On Oct. 7, the Green Bay Packers blew a 21-3 lead at Indianapolis and suffered what looked like a devastating defeat. At the same time, the Chicago Bears blasted Jacksonville 41-3.
The Packers were 2-3 and in trouble. The Bears were 4-1 and looking like a true Super Bowl contender.
Ten weeks later, with Green Bay’s 21-13 victory at Soldier Field, the Packers are NFC North champions and the Bears are skittering out of the playoff picture.
Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to James Jones and the defense prevented Jay Cutler and the Bears from converting a single third-down play. Chicago’s last gasp drive, which started with 56 seconds to go from the 3-yard line on Tim Masthay’s punt, went nowhere.
The third of Jones’ touchdowns came on the first drive of the second half, a 7-minute march. Rodgers converted a fourth-and-6 with a 10-yard completion to Randall Cobb, and the Packers converted third-and-13 from the 16 on pass interference in the end zone on a fade to Jermichael Finley. After delay of game, Rodgers threw a back-shoulder pass to Jones against Charles Tillman for a 6-yard touchdown.
Then, it was the defense’s turn. The Bears got 53 yards when Morgan Burnett interfered with Alshon Jeffrey on a deep ball, giving Chicago the ball at the 5. After Matt Forte ran for 4, he was stopped by Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk for no gain. On fourth-and-goal, Cutler connected with Jeffrey for a touchdown, but Jeffrey used two hands to push off on Sam Shields and was called for interference. The Bears settled for a field goal that made it 21-10 with 12 seconds to go in the third quarter.
The Packers were driving toward the clinching score on the ensuing possession before Josh Sitton was flagged for holding. Rather than go for it on fourth-and-1, coach Mike McCarthy sent out Mason Crosby, who clanged his 42-yard attempt off the left upright for his second miss of the game.
Green Bay forced a three-and-out punt, thanks to Clay Matthews’ second-down sack, but the Packers took the Bears off life support with a bungled trick play. Cobb fielded the punt and threw the ball across the field to Jeremy Ross, who dropped the lateral and failed to pounce on the loose ball. Anthony Walters recovered at the 16.
The Packers’ defense delivered again, however, with Chicago moving the ball about a foot and having to settle for a field goal that cut the margin to 21-13 with 7:04 remaining.
Green Bay’s defense needed to make another stop, with Devin Hester’s 17-yard punt return setting up the Bears at their 33 with 3:47 to go. On third-and-10 from the 44, Cutler hit Jeffrey for 41 yards but Jeffrey was flagged for his third offensive pass interference. On fourth-and-9, Cutler’s deep ball to Jeffrey was broken up by Shields.
Green Bay led 14-7 at halftime, with Rodgers and the passing game shrugging off a slow start of suspect protection, off-target passing and a few dropped passes to recover from a 7-0 deficit.
Starting at the 11 after Chicago’s opening touchdown, Rodgers connected with Greg Jennings for a quick-hitting 19 yard gain, then threw a remarkable pass to Cobb on third-and-6, with Cobb making a twisting, tumbling, 31-yard gain against triple coverage. On third-and-4, Jones ran past Kelvin Hayden – who was starting at corner for NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings – for a 29-yard touchdown up the right sideline.
After an exchange of punts, Cutler threw an interception right to Casey Hayward, which set up the Packers’ at Chicago’s 26 with 1:25 until halftime. Rodgers went to work on D.J. Moore for the touchdown, first with a 13-yard completion to Cobb on third-and-7 and then on an 8-yard touchdown to Jones.
The Bears struck first – their first lead since midway through the 2010 regular-season finale – on Cutler’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall. Marshall caught the ball at the 10 against Brad Jones. Jones missed the tackle, and Marshall stiff-armed Casey Hayward to the turf.
Green Bay blew two chances to take an early lead. Cobb dropped an easy 25-yard touchdown catch on third-and-6. Lined up stacked behind tight end Jermichael Finley, Cobb got behind Moore but flubbed a perfect ball at about the 5. Then, Crosby wasn’t even close from 43 yards, with the kick starting right and drifting even further.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.