The Packers beat the short-handed Chicago Bears 35-21 on Christmas night at Lambeau Field, raising their record to 14-1 and locking up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers threw a career-high five touchdown passes. That was far too much for the Bears, with quarterback Jay Cutler out with a broken finger and Josh McCown making his first start since 2007. Moreover, Chicago was without leading rusher and pass catcher Matt Forte (knee) and its leader in receiving yardage, Johnny Knox (back). Plus, kick returner extraordinaire Devin Hester, who didn't practice all week because of an ankle injury, was a nonfactor.
The game turned in the third quarter, with the Packers answering Chicago's challenge. On third-and-5 at midfield, the Packers rushed seven but McCown had time to hit Earl Bennett, who broke two tackles on a 49-yard reception. Khalil Bell fumbled on the next play but left guard Edwin Williams recovered and stepped into the end zone.
The Packers, however, answered quickly. On second-and-10 from the 45, Rodgers used play-action and Jordy Nelson toasted safety Major Wright with a double move, with Nelson getting behind Wright and fellow safety Craig Steltz for a 55-yard touchdown that made it 21-10.
Green Bay extended the lead to 28-10 on its next possession, with Rodgers converting a third-and-4 with a 12-yard scramble, a third-and-7 with an 18-yard pass to Donald Driver and a third-and-8 with a 9-yard completion to James Jones. On second-and-goal from the 7, Rodgers hit Jones with a back-shoulder throw against Zachary Bowman for the touchdown. The fifth touchdown came on a 2-yarder to Nelson against Bowman.
Rodgers finished 21-of-29 for 283 yards, with his passer rating of 142.7 giving him 13 for the season and breaking Steve Young's record of 12 games with 100-plus ratings. Rodgers was not sacked, an amazing figure the Packers' beat-up offensive line was one of the pregame story lines. Matt Flynn replaced Rodgers for the final 7:54.
The Bears (7-8) were eliminated from the playoff picture with their fifth consecutive loss – all without Cutler. Two running backs who entered the league as undrafted free agents, third-year Bell and rookie Armando Allen, combined for 127 yards on 24 carries in the first-half. However, Robbie Gould missed a 48-yard field goal on Chicago's opening drive and Clay Matthews intercepted McCown on its third drive.
To start the game, Rodgers connected on all eight passes for 71 yards, capping the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley. The Packers' offense went into a funk with three consecutive three-and-outs, but the Bears couldn't take advantage even with Bell and Allen providing a strong running game. Rodgers, however, got back on track with a precision two-minute drill. A 32-yard catch-and-run by Jones got things going, and Jones beat Bowman on a quick slant for another 2-yard score.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.