The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North with a victory over the Chicago Bears 21-13.
The Big Play
Opposing defenses have stymied the Packers’ big play ability all season long by playing with a two-deep safety look known as “Cover 2”. Despite facing the Bears, who play the Cover 2 defense more often and better than most, the Packers’ offense found success on a number of long pass plays that this defense was designed to prevent.
On a single series midway through the second quarter alone, Aaron Rodgers connected with three different receivers for passing plays of 19 yards or more. The drive culminated with James Jones getting a step on his defender and hauling in a 29-yard touchdown pass for his first of three scores on the day.
Rodgers also found success against the usually stingy Bears defense for passes of 27, 31 and 14 yards in the second half. The Packers 278 passing and 113 rushing yards were enough for Rodgers and company to slay the Bears for the eighth time in their last ten meetings.
Each team had turnovers in the contest. Chicago’s Jay Cutler threw an interception to rookie Casey Hayward late in the first half for Chicago’s sole turnover while Green Bay had two fumbles in the second half.
The Packers cashed in Hayward’s interception for a touchdown just before the first half ended, but the Bears were only able to convert two fumbles into field goals.
The Packers lost the turnover battle, but Green Bay’s stout defense helped even out the point differential.
Credit the Packers' defense. Typically turnovers spell defeat, but when a team is able to hold an opponent to 0-for-9 on third-down and 0-for-1 on fourth-down, mistakes can be overcome.
The Receiving Corps
Greg Jennings continued to reacquaint himself with the offense and Jermichael Finley put together one of his best outings of the season, but the day belonged to Randall Cobb and James Jones.
Randall Cobb finished the day with six receptions for a game-high 115 receiving yards, but more importantly, he regularly created separation from the Bears' defenders. The second year receiver converted third-downs, and even a fourth-down, into first-downs on each of the three Packers' touchdown drives.
James Jones only hauled in five passes for 60 yards, but three of his grabs went for touchdowns. Jones leads the NFL with 12 touchdowns on the year and continues to outperform the three-year $9.4 million dollar contract he signed in the offseason.
While each member of the receiving group helped stretch the defense and open up routes in the passing game, Rodgers’ laser-like precision made the offense go. He missed an occasional throw, but for most of the day, he put on a quarterbacking clinic.
Kicker Mason Crosby’s struggles continued as he missed two more field goals on Sunday. Missing his first badly to the right and hitting the crossbar on his second attempt, any semblance of confidence the kicker once had is nowhere to be found.
Despite only connecting on 17-of-29 field goal attempts this year, head coach Mike McCarthy reiterated in his post-game press conference that Mason Crosby will remain the Packers kicker.
Crosby’s kicking wasn’t the only special teams gaffe. With the Packers leading 21-10 and less than eight minutes to play in the game, the Packers punt return team’s trickery went badly wrong.
Punt returner Randall Cobb fielded a punt cleanly at his own 23-yard line before attempting to throw the ball back to first year receiver Jeremy Ross. Ross, who has not touched the football all season, was unable to haul in Cobb’s lateral and Chicago recovered the fumble at the Green Bay 16-yard line.
Between the horrible timing and awful execution, the play will go down as one of Mike McCarthy’s worst of his entire coaching tenure.
For as bad as most of the special teams were, the opposite was true for punter Tim Masthay. In addition to his great punts all afternoon, especially his final boot that pinned the Bears on their own 3-yard line, Masthay added a tackle in the game against Devin Hester, one of the game’s best and most dynamic returners.
The newly crowned NFC North Champions return to Green Bay to face the Tennessee Titans next Sunday. The Packers have two games left and remain in the hunt for the number two seed and the important bye week to rest players before starting postseason football.
Max Ginsberg is a regular contributor at CheeseheadTV and is clearly dedicated to the Packers as evidenced by his absence from his in-laws' annual holiday get-together in order to witness the rivalry that is known as Packers-Bears. When he is not endlessly chasing around his active toddler, he can found relaxing on his couch watching football, reading tweets @MaxGinsberg or checking his email at maxginsberg[at]yahoo.com.