR Brandon Marshall's stiff-arm of Hayward and run to the end zone for a 15-yard TD and 7-0 Chicago lead with 8:03 left in the second quarter. ... A third-and-six pass for 31 yards to Randall Cobb to the Bears 35 that set up a 29-yard Rodgers-to-Jones TD pass. Rodgers was flushed out of the pocket by the blitz and threw the ball well downfield along the sidelines to Cobb, who got two feet down. Three plays later Rodgers found Jones for a 29-yard TD down the right sidelines. ... Rodgers' second-and-goal, 8-yard TD pass before the half to give the Packers the lead after Hayward's INT. ... Rodgers' 6-yard TD pass to Jones after a pass interference penalty against Bears S Chris Conte had put the Packers on the brink of the goal line. ... The silly risky punt return gamble taken by Green Bay while leading 21-10 woth 8:11 remaining; Randall Cobb tried to throw a backward pass across the field to Jeremy Ross. The ball went to the turf and Anthony Walters recovered at the Packers 16.
Green Bay's Rodgers -- He completed 22-of-36 for 291 yards and three TDs without an INT for a passer rating of 116.8. He helped Green Bay convert 7-of-17 third downs (41 percent). Rodgers converted a fourth-and-six pass into a first down on a completion of 12 yards to Cobb at the Bears 14 after the Packers decided to gamble rather than turn it over to their kicker for a 43-yard field goal.
Green Bay's James Jones -- Five catches, three for TDs. He had 60 receiving yards.
Green Bay's Cobb -- Six catches for 115 yards; he was the player Rodgers turned to when he neeed help most.
Green Bay LB Clay Matthews -- Returned from a hamstring injury to register two more sacks and raise his season total to 11, despite missing four games with a hamstring injury. Matthews helped the Packers defense hold the Bears to 0-for-9 on third downs.
What they said about the Packers winning the division title:
Packers coach Mike McCarthy -- "I am not a drama queeen, but it is great that we won a championship today. I feel good about it, not to diminish anything here, but we are just getting started. We feel that way as a football team. Not trying to be arrogant (but) we feel a lot better football (is) in front of us."
Packers WR Randall Cobb -- "This is big. To come into a rival's house and win, clinch your division, and be able to celebrate in their locker room, that's a great feeling."
What they said about the offensive pass interference penalties against Bears WR Alshon Jeffery:
Packers LB Clay Matthews -- "That's how it goes. You have to play by the rules. It's the same with me out there. We're fortunate to have benefited from that, but it was blatant. It was obvious. So we'll take it."
Bears QB Jay Cutler -- "Bump and run and press -- they let him play early on and then started calling it later. I don't know for what reason. Alshon is a big receiver and whenever he bumps a guy, the guy is going to move."
What they said about the Bears collapse in the race:
Bears coach Lovie Smith -- "They're the NFC North champs. We have to get to the playoffs a different way, and that's the only thing we can think about now."
|The home of the Super Bowl|
Bears QB Jay Cutler -- "We've got to strap it back together, we've got to piece this thing back together however we've got to do it, and we've got to find a way to win these next two games and let things fall where they may."
What they said about the botched return by Green Bay:
Packers coach Mike McCarthy: "Well, really, the reason behind the fake punt is that Aaron (Rodgers) had come off with an ankle (injury). We had a couple injuries on the sidelines, had guys that were getting ready for the next series. I thought the potential for the big play on special teams was there. It was a play we have been working on.. ... Now, in the end, it's not a very good decision. I wish I had that back."
Injury update: The Bears lost RT Jonathan Scott to a hamstring injury, and although he returned, he eventually had to leave the game. Gabe Carimi, who had started at right guard, struggled and was replaced when Chris Spencer came onto the field, then finished the game at right tackle for Scott as the O-line continued to be a blind draw. The Bears played the game without three defensive starters: DT Henry Melton (chest), LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring), and CB Tim Jennings (shoulder). Packers backup TE Tom Crabtree left the game in the second half with a hamstring injury.
Going forward: Bears -- They travel to Phoenix for a game Sunday against Arizona (3 p.m. eastern time) that is must-win if they are still to have a shot at a wild card. Green Bay hosts Tennessee in a noon game, trying to improve its seeding.
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.