Senior writer jclombardi reviews & grades Packers win over Bears.
Summary: After a fast start building a 14-0 lead in the first half, the Packers offense imploded against a toughing Bears defense allowing the Bears to get back in the game. Yet, the defense created the big turnovers, scored the Packers’ final touchdown score producing the margin of victory on NT Raji’s 18-yard touchdown interception return, and CB Shields’ interception iced the victory in the final minute for a 21-14 win.
Game balls: NT Raji; CB Shields; WR Jennings; DE Jenkins; P Masthay.
Injury Report: OLB Walden (ankle sprain).
Report Card–Good, Bad, & Ugly: JC vs SE:
Pass Offense—C- vs C. After a hot first half performance to lead the Packers to a 14-0 lead, QB Rodgers struggled in the second half. He looked shaky and erratic failing to get the big plays. Overall, he had only 17 completions for 244 yards, 2 interceptions, and a poor 55.4 passer rating. The first interception occurred when the ball that bounced off WR Driver into LB Briggs’ arms. The other interception went into the arms of LB Urlacher on third-and-goal from the Bears six yard line, costing a probable scoring opportunity to put the game away. WR Jennings was super for 130 yards. WR Nelson made clutch catches for 67 yards. Yet, in the final 41 minutes, the offense got nothing on the scoreboard. Their final eight possessions produced a punt, interception, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, and punt. On big third downs, Rodgers was 1-for-7 with a sack and an interception. For the most part, Rodgers’ protection held up well as the Bears defense got only one sack, three TFLs and three QB hits.
Rush Offense–B vs C. The Packers rushed for a good 120 yards averaging a decent 3.8 ypc. RB Starks had 22 carries for 74 and 1 touchdown averaging 3.4 ypc. QB Rodgers had 7 carries for 39 yards and 1 touchdown averaging 5.6 ypc. In a tale of two halves, in the first half, they averaged 5.8 yards with 104 yards. In the second half, they had only a pitiful 16 yards.
Pass Defense—B+ vs B. The defense thoroughly confused and harassed Cutler without having to use blitz pressure. Cutler was only 6-of-14 for 80 yards, 1 interception and a 31.8 passer rating while in the game. Then, the defense knocked out the Bears’ top two quarterbacks, Jay Cutler and Todd Collins. Third string QB Hanie led a fourth quarter comeback completing 13-of-20 for 153 yards and 65.2 passer rating. The Packers withstood a rally led by Chicago third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. He led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, but NT Raji’s interception touchdown return put the Packers up 21-7. Yet, QB Hanie led another scoring drive to make the score 21-14. In Chicago’s final series trying to tie the game, the comeback ended in the final minute when Shields came up with his second big interception. The Packers had 3 interceptions and 2 sacks. CB Shields had two interceptions, 4 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. DE Jenkins had a whale of a game. So did B.J. Raji. It just shows what pressure up the gut (inside rush) can do to a quarterback. Raji has done it all year and Jenkins is benefiting from that. He’s going against one-on-one blocking. Matthews draws a tackle, as well as help from a tight end or fullback; and, a lot of times, Raji gets the center and the guard. So the backside has one-on-one matchups. Also, in the first half, DE Jenkins stopped two drives alone. He ended the game with a half-sack, two quarterback hits, and two tackles for a loss. The defense, especially LB Bishop, did a great job to limit TE Olsen to only 3 catches for 30 yards. Solid LB Bishop led with 8 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss. Yet, RB Forte had a huge game with 10 receptions for 90 yards. While missing two big coverage assignments in the fourth quarter leading scores, safety Collins had 7 tackles.
Rush Defense—B vs B-. The Bears rushed for only 83 yards. RB Forte got only 70 yards averaging 4.1 yards, but he had several significant runs. Slow LB Hawk seems to be good for one or two missed tackles and one big catch in a game. DE Jenkins had an impressive takedown of Forte for a 2-yard loss on a third-down play with the Bears backed up near their end zone in the second quarter. Bishop was stout at the point of attack, notching a team-high eight tackles (seven solo) and setting up the ill-fated last pass by Hanie by snuffing out an end-around run by Bennett to the left on third-and-3 from the Packers’ 27 for a 2-yard loss.
Special teams—B vs B-. Generally, the special teams had a good game limiting returner Hester. He had only one kickoff return for 24 yards and three punt returns for 16 yards averaging only 5.3 yards with a long return of 11. The MVP had to be P Masthay who had a solid game with 8 punts averaging a solid 41.8 yards and 5 inside the 20. Not much else stood out positively for Green Bay’s units, however. Starks slipped to the frozen Soldier Field turf on the game-opening kickoff and averaged only 15 yards in two runbacks – Woodson picked up just 14 yards on a kickoff late in the game. Williams muffed two punts, both retained by the Packers, and averaged a meager 4.3 yards in three runbacks.
Coaching–B vs B. The Packers have won five straight elimination games and became the first No. 6 seed to win an NFC title and earn a trip to the Super Bowl. They became only the third team to reach the Super Bowl by winning three straight road games. The last two to do it, the 2007 Giants and 2005 Steelers, got the league championship. The victory sent the Packers to the Super Bowl in Dallas to meet the Pittsburgh. In the early going, the Packers exploited Chicago’s soft coverage, and they forged the big lead in the biggest game ever between the longtime rivals. Having the upper hand throughout the game allowed Green Bay to again have good offensive balance. Yet, a familiar criticism is signs of complacency cropped up with his conservative play calling late in the game when the Packers struggled to exhaust the clock and thus kept the Bears in the game. Coach McCarthy must get an improved consistent game plan in the Super Bowl. DC Capers unleashed another effective game plan that featured new wrinkles. Shields assumed the familiar role of Woodson and was sent on corner blitzes a handful of times. The zone-blitz drop of Raji into coverage turned into a stroke of genius with the resulting pick-six. STC Slocum corralled Hester without being bashful about kicking to him.
Overall Game—B+ vs. B+ (CBS Sportsline). 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.