Penalties. Penalties. Penalties. Mark Tauscher drew an uncharacteristic two back-to-back false starts and then a holding penalty that wiped out an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley. It was that kind of night.
And the Bears? They were penalized a mere five times for 38 yards.
Instead of capitalizing on some great defensive play in the first half, when they sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler three times and picked him off once, the Packers managed to shoot themselves in the foot one toe at a time when it counted most, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They had Cutler seemingly where they wanted him and then the game simply got away from Green Bay.
Leading 17-14 with 6:46 left in the game, Nick Barnett picked Cutler off and it looked Green Bay was in business to put the game away at the Chicago's 37. But out came the dreaded yellow hankie on Frank Zombo for roughing the quarterback. Two plays later, Nick Collins was flagged for unnecessary roughness on his tackle of Matt Forte, and the Bears suddenly found themselves at the Green Bay 29. The drive ended in Robbie Gould's tying 25 yard field goal.
"That's a lack of focus, a lack of discipline that we displayed out there," said a dejected linebacker Nick Barnett in the Packers' locker room. "They played well but I definitely thought we could have beat ‘em. I don't think we're a totally undisciplined team but we needed to have more disciplined players out there. The bottom line is we've got to clean those things up on both sides of the ball. We've also got to play better on special teams. You can't win a game like that, having that many penalties and then letting them have good field position like that. We could have had more turnovers because we had some pressure on Cutler and we hit him a couple times. But we can't win a game with all those penalties."
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins also couldn't put his finger on why Green Bay drew so many flags. "I'm not sure. I guess I'll have to see the film," Jenkins said. "There were a lot of penalties out there and you can't win like that. We've got to get that corrected. We just didn't come up with the big plays when we needed to and they did. Even with all the penalties, we still had a chance to win."
The Packers seemed to be headed for a go-ahead score when Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones on the sideline near midfield with just under 2:30 left. But the Bears' Brian Urlacher set up Chicago's winning field goal drive by forcing Jones to fumble at the Packers' 46. Several plays later, Cutler heaved a deep pass intended for Earl Bennett and Collins made a leaping interception at the Packers' 10. Green Bay appeared to be back in business but out came the yellow flag again, this time on Morgan Burnett for pass interference. That was the back-breaker and led to Robbie Gould's winning 19-yard field goal.
"It was really disappointing to look up there midway in the fourth quarter and see we had 15 penalties," said safety Charles Woodson. "I think there's a lot of things we can get corrected, though. There's no question those penalties cost us the game. Late in the game, A-Rod scrambles and throws a touchdown that's negated by a penalty. Interceptions negated by penalties. That's a hard pill to swallow."
Woodson also didn't hide his feelings about a few calls he didn't like.
"Late in the game, I think when you got a guy pressuring the quarterback and he's coming off a block and he hits the quarterback, that's a guy doing his best trying to make a play and you call that roughing the passer," said Woodson. "Somehow, we've got to get away in this league from allowing quarterbacks to just throw the ball up there for grabs and then getting a penalty when both players have engaged down the field and then they get the ball down on the 10-yard line or whatever. I think that needs to change. That's heartbreaking for a team to battle down the field and it's always the offensive guy that gets that call. That has to change."
For now, the Bears are 3-0 and at the top of the NFC North. That certainly didn't sit well in the Packers' locker room.
"The Bears were the better team tonight but I don't think they're a better team than us, period," said Barnett. "Honestly, I think we have a better team and better players but they played well. We can play a lot better than we played tonight. The good thing about NFL football is that we get to see them again."
That's small consolation, especially since the Packers won't see the Bears again until January 2.