The Green Bay Packers (10-4) clinched the NFC North title for the second-straight season with a 21-13 win over the Chicago Bears (8-6) Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
It was over when…
Jay Cutler’s fourth-quarter pass to Alshon Jeffery fell incomplete on 4th-and-9 with 2:07 left. The Bears had the football at the Chicago 45-yard line and could have tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. Instead, the Packers took more than a minute off the clock and then pinned Chicago inside the 5-yard line with 56 seconds left to all but seal the win.
- Aaron Rodgers: Despite consistent pressure, Rodgers kept plays alive with his feet and made plays, especially on third down. The Bears did sack Rodgers three times, but his ability to create space inside confined areas turned two or three more sacks into conversions. His overall statline was pretty good, too; 23-of-36, 296 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 116.8.
- James Jones: The often overlooked receiver caught three more touchdowns, vaulting him back into first place in the NFL with 12 this season. All three scores were important, but the third and final catch seemed to take the air out of Chicago’s chances. It was also a perfect back-shoulder throw, something Rodgers hasn’t been able to utilize as much in 2012.
- Jermichael Finley: The stats weren’t exactly flashy (five catches, 60 yards), and he didn’t find the end zone. But Finley catches converted two third downs and a fourth down, and his reception down the seam for 31 yards was maybe the most impressive play of his season. An optimist would say Sunday is a performance the polarizing Finley could certainly build off.
- Randall Cobb: Games like Sunday are becoming commonplace for Cobb. Six catches for 115 yards, and each play he made seemed to have an added importance. His drop on a tougher-than-it-looked touchdown catch early was a negative, but Cobb was again a playmaker that defenses can’t seem to figure out.
- Clay Matthews: He hadn’t played in a month, but that didn’t stop Matthews from collecting two sacks and four tackles for losses. His return had ripple effects throughout the defense. And while the Bears are one of the worst pass-protecting units in football, Matthews clearly made a big difference in Green Bay’s ability to pressure the quarterback. His contributions against the run often go overlooked, too.
- B.J. Raji: I’d be willing to bet a second look at this game will confirm my gut assumption, that Raji’s first half was arguably the best he’s played since maybe 2010. He was explosive off the ball, both against the run and pass, and the Bears couldn’t block him with one guy. Later on, the Packers stunted with Raji and Matthews on the left side of the Bears offensive line, and Matthews went untouched for a sack. Raji is really coming on late.
Rodgers was sacked three times, bringing his season total to 45. His career high for sacks taken in a single season is 50, back in 2009…The Packers committed eight penalties for 102 yards, with over half coming on a second-half pass interference penalty by Morgan Burnett…Chicago had just 107 passing yards. In two games against the Packers this season, the Bears were only able to pass for 181 total…The Bears were 0-9 on third down and 0-1 on fourth…Matthews now has 11 sacks…Green Bay out-gained Chicago 390 to 191. The Packers also ran 33 more plays (71-48).
–The Packers defense clutched up near the goal line on two different occasions in the second half. Burnett’s 53-yard penalty in the third quarter gave Chicago 1st-and-goal at the five-yard line, but the Bears had to kick a field goal. After a poor decision to get tricky on special teams that backfired, the Packers’ defense again held Chicago to a field goal. The Bears didn’t gain a yard after the silly turnover. In the end, the six points that could have been 14 were the difference.
–Mike McCarthy has remained strong behind Mason Crosby, but that confidence should be wavering now. Is there someone better than Crosby available? Who knows. But GM Ted Thompson will have to think long and hard about giving the top name on his available-kicker board a chance after another miserable performance from Crosby. He’s missed a kick in eight straight games and is hurting this team week-after-week.
–Jay Cutler completed a pass to just three different players. Only one (Brandon Marshall, six catches) happened to be a receiver.
–Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery committed three offensive pass interference penalties. Only Tennessee’s Kenny Britt had accomplished that rare feat in 2012.
–The Packers extended their division winning streak to 12 games. However, Sunday’s win was the first during the streak in which the Packers lost the turnover battle (Green Bay two, Chicago one).
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.