With Chicago's third-string quarterback, Caleb Hanie, getting the Bears into position to tie the game with 47 seconds remaining, the Packers punched their ticket to the Super Bowl with Sam Shields' second interception of the game on fourth-and-5.
"Most definitely," Shields said about it being the biggest play of his career. "The first thing I was thinking about was making a big play. All I wanted to do is be patient and the play came to me."
Shields started and played almost every snap, including in a base 3-4 package called "Corner Okie" in which Charles Woodson played safety and Tramon Williams and Shields matched up against fleet-footed Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.
On a defense featuring four Pro Bowlers, Shields – an undrafted rookie – stole the show. He also added a sack that caused a fumble to foil a Bears drive late in the first half.
"Sam goes up and tracks the ball well," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Sam, for a rookie – and I told a couple other rookies this – you have no idea what you've accomplished here in your first year in the league. Especially being in Sam's situation, being a rookie free agent. It speaks volumes about himself, and his position coach, Joe Whitt, and Dom Capers have done a great job with the veterans and with him, and he is going to be a great player for the Green Bay Packers for a long time."
Late in the first half, an interception gave the Bears a chance to claw back into a 14-0 game, only for Shields to win a battle of speedsters and pick off Cutler's deep pass for Knox. With the margin cut to 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Shields blitzed off the edge and forced Hanie into a third-down incompletion. On the next series, Shields blitzed again, forcing Hanie to blindly throw the ball to Matt Forte, only to find B.J. Raji for what appeared to be a game-clinching 18-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Bears again made it a one-score game and started with the ball on its 29-yard line with 2:53 to go. The Bears converted a third down and a fourth down, and Hanie's screen to Forte gave Chicago a first down at the Packers' 34-yard line. After a 7-yard completion to big tight end Greg Olsen against Shields and a loss of 2 on an end-around by Fred Bennett, the Bears faced a make-or-break fourth down.
Hanie looked for Knox, who was breaking across the middle, but Shields read it perfectly, undercutting the route and making the grab around the 12 to seal the Packers' first trip to the Super Bowl since 1996.
"You never know that early," his mentor, Woodson, said when asked to recall Shields in training camp and whether he thought he could help push the team over the top. "But the one thing we knew about Sam is we knew he was going to be able to play at some point. We didn't know how fast he would come around, but the one thing we knew about him early on is that he had no fear. He was a guy who was confident in his ability and he came in and he got noticed early. So, we knew at some point that he'd be able to play for this team. He's come on, I think, better than anybody could have expected."
To get into the playoffs, Nick Collins picked off Cutler to kill the Bears' frantic last drive at Lambeau Field. Tramon Williams made a leaping interception to clinch the wild-card win at Philadelphia. And now, it was Shields with the last-minute interception.
"It couldn't come at a better time: B.J.'s interception couldn't and Sam's interception came at the right time there at the end," Capers said. "To win big games like this, it comes down to – and you've heard me say this many times before – to two, three, four plays a game. We were fortunate to make those two, three or four tonight."
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