Let the Celebration Begin

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers could only prolong the inevitable Sunday at Lambeau Field.

"The Chicago Bears, 2005 NFC North Division champs has a good ring to it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said after the team's first division title since 2001. "Guys have worked awfully hard to get in this position.

"It was just a great sight to see our players celebrate. This was a long time coming for us."

Their 11th win in 15 games carried along with it a bye week in the playoffs. Now the Bears can rest some players during a meaningless game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings if they so choose, and they'll have an extra week off before playing in the divisional playoffs.

"It's important for us," Smith said about the bye. "This late in the year you're banged up a little bit.

"It's been a long season for us. We have a few guys that could use a little bit of time off."

One of those will not be quarterback Rex Grossman. Smith said he wants to get his starting quarterback at least some more playing time after he looked extremely sharp in his first start since Sept. 26, 2004.

Grossman threw the deep ball well early before tailing off and completing 11-of-23 for 166 yards with an interception and touchdown pass. Grossman went 5-for-5 for 65 yards on a 68-yard drive that ended with his 12-yard TD pass to Muhsin Muhammad for a 7-0 lead, then he set up the go-ahead score later in the first half with a 54-yard play-action bomb to Bernard Berrian.

"That was our game plan going in," Grossman said. "We saw on tape their safeties come down low for run support and we just used Bernard's speed with our (pass) protection to get a couple plays down the field."

The Packers had recovered from the first Bears TD with an 84-yard drive, the longest against the Bears' defense since Nov. 6 when the Saints had a 95-yard march. Noah Herrin's 1-yard TD dive 7:55 before halftime occurred after a pass interference in the end zone on Bears safety Chris Harris.

Then a tied game turned sharply in the Bears' favor in a matter of seconds, much like in the Dec. 4 Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field.

Brett Favre, who went 30-of-51 for 317 yards and four interceptions, overthrew a wide-open Donald Driver in the back of the end zone on a second-and-nine from the Bears' 21. Two plays later, Ryan Longwell missed a 38-yard field goal wide right.

Grossman then took advantage on the Bears' first play after the missed field goal, throwing the 54-yard bomb Berrian while also being hit late and low by Michael Montgomery for 15-yard roughing penalty. Jones finished the drive with a 1-yard TD dive two plays later and the Bears led 14-7 with 5:05 left in the first half.

"Grossman did a fine job tonight," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "He made some throws that maybe we didn't see the last time we played them."

The lead hit 17-7 on the Bears' second drive of the third quarter when Robbie Gould made his longest field goal as a Bear, a 45-yarder, to end a 72-yard march.

Then the defense turned it into an apparent rout when linebacker Lance Briggs made one of the Bears' four interceptions in the flat while covering William Henderson at the Packers' 10-yard line. He literally walked into the end zone with 4:01 left in the third quarter for a 24-7 lead.

"We were tackling poorly -- I tackled poorly, and they were moving the ball -- I don't think they were being stopped," Briggs said of the Packers, who piled up 365 net yards, the second most given up by the Bears this season. "They were just moving the ball and killing time. "In the second half, the defense picked it up and started playing title bit better." The Bears tried putting the game on ice by giving it to Thomas Jones, who finished with 105 yards on 25 carries, but they still needed another short miss by Longwell from 39 yards and a late defensive stand to wear those divisional title hats.

"It got scary," Briggs said.

Antonio Chatman returned a punt 85 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, then Favre drove the 3-13 Packers to a 26-yard Longwell field goal with 1:54 remaining in the game.

Even after the Bears got the onside kick, Favre came at them one last time from his own 9-yard line. He found Donald Driver for a 66-yard gain up the middle, but the defense struck back with sacks by Tank Johnson and Alex Brown on successive plays. Favre's Hail Mary pass as time expired wound up in Chris Harris' hands far downfield at the Bears' 13.

The celebrating could begin.

"I don't think a lot of people in this locker room have been in the playoffs, so this was definitely a great feeling coming in here to celebrate knowing you won the division," Jones said.

The Bears will have their playoff game at Soldier Field Jan. 14 or 15.

"We've had a long season so far," Jones said. "Just winning a division when everybody had us picked bottom of the barrel, to come out prove everybody wrong feels good.

"When someone says you can't do something, then you come back and do it, it just makes you feel good to prove people wrong."

It was a locker room full of celebrating, gloating and remembering.

"As I first took the job, I talked about beating Green Bay, winning the division and winning a world championship," Smith said. "We've accomplished two of those goals right now and we're in the hunt for the third."

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