The Green Bay Packers (10-4) defeated the Chicago Bears (8-6) this afternoon at Soldier Field in a contest that really wasn't as close as the scored indicates. Green Bay today clinched the NFC North for the second season in a row.
The Bears came into the game clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. They are now tied in that spot with the Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings. The Dallas Cowboys (7-6) could also join the party with a win tonight over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Going forward, tiebreakers will likely decide the final NFC playoff picture. Meaning, even if the Bears win their final two games against the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions, they still may not make the postseason.
The Bears came into the game with a host of injured players. Of the seven players inactive for today's contest, six were injured: CB Tim Jennings (shoulder), LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring), LB Geno Hayes (knee), DT Henry Melton (chest), WR Earl Bennett (concussion) and DE Shea McClellin (knee).
During the game, T Jonathan Scott left briefly with a hamstring injury but returned to the game, only to re-exit the field later on, finishing the contest on the bench. QB Jay Cutler re-injured his neck – which was so stiff he could not move his head in his post-game press conference – but did not miss any time. DE Julius Peppers was down on the field with an apparent hip injury but he returned to the game shortly.
Notes from Week 15
-The Bears' offensive line came out mauling in this game. RB Matt Forte picked up runs of 14, 8 and 9 yards among the six carries he received on Chicago's opening drive. Then, with a 3rd and 1 at the Green Bay 31-yard line, C Roberto Garza was flagged for an illegal snap, which sent the offense back five yards and stalled the drive.
"That was just me playing like a dummy," Garza said after the game. The penalty pushed Chicago out of field goal range.
Penalties would go on to hurt the Bears in a number of ensuing drives, including three offensive pass interference calls on WR Alshon Jeffery, one of which nullified a touchdown.
-The offensive line was in flux the entire contest. The Bears started the game with the following lineup: LT J'Marcus Webb, LG James Brown, C Roberto Garza, RG Gabe Carimi, RT Jonathan Scott. Brown was pulled early in place of Chris Spencer. Then Carimi was pulled, with Spencer sliding to right guard and Edwin Williams filling in at left guard. Then Brown came back in at left guard. Then Scott went and Carimi had to move outside to right tackle.
It was musical chairs with the offensive line, due in equal parts to injuries and poor play. Coordinator Mike Tice has been coaching these same players since the offseason, yet he still cannot find a decent front-five combination. It says a lot about the lack of talent up front but also shows how difficult it has been for Tice, for two seasons now, to make up his mind about his offensive line.
The lack of continuity today resulted in four sacks of QB Jay Cutler and a run game that was able to muster just 3.6 yards per carry. The Bears were held under 100 yards rushing (86) as a team for the first time since Week 7.
-Cutler had himself another mediocre outing. He completed 12 of 21 pass attempts for 135 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. At crucial moments in the game, Cutler was not on the same page with his receivers. In the second half, Cutler had Jeffery open down the field. He threw the pass to the inside of his receiver, yet Jeffery turned outside and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.
Yet the most egregious lack of communication came late in the second quarter in a 7-7 game with Chicago looking to go up just before the half. WR Devin Hester ran a pattern down the right seam. At about 12 yards, he broke off his route. Cutler threw it to that spot. Yet before the ball was released, Hester cut back up the field, leaving only CB Casey Hayward in the area of the pass. Hayward intercepted the ball and returned it to the Chicago 26-yard. Five plays later, the Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown, a lead they would never relinquish.
-As has been the case during Chicago's recent skid – the team has lost five of their last six games – the Bears blew a number of chances to steal the victory. The biggest opportunity came in the third quarter. After a pass interference call set Chicago up with the ball at the Green Bay five-yard line, the Bears could not punch the ball in the end zone and were forced to kick a field goal.
For Chicago's offense, the second half of the season has been a series of missed opportunities. Today's game was no different. WR Brandon Marshall addressed it after the game.
"It's been the same way all year," said Marshall. "It's the same thing every single game. Everybody in the offense should be held accountable. There's no excuse."
-Similar to the Week 2 contest between these two teams, the Packers did a good job of keeping Marshall in check. He finished the contest with six catches for 56 yards and one touchdown, which was the only highlight of the game for Chicago.
In the second quarter, the Bears had the ball in the red zone. Cutler found Marshall over the middle. He broke the initial tackle attempt then stepped to his right and delivered a stiff arm to Hayward, driving the defender face first into the ground. Marshall then swung to his right and waltzed into the end zone. It was one of the most physically dominant plays I have ever seen from a wide receiver.
-Outside of Marshall, no other Bears wide receiver had a single catch. Forte finished with five catches for 64 yards and RB Armando Allen had one catch for 15 yards. Other than that, it was all zeros.
-Jeffery was targeted four times during the game. He caught three of those – one for a touchdown and two others for big gains down the field – yet all three were called back for offensive pass interference, with Jeffery pushing off on each one. After the game, he has no explanation for the numerous PI calls.
"I just got to go back and watch the film," Jeffery said. "I am not going to put it all on the refs."
Lovie Smith said he couldn't remember a game he's been involved with where there were three offensive PI calls.
"No. When you look at our history, we haven't gotten a lot of them," Smith said after the game. "All of them were really big plays."
-The Bears were 0-9 on third down conversions, which really sums up the entire season. Chicago also lost the time of possession battle 33:23 to 26:37.
-Considering the numerous injuries to key players, Chicago's defense performed about as expected. They gave up 391 total yards to the Packers – 113 on the ground, 278 through the air.
-QB Aaron Rodgers was his usual self, completing 23 of 36 pass attempts for 291 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a passer rating of 116.8. He was at his best when the Packers needed it the most, with Green Bay converting 7 of 17 third-down attempts, as well as going 2 for 2 in 4th down conversions.
-WR James Jones had himself a day, catching five passes for 60 yards and 3 TDs. WR Randall Cobb got in on the mix (6 catches, 115 yards), as did TE Jermichael Finley (5 catches, 61 yards) and WR Greg Jennings (4 catches, 50 yards). Rodgers distributed the ball over the field and was particularly effective on slant patterns, for which Chicago's defense had no answer.
-Green Bay even had success on the ground, rushing 32 times for 113 yards. It was the second time this season the Packers rushed for 100 or more yards as a team against the Bears.
-CB Kelvin Hayden, starting in place of Jennings, had a very rough day. He gave up a number of easy passes and missed multiple tackles. Jennings cannot return fast enough. Yet Hayden wasn't the only member of the secondary who struggled, as D.J. Moore was eaten up routinely by Cobb out of the slot.
-The Bears tried lining up two different linebackers and both safeties in one-on-one matchups with Finley. Yet on all but one target, Finley was able to pull in the pass. As has been a common theme for the Bears the past few years, the team had no answer for the big tight end.
-The Bears brought down Rodgers three times in the game, with starting defensive ends Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers both earning 1.5 sacks. Other than those two, though, the pass rush was non-existent. Melton being out in the game really hurt the front four, forcing Isreal Idonije inside to defensive tackle, where he was not effective. Neither was Nate Collins, Stephen Paea and recently signed Amobi Okoye.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.