CHICAGO -- Timing is everything for a play-caller in the NFL. Call the right play, and you look like a genius. Call the wrong one, and you might be looking for a job.
Call the right one in the biggest moment, and you damn well might put your team in the Super Bowl.
Dom Capers did that Sunday.
Long considered one of the brightest defensive minds in the league, Capers made a defensive call in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game that will live forever for the Green Bay Packers and their fans.
|B.J. Raji is joined by Sam Shields in celebrating Raji's clinching TD at Soldier Field. (AP)|
"Not once," Capers said when I asked if he had used the call. "We just thought it was a good spot for it."
Facing Bears third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie because Jay Cutler was out (knee) and backup Todd Collins was ineffective, the call made a ton of sense. Show a young quarterback one look, drop a defensive linemen into coverage and, boom, you have a 14-point lead, much to the dismay of the Soldier Field crowd.
Hanie threw the ball thinking he had a receiver breaking open, never seeing Raji, which is hard to do considering his size, and Raji gathered the ball in and rumbled into the end zone.
Hanie made it interesting by leading the Bears to a touchdown to cut it 21-14, and then driving Chicago to Green Bay's 29 with 47 seconds left, but a pick by Green Bay rookie corner Sam Shields sealed it for the Packers.
"We knew it would come down to us," Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said. "That's the way we wanted it."
The Packers won for the third time on the road in these playoffs to earn their trip to the Super Bowl as a sixth seed. The first couple of games were about quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense. This one was about the defense.
Rodgers got off to a fast start against the Bears, but he wasn't his usual self. He seemed to struggle in the second half and finished with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. His passer rating of 55.4 was the first of his playoff career -- four games -- where he was held under 120.0.
|More on Packers-Bears|
Does Cutler have an injured knee or a weak heart? Read More >>
This was a day for the defense. With the Bears-Packers, you would expect that based on history and weather conditions. Close your eyes and you can see Butkus and Nitschke crashing into runners, or Willie Davis and Richard Dent dropping opposing quarterbacks.
Packers-Bears isn't about any glamour-boy quarterback or fleet receivers or runners with wheels.
This was about Capers and his defense. As Capers made his made his way through the locker room late Sunday afternoon, as joyous players were swarmed around him, little attention came his way.
"Finally got there," Capers said.
He had been close three times to going to the Super Bowl, losing three times in the championship game, twice as a coordinator and once as a head coach (Carolina in 1996).
For all the gaudy numbers Rodgers put up this season, the Packers played great defense. They finished second in the league in points allowed, first in the NFC. They did so despite losing four starters to injuries.
Capers is a man of a 1,000 looks on defense. He is a 3-4 guru, but against the Bears he used a lot of different fronts, including two down linemen. One wrinkle was using Charles Woodson at safety and taking strong safety Charlie Peprah off the field. Woodson dropped down into the box on a couple of plays to help take away the run.
Cutler looked confused. That's what Capers does to quarterbacks.
If you were keeping coordinator score: Capers 1, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz 0.
"Dom's a great defensive mind," Raji said. "I'm happy he's on our side. We're a great defense."
|Green Bay Packers|
|Aaron Rodgers' accuracy early was huge, but his passer rating of 55.4 was his worst of the season. The Packers used WR Greg Jennings to beat the Bears' cover-2 and also had another effective rushing game with 81 yards on 25 carries from their running backs. In holding the Bears to a 45.2 passer rating and knocking QB Jay Cutler out of the game, the Packers' defense made a statement they could be the league's best.|
|If Lovie Smith had been told ahead of time his defense would hold the Packers' offense to 14 points, have two INTs and limit Aaron Rodgers to a 55.4 pass rating, there's little doubt he'd have been happy. The Bears' offense looked unprepared for what Packers D-coordinator Dom Capers brought at them, and the Bears didn't even score a win in special teams.|
|By Gene Chamberlain|
The Packers held the Bears to 112 yards in the first three quarters. They did a good with the Bears running game early, which Raji said was the key.
"No disrespect, but this team was not going to beat us with the pass," Raji said.
With outstanding cover players like Woodson and Tramon Williams, Capers has the luxury of being able to be creative. When he put Woodson down, it put more pressure on Shields, a rookie who was not drafted. All he did was pick off the biggest pass of the game.
When Cutler left he was 6 of 14 for 80 yards and a passer rating of 31.8 with one interception. He looked even worse.
Somebody asked Bishop if the thought Cutler was frustrated.
"I think so, a little bit," Bishop said. "We were frustrating him a little bit. He couldn't really get a rhythm. That worked in our favor. I think that (new looks) could have threw him off, but I don't really know. We throw in a little wrinkle. I guess he couldn't adjust."
Bishop said the Packers also ad-lib some on the field.
"Dom gives us the leeway to do that," Bishop said. "Sometimes the offense can key on what we're doing. We talk about it before the play. We talk about switching guys up so they can't get a beat on us."
That's why you might see the Packers players jumping around before the snap, trying to confuse the quarterback.
Capers is among those credited with hatching the zone blitz when he was a defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. It was considered innovative and creative. Then there was a time when some personnel people felt offenses caught up to it.
That hasn't been the case lately, especially not in Green Bay, especially not Sunday. Raji's play was textbook as to what that zone blitz can do to a quarterback.
"I think when you play a team three times, a familiar opponent, you have to be able to mix it up a little bit in order to present new problems," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "I think we were able to do that for the most part."
They did for most of the day, but it was the right call at the right time that put them in the Super Bowl, 60 minutes from a another big silver trophy named after their famed coach going back to where the first one went some 45 years ago.