January 2, 2011 – Lambeau Field, Green Bay Wisconsin
So here it was. The final game of a season that had featured more twists & turns than a mountain-side road. There were no subtle permutations, no weird NFL tie-breaker rules to interpret. There would be no controversy and no question about what would happen & how things would shake out.
If the Packers beat the Bears, they would grab the final NFC wild-card playoff berth & keep playing the following week. If they lost to the Bears, they’d have to hope the Giants lost their final game to the Washington Redskins (which they did NOT!)
The Bears, champs of the NFC North ,had a first-round playoff bye no matter what, but they did not plan to make life easy for the Packers. Many teams already set in the playoffs might have chosen to rest at least some of their starters to avoid needless injury. Not the Bears & certainly not against the Packers. No these Bears did not want Green Bay in the playoffs & they would play a full 60 minutes of football with their starters.
“Everyone will play,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose first order of business when he took over in Chicago 7 years ago was to consistently beat the Packers. With everything the Packers had dealt with during the season, why would they expect anything less?
Maybe because of what was at stake or maybe because of the opponent, there was a different feel to this game than there was the week before against the Giants. More tension, more uncertainty. More of a feeling that one mistake could be very costly.
The Packers could get nothing going offensively in the first half. Indeed, the only real threat Green Bay could muster ended at the Bears’ 43 when Donald Driver fumbled after a reception. A lot of credit goes to the Bear defense for the first half scrum.
The Bears were hardly any better. Their only score of the half (and the game) came on a nice drive in which they had a first & goal at the Packers’ 4-yard line. A first down run netted nothing, a 2nd down pass fell incomplete and on 3rd down quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked. That resulted in a Robbie Gould field goal and a 3-0 Bears lead at the half.
The Packers continued to struggle offensively. Yes these 2 teams know each other very well. Perhaps the Packers began to realize if they were going to win it might have to be the defense that carried the day. Dom Capers’ unit did just that midway through the 3rd quarter when backup defensive back Charlie Peprah intercepted a Cutler pass in the end zone to snuff out a drive.
The Packers offense finally responded with a drive highlighted by a 33-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings that resulted in a Mason Crosby field goal.
Finally, in the early minutes of the 4th quarter, Green Bay clawed out a touchdown. Rodgers connected for 46 yards to Jennings down to the Bears’ 1. On the next play, Rodgers found Donald Lee for the go-ahead score.
Now it was up to the Packers defense and the unit responded to the challenge. The Packers sacked Cutler twice and as he drove the Bears from his own 2 to the Packers 32 in the final minute of the game, and the crowd whipped into a frenzy and perhaps clutching their hearts while holding their breath, Nick Collins stepped up with an interception to seal the win.
The Packers were nothing special offensively, managing just 284 total yards. However, the Packers defense was even better, allowing the Bears just 227 yards. It was a championship effort when the Packers needed it most.
Now everyone was even. “Those guys told us during the game that they didn’t want to see us in the playoffs,” Driver said. “That tells you how much people are scared of us. Now they have to face us.” declared Driver prophetically.
It wouldn’t be easy. As the No. 6 seed, the Packers would have to travel for as long as they kept winning. But for a Packers team that endured so much during the season that was just fine. It was the playoffs, after all, and “anything could happen.” Rodgers would say in the post-game locker room.
Couldn’t it? Couldn’t it?!?!
Next up, the playoffs begin vs. the Philadelphia Eagles