I'm not referring to the Bears winning the game 20-17, though there were plenty of things the Packers could've done to alter the outcome. What I mean specifically is, it didn't have to end the way it did — with a 19-yard Robbie Gould field goal with 8 seconds remaining in the game.
With 1:44 remaining and the score knotted at 17, Chicago had first-and-goal at the Green Bay 9-yard line, looking to steal a win that had more to do with a self-destructive, franchise-record, 18-penalty performance by the Packers than anything done by anyone in a navy-blue jersey. Of course, the Bears were set up on that prime piece of real estate courtesy of a pass interference call the previous play. Packers rookie safety Morgan Burnett picked up a 24-yard penalty after jostling for position with receiver Earl Bennett on an underthrown pass by Jay Cutler. Making matters worse was that Nick Collins had come over to make a diving interception on the play. It was the second time that a defensive penalty had negated a pick. But it was that kind of game.
So, with a game-winning kick all but a foregone conclusion, Cutler handed off to Matt Forte, who ran off right tackle for a 6-yard gain. Forte was brought down by A.J. Hawk. But the Packers' inside linebacker should've been instructed to get out of the way before the Bears even snapped the ball. There were other options than letting this come down to a Gould chip-shot, hoping that he either would miss or Green Bay might block it — or the defense might force a turnover on one of the preceding plays. Forty-five critical seconds after that first hand-off, Forte took the ball again and ran behind his right guard for 2 more yards before nose tackle B.J. Raji dropped him.
Green Bay took its last timeout with 53 ticks left on the clock, but it hardly mattered.
On third-and-goal at the 1, Forte was stopped for no gain by Burnett in an unappreciated bit of irony. Again, this didn't have to happen. What should've been done — ideally on first down, but definitely on second down — was to let the Bears score. That's right, let them score. Pull Forte over the goal line if need be, but get him in the end zone.
It seems counter-intuitive to everything the Packers had tried to do up to that point. It goes against the grain of conventional coaching. It's a move that requires a tremendous amount of confidence, a little craziness, and some big ... intestinal fortitude. And it's also almost never done. Mike Holmgren gave Terrell Davis a free pass to the end zone late in Super Bowl XXXII in hopes that Brett Favre could take the offense down for a tying score. We all know that didn't work. So, history is not on your side for this decision, either. Still, in that situation, it would've been the right call. Or at the very least, a better one.
Did you really think Gould was going to miss what was in essence an extra point? Sure, he was wide right from 49 yards on Chicago's opening drive, but that's a 30-yard difference for one of the most-accurate kickers in NFL history. Did you think Green Bay was going to block it? Sure, the Bears' Julius Peppers — who played with an intensity normally reserved for the final year of his contract — blocked a Mason Crosby attempt earlier. But when is the last time you saw two blocked field goals in the same NFL game? And based on what the Packers' not-so-special teams had done to that point, did that seem like the group that was going to bail them out — even with a few athletic additions jumping in the air? Maybe that throwing-the-ball-across-the-field business on the ensuing kick return was supposed to work. After all, it did once for the Tennessee Titans.
Making the situation worse was that coach Mike McCarthy had just wasted a valuable timeout by asking for a review of a James Jones fumble with 2:27 remaining, which was clearly recovered in bounds. Television replays had a perfect angle and one of McCarthy's assistants needed to tell him to keep that red flag in his pocket. That might've given quarterback Aaron Rodgers roughly 45 seconds to move the Packers into field goal range after Gould kicked the Bears into the lead. Since that wasn't the case, it was all the more reason to do what was needed to put the ball back into the hands of your Pro Bowl quarterback with roughly a minute-and-a-half to go.
Sure, Rodgers was tired and a little dehydrated, but he gave the team the best chance to win. Jermichael Finley was having his way in the Bears' secondary. Donald Driver was doing what he always does — getting open and moving the chains. The lack of a running game and drive-stalling penalties weren't going to help, but Rodgers had been dealing with that all night.
McCarthy was asked at his postgame news conference if he considered the strategy, but basically dismissed the notion, saying: "I did not consider letting them score at the end. I felt that if they missed the field goal, we'd win the game. It was talked about, but that was not the decision I went with."
No doubt some media and fans would've pounced on McCarthy if he had rolled out the red carpet for Forte and Rodgers hadn't led the team to a tying score. It might've even started a whole new round of "Rodgers can't win the big game," talk — a tired, largely inaccurate refrain that we heard two seasons ago. And there's no guarantee that intentionally giving up a touchdown would've led to an overtime win, even if Green Bay found a way to force overtime.
But all that said, I would've liked to have found out. And I bet Rodgers would've, too.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.