Monday, December 17, 2012

Packers beat Bears -- again -- and win NFC North

The Green Bay Packers did what they needed to do Sunday -- and are accustomed to doing as of recent years in this series -- by beating the Chicago Bears 21-13 and claiming the NFC North Division title for the second straight year.

We had projected one of two scenarios in our game preview: either the Packers would go up early and never let Da Bearz back in, or, the game would be close in the first half and the Packers would take control in the second half. The latter was the scenario that played out, jump started by a late first-half interception that was turned into a touchdown to put the Pack up 14-7 at halftime.

Chicago actually scored first. But after that, the Packers ran off 21 unanswered points. The Packers controlled both sides of the ball. It was a given the Packers would score points, the question would be whether the Packers' defense could contain WR Brandon Marshall and RB Matt Forte. They did. They also continued to harras and sack QB Jay "Why Me?" Cutler. It's getting so bad that you almost feel sorry for him. Naaaaaaah.

Actually, the Packers' defense not only got sacks on Cutler but shut down the run and made Marshall essentially a non-factor. They also had several great defensive stands, including a first-and-goal from about the one-yard line. Actually, if it wasn't for two Packers' turnovers leading to six points, and two missed field goals -- again -- by kicker Mason Crosby, the game wouldn't have been as close as the score indicated.

It also wouldn't have been as close if the Packers hadn't called what was one of the most ill-timed and boneheaded special teams' plays EVER. With roughly eight minutes left in the game and the Packers leading 21-10, Chicago punted to the Packers' Randall Cobb, a sure-handed and dangerous returner. For some reason known only in a bizzaro football world, the Packers decided to take the ball out of the hands of its best special teams' player and do a trick play where Cobb -- a former quarterback at Kentucky -- threw backwards to a teammate on the other side of the field. Only problem was that the receiving player, WR Jeremy Ross, failed to catch the ball or secure it once he dropped it. Da Bearz recovered the ball inside the Packers' redzone. This was a gift from the football gods to Chicago, putting them in easy range of making it a 21-17 game with nearly half the 4th quarter remaining. Once again, though, the Packers' defense shut down Chicago's offense, holding them to a 34-yard field goal to make it 21-13. In his press conference today, head coach Mike McCarthy tried to explain the rationale behind the trick play but finished by saying, "In the end, it was not a good decision." That's an understatement. The Packers were lucky they were facing Chicago's inept offense and not a more productive team or it really could have put the game in jeopardy. Instead of taking time off the clock and preserving the lead...well...anyway...bad decision and likely will not be seeing this play again anytime soon. Or ever.

That's where the scoring ended, as the Packers were able to secure the victory through a clutch corner kick punt by Tim Masthy inside the final two minutes of the game that went out of bounds at Chicago's 2-yard line. With no timeouts, and a devastating sack on Cutler by Clay Matthews (his second of the day), the clock finally wound down to zero.

QB Aaron Rodgers was under pressure and was sacked several times. But his passes, especially his three touchdown passes to WR James Jones, were keys to victory, as was his ability to keep plays alive with his feet. He wound up injuring his right ankle on a late run, but McCarthy said at his press conference today that it was not serious. Jones, for his part, had a career day with his three TD catches, for a league-leading twelve. The Packers' three-head running attack of Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant once again accounted for more than 100 yards rushing, which helped open the passing game for Rodgers, who finished the day 23 of 36 for 291 yards and the three touchdowns. Grant, though, on his first carry of the day, had one of the team's two turnovers on a fumble after a nice gain, halting a promising drive.

Still, it was a win. Six straight over Da Bearz now.

Game. Head-to-head series. Division title. Home playoff game. It was a good day in Chicago.

Go Pack Go!