Referee Terry McAulay, the same ref who called a franchise record 18 penalties on the Packers in the Week 3 matchup between the Packers and the Bears, will work Sunday’s NFC Championship game. As Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin reports, McAulay isn’t known for for calling a lot of penalties. “In 15 games, McAulay’s crew called 208 penalties, ranking it eighth in the league among officiating crews,” writes Wilde. “The 105.2 yards per game ranked sixth among the 17 regular crews.” It should also be noted that McAulay leads a so-called all-star crew, not the same one he worked with in the regular season.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers met a larger than usual media presence on Wednesday in which he talked about his desire for a Super Bowl championship and his publicized “title belt” celebration. “Rodgers insisted Wednesday that the move isn’t meant to be disrespectful to opponents and isn’t even directed at them, per se,” writes Jason Wilde. Rodgers explained how he’s done it for years on the practice field as a way of inspiring teammates. Bill Huber of Packer Report has another article on Rodgers.
Rodgers also spoke about the challenge of facing linebacker Brian Urlacher on the opposite side of the field. ‘‘Brian is probably my favorite player to play against just because I enjoy the seconds between snaps,’’ Rodgers is quoted as saying by Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘He’s a very funny guy on the field. I know a lot of his calls probably don’t mean a lot and he probably knows the same thing about some of my calls, so we have some fun with each other back and forth not only between plays, TV timeouts, at the line of scrimmage.”
Rodgers’ counterpart on the Bears, quarterback Jay Cutler, also met with the media who asked him about his impromptu playing style. “The Bears’ chances at reaching the Super Bowl with a win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday will largely rest on the arm and brain of Cutler,” writes Kareem Copeland of the Press-Gazette. “He brings an athleticism to the position that coaches covet – strong arm, pocket presence, a threat to run and ability to throw on the move. But those very traits have gotten Cutler in trouble in the past as he trusts that natural ability too much at times.”
The Packers have the opportunity to prevent President Barack Obama from attending the Super Bowl. “President Barack Obama said Wednesday he plans to attend Super Bowl XLV if his hometown Chicago Bears are playing in it,” writes Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. In news that’s hard-to-believe, no sitting President has ever attended the Super Bowl.
For four veterans in the Packers locker room, they’re as close as ever to winning a Super Bowl. Donald Driver, Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson and Chad Clifton are all looking for their first NFL championship. “They’re the four players on the Packers’ roster who are in double digits in terms of years in this league, and not one has ever won a Super Bowl,” writes Mike Spofford of the Packers official website. “A collective 46 years of experience, counting this year, and no rings. Yet.” Woodson played in a Super Bowl while in Oakland but never won it.
The Bears defense has held the Packers offense in check for the most part this season. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette discusses the Xs and Os. “The question for the NFC championship game this week is whether Smith’s game plan Sunday will be more like the teams’ first meeting in Week 3, when he sat back in Cover-2 zones and gave up big yardage but kept the Packers from putting up many points in a 20-17 win at Soldier Field,” writes Dougherty. “Or will he play it more like the regular-season finale three weeks ago, when in the Packers’ 10-3 win Smith played mostly with a single safety deep and, very un-Cover-2-like, used extensive man-to-man coverage that included pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage?” How about a mixture of the two?
Rookie cornerback Sam Shields is featured in a column by Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “Shields is playing a key role as the nickel back on the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 rated scoring defense and preparing for the NFC championship game,” writes Vandermause. The level of play Shields has played at this season can not be understated, and I’d go as far as saying he was one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the entire NFL.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith and his desire to beat the Packers is the subject of an article by Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He put it out there in his first season as Bears’ coach, taking over a demoralized franchise that had been battered by the Packers, telling the media in his first news conference, in that soft Texas voice, that the No.?1 goal was to beat Green Bay,” writes Glauber. Smith will never live down that proclamation as much as he tries to avoid it, and it will hang over his head more than ever this Sunday.
Kicker Mason Crosby is in the crosshairs of an article by Gary D’Amato of the Journal Sentinel about the possibility of an important game being decided by a kick. “He has been one of the hotter kickers in the league since midseason, having made 11 of 13 field goal attempts over the last nine games (including playoffs),” writes D’Amato. “He hit the left upright on his two recent misses, from 29 yards against San Francisco on Dec. 5 and from 50 against Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoff game last week.” Remember that kicker Garrett Hartley of the Saints played a pivotal role in last year’s NFC Championship game.
Linebacker Erik Walden is a topic of conversation after his solid performance against the Bears in Week 17. “Walden, the street free agent who was signed on Oct. 27, made his coming out party against the Bears in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field,” writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “He sacked Jay Cutler three times and recorded a team-high 16 tackles.” With fellow linebacker Frank Zombo still sitting out with an injury, Walden could continue to play a large role.
A Bears columnist has bold words on the Devin Hester Effect. “If the Packers punt to him, they deserve to lose,” writes Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s beyond all comprehension why teams still kick to him, but they do. He is in such a comfort zone right now and opponents are in such a discomfort zone when he’s on the field that giving him a chance to run with the ball defies all logic.”
Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network is impressed with the Bears.
Running back James Starks is profiled by Judd Zulgad of the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis.
Pete Seroogy of PocketDoppler comes full circle on general manager Ted Thompson.
Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post details the tall task facing the Bears.
A Packers fan in Hungary gets some attention from the Wall Street Journal.