Rodgers and Jennings (eight receptions for 130 yards) were the pitch-and-catch kryptonite to Chicago's cushion-friendly Cover-2 and Cover-3 coverage schemes as Jennings ran to and sat in open spots underneath the shell with ease.
In all, Rodgers had seven pass plays of at least 20 yards and also was on the throwing end of another explosive gain of 16 yards by Brandon Jackson, who deked linebacker Brian Urlacher on a screen. Those accounted for about half of the completions by Rodgers, who went just 17-of-30 for 244 yards and no touchdowns. Toss in Rodgers' first two interceptions this postseason, and his passer rating computed to a season-worst 55.4.
Both giveaways resulted from bad throws, the first a low ball off the foot of Donald Driver that bounced into the arms of linebacker Lance Briggs and the second an ill-advised dump into the middle near the goal line that Urlacher expertly reached up to pluck. Rodgers' hustle to slow down and tackle Urlacher near midfield may have prevented a touchdown return.
Rodgers' second-half struggles also included two dropped passes by rookie tight end Andrew Quarless, who had a high zinger from his quarterback go through his hands on third-and-short late in the game when the Packers were trying to milk the clock.
The combination of Chad Clifton and temporary replacement T.J. Lang at left tackle were overmatched at times by defensive end Julius Peppers. Clifton was lucky Peppers incurred a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rodgers after Clifton blew his blocking assignment in the fourth quarter.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C — Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy liked his chances of winning again if the Packers could add to their late-season trend of rushing attempts in the 30s. They had 32 against the Bears, thanks in part to five runs by Rodgers for 41 yards (not including two kneel-downs that took away 2 yards). Rodgers started the scoring with a 1-yard keep to the pylon on a naked bootleg, and he also had a 25-yard scramble.
Green Bay finished with 120 yards on the ground, but it was a tale of two halves. After averaging 5.8 yards with 104 yards in 18 rushing attempts in the first half, the Packers managed only 16 yards in the second half and finished the game with a lackluster average of 3.8 yards per rush.
Rookie James Starks started with a bang by grinding out 55 yards in 12 carries in the opening 30 minutes, highlighted by a 16-yard burst sprung by left guard Daryn Colledge from deep in Green Bay territory, another explosive run of 12 yards and a powerful 4-yard touchdown plunge. Starks, though, tailed off with only 19 yards in 10 carries in the final two quarters. All but seven of his 22 runs were for no more than 2 yards - and he had five carries for zero or minus yards, including a third-and-1 stop by Briggs.
Brandon Jackson's 10-yard run early in the game was cut in half later in the game by a stuff by an unblocked Urlacher five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
PASS DEFENSE: B — The young duo of second-year nose tackle B.J. Raji and undrafted rookie nickel back Sam Shields came to the rescue in the closing minutes when the resilient Bears made things too close for comfort from Green Bay's perspective with Caleb Hanie on as their third quarterback of the day.
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The Bears made one more incursion deep in Packers territory before Shields put the exclamation point on his superb game and officially sent Green Bay to the Super Bowl by undercutting intended receiver Johnny Knox and picking off Hanie's fourth-down throw at the 12-yard line in the final minute. Shields had two of the Packers' three interceptions, the first on a leaping grab in front of Knox on a Jay Cutler deep ball toward the end zone late in the first half. A periodically blitzing Shields also sacked Cutler and forced a fumble that the Bears recovered.
Cutler was a pitiful 6-of-14 for 80 yards with a passer rating of 31.8 and two sacks before he left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury. Replacement Todd Collins was awful in his two series of work. Hanie wound up being the most efficient of all quarterbacks from both teams with a 65.2 rating, going 13-of-20 for 153 yards.
Cornerback Tramon Williams and Collins were lax on a 32-yard catch-and-run by Knox that triggered Chicago's late comeback from a 14-0 deficit. While the defense, especially linebacker Desmond Bishop, did a sufficient job in keeping tight end Greg Olsen (three catches for 30 yards) from being a factor, Forte had a big game out of the backfield with 10 receptions for 90 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The Packers' two-touchdown lead for most of the game prevented Chicago from pounding away with Forte. Consequently, Green Bay could live with the workhorse generating 70 yards in 17 carries for an average of 4.1 yards. Forte still caused problems with a few significant runs with a long of 14. Chicago totaled 83 yards on the ground.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk seems to be good for one or two missed tackles a game in run support. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins, though, had an impressive takedown of Forte for a 2-yard loss on a third-down play with the Bears backed up near their end zone in the second quarter. Bishop was stout at the point of attack, notching a team-high eight tackles (seven solo) and setting up the ill-fated last pass by Hanie by snuffing out an end-around run by Bennett to the left on third-and-3 from the Packers' 27 for a 2-yard loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — Thanks in great measure to another outstanding effort by punter Tim Masthay, the Packers accomplished one of their key objectives in not allowing Devin Hester to make an impact on returns. Just like in the teams' regular-season finale, when Hester was a non-factor on punt returns, Masthay had eight punts. He placed five inside the 20, including one downed at the Bears' 2 by coverage ace Jarrett Bush, who also nearly kept another well-placed Masthay kick from reaching the end zone. Masthay averaged 34.5 net yards and banged a career-long boot of 65 yards as he tilted the field position in Green Bay's favor for most of the game. Hester averaged all of 5.3 yards in three punt returns (long of 11) and added a 24-yard kickoff return.
Not much else stood out positively for Green Bay's units, however. Starks slipped to the frozen Soldier Field turf on the game-opening kickoff and averaged only 15 yards in two runbacks - Woodson picked up just 14 yards on a kickoff late in the game. Williams muffed two punts, both retained by the Packers, and averaged a meager 4.3 yards in three runbacks.
COACHING: B — McCarthy took a game-opening gift from counterpart Lovie Smith, who had the Bears go on defense first after they won the coin toss, and jumped right into an aggressive script that enabled the offense to pick up where it left off in the Packers' rout of Atlanta in the divisional round.
Time and again in the early going, the Packers exploited Chicago's soft coverage, and they forged the big lead that was paramount in a hostile environment in the biggest game ever between the longtime rivals. Having the upper hand throughout the game allowed Green Bay to again have good balance between pass (35 called plays) and run (28).
Yet, a familiar criticism of McCarthy's having a tendency to take his foot off the pedal could be made as signs of complacency cropped up with his conservative play calling late in the game when the Packers struggled to exhaust the clock and thus kept the Bears in the game until the waning seconds. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers unleashed another highly effective game plan that featured a couple new wrinkles in the third meeting between the teams. Shields assumed the familiar role of Woodson and was sent on corner blitzes a handful of times. The zone-blitz drop of Raji into coverage turned into a stroke of genius with the resulting pick-six. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum corralled Hester for the second time in three weeks without being bashful about kicking to him.
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