Is there a hotter team in the NFL right now than the Green Bay Packers?
The Bears won the toss and elected to defer and receive the ball at the beginning of the second half. Aaron Rodgers quickly struck with a 7 play, 84 yard drive connecting on three 20+ yard receptions to receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Rodgers ended the drive with a 1 yard touchdown run on a playaction bootleg, barely getting the ball inside the pylon.
The Bears offense struggled early and often. They couldn’t get anything going in the first half, suffering three 3 and out’s and failing to get a drive going for more than six plays.
The Bears vaunted defense also let them down in the first half, giving Aaron Rodgers all day to throw the ball and pick apart the Bears secondary. Starting the drive at the Bears 49 yard line, Rodgers used five plays to operate down the field, ending in a four yard touchdown run by Green Bay running back James Starks. The Packers went up 14-0 going into the half with the game in hand, dominating every aspect of the game.
Chicago began the second half with great field position, starting at their own 40 yard line. After two straight run plays, Cutler failed to connect on a short pass to Matt Forte, leading to another three and out. This was the final drive for Cutler after injuring his elbow and knee earlier in the game. Cutler finished 6 of 14 for 80 yards and an interception, struggling mightily all day long.
In the Packers first posession of the second half, it seemed apparent that the Packers were about to take a three touchdown lead until Brian Urlacher intercepted the Rodgers pass on third-and-6. Urlacher appeared to be headed to the end zone but Aaron Rodgers got just enough of Urlacher’s ankle, bringing him to the ground at the Bears 45, saving a potential touchdown that would’ve cut the lead in half.
Enter second string quarterback Todd Collins. Collins appeared in two games this season and was intercepted five times in 27 attempts. Collins lasted two drives in today’s contest without even completing a pass in four attempts. Collins was replaced with third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. Hanie, the third year man from Colorado State, was the most effective quarterback for the Bears today. With Hanie entering the game before the beginning of the fourth quarter, NFL rules state that both Cutler and Collins were ineligible to come back into the game. “If the 3rd string QB enters the game prior to the 4th quarter, neither the 1st nor 2nd string QBs are allowed back in the game. If he enters the game in the 4th quarter, both the 1st or 2nd string QB may reenter the game.”
Entering the fourth quarter down 14, Hanie led the Bears to an 8 play, 67 yard drive to cut the lead in half, ending with a one yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor. Bears running back Matt Forte was the featured back on the drive. Forte was one of the lone bright spots in the game for Chicago with 17 carries for 70 yards running the ball and 10 receptions for 90 yards receiving.
After exchanging punts, the Bears began their drive at the ten yard line with seven minutes left on the clock. On 3rd and 5, Hanie got picked off by 337 pound defensive lineman BJ Raji, who returned it 15 yards for the touchdown and a 21-7 lead, all but sealing the game for the Packers.
The resilient Hanie came back with a four play sixty yard drive, ending with an Earl Bennett 35-yard touchdown pass, evading several tacklers along the way. Now down by seven, the Bears would have to make a few stops if they wanted any chance to tie it up in the final few minutes.
The Chicago defense held strong and the Packers went three and out. The unsung hero of the game was Packers punter Tim Masthay, placing the ball extremely well, keeping the ball away from the ever dangerous Devin Hester. Hester was bottled up all day, with his best punt return only netting eleven yards. Offensively, Hester did not catch a pass and was almost irrelevant throught the entire game.
With three minutes left in the game the Bears got the ball back, hoping to score a touchdown and force overtime. Hanie led Chicago down the field methodically and drove the ball down to the Green Bay 29 yard line. On 3rd and 3, Earl Bennett was stopped for -2 yards forcing a 4th and 5. On 4th down, Hanie was intercepted, ending the hopes of a Chicago comeback. Hanie was extremely efficient, going 13 of 20 passing with a touchdown and 2 interceptions on the day.
After one last kneel down in the victory formation, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are headed to Dallas meeting the winner of the Jets and Steelers game later tonight. In the 182nd meeting in the rivalry, the Packers had the upper hand and knocked their rivals out of the playoffs. With the Packers explosive offense playing in Cowboys Stadium, they should clearly be the favorite to win the game and win the Lombardi Trophy.