One week after a loss at Kansas City dropped a lump of coal on the Green Bay Packers' perfect season, Rodgers had a record-setting night against the Chicago Bears, completing 21-of-29 passes for 283 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. That performance not only helped eliminate the Bears from playoff contention, it gave the Packers a 35-21 victory for a franchise-best 14th win. More importantly, it secured homefield advantage for the Packers throughout the postseason.
Guys with red suits and white beards aside, Rodgers might have made more people happy than anyone else on Sunday. At least in the state of Wisconsin.
"It means a lot," Rodgers said. "That was our goal. We couldn't accomplish it last week, but it was good to bounce back this week and play better and know that the Super Bowl run has to go through Green Bay."
From an individual perspective, Rodgers continued his assault on the record book, setting the single-season record for passing yards in a season with 4,643, topping the 4,458 set by Lynn Dickey in 1983.
Rodgers posted his 10th game of the season with at least three touchdowns, becoming just the third quarterback in NFL history (Tom Brady's 12 in 2007 and Dan Marino's 10 in 1984) to accomplish the feat. He tied Brett Favre's franchise mark of five games with four touchdown passes in a season. He set an NFL single-season record with his 13th 100-plus passer rating game And his 142.7 passer rating on Christmas night was his fourth 140-plus effort of the season, setting a franchise mark and tying Roger Staubach and Tom Brady for the NFL mark.
Seriously, too much. And it began on the first drive of the game.
Playing against the Bears' signature Cover-2 defense, Rodgers methodically worked the ball downfield. Tight end Jermichael Finley lined up wide left on second-and-goal at the Bears' 2-yard line and drew linebacker Nick Roach in an obvious mismatch, with a quick slant resulting in a scoring toss. Rodgers was a perfect 8-for-8 on the nine-play, 80-yard drive.
Chicago countered with a field goal with just less than 2 minutes remaining in what was a close first half that had Chicago dominating the time of possession. But that turned out not to matter much at all when, with 16 seconds left in the second quarter, Rodgers found James Jones for another 2-yard score. It was another impossible-to-defend quick slant that put Green Bay ahead 14-3 at the half.
As it has been for much of the year, the Packers' defense was ho- ho- horrible against the run. It gave up 199 rushing yards, including 121 on 23 carries to third-string running back Kahlil Bell. Early in the third, Chicago pulled within 14-10 after Bell fumbled running in for a score, but left guard Edwin Williams scooped it up.
But if fans had that "here we go again" feeling, it was short-lived. Rodgers threw touchdowns on the team's next three possessions – another to Jones, sandwiched between two to Jordy Nelson.
The first to Nelson was a beautiful 55-yard bomb on second-and-10, coming off play-action one play after Ryan Grant had ripped off a 24-yard run.
"It was a designed play we had with Jordy, trying to get him on a safety," Rodgers said. We were fortunate enough to get the two-high coverage there, which really allows him to run free, and the safety of the back side, (Craig) Steltz, was kind of hanging low with Jermichial (Finley), who was running a deep crossing patterns. The protection is usually pretty good in that type of play. I just had plenty of time, raised and kind of had a spot on the field I wanted to hit – the far hash – and I put the kind of throw I wanted to on it and Jordy did a nice job running underneath it."
After a week hiatus in which Nelson and Rodgers were unable to produce much, they were simpatico against the Bears. Nelson had six catches on seven targets for 115 yards. Along with his 55-yarder, he had a 2-yard catch on another quick slant on the first play of the fourth quarter that ended the night for Rodgers.
"For as disappointing as it was losing and not having a chance to go undefeated, the most disappointing thing was we didn't execute or perform the way we know we can and wanted to," said Nelson, who went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time and became the eighth player in franchise history with 12 touchdown catches. "So, coming back out this week and doing that for the most part – we had a little lull there in the first half – but to get a two-minute drill going again and playing well in the second half was huge."
A big key to Rodgers' success was the ability of a makeshift offensive line to keep him clean and upright against a respectable Bears defense led by linebackers Brian Ulacher and Lance Briggs. Rodgers was sack-free on the night after getting batted around last week when starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, and his backup, rookie Derrek Sherrod, both went down. That was in addition to the struggles Marshall Newhouse showed filling in for injured veteran Chad Clifton. Against Chicago, Newhouse dominated Julius Peppers.
"They played excellent," Rodgers said. "I think a lot of people were questioning even the starters and the way they've played. We had (left guard) T.J. (Lang) at right tackle and we had Evan (Dietrich-Smith) at left guard and those guys played great, so I've got to give them a lot of credit. They're the MVPs tonight and I barely got touched out there, so that's always fun."
Protection was a present Rodgers had to have on the night and set the table for everything that came after. It's a gift the front five – whoever they might be and wherever they might line up – will need to keep giving if this team has any hope of reaching their ultimate goal.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.