Key to the game
Third down is always critical. So, naturally, the Packers' best days of the season defensively came with a 2-for-9 showing in a loss to San Francisco and a 2-for-11 performance in a loss at Seattle two weeks later.
Sunday, however, third-down defense was pivotal for the Packers in their NFC North-clinching victory at Chicago.
The Bears went 0-for-9 -- Green Bay's first perfect showing on third down since Oct. 18, 2009, against Detroit. Three of the stops stood out above the others.
"Third down, I'm always yelling on the field that it's ‘money down, money down,'" said linebacker Brad Jones, who made one of the big plays on third down. "When you get off the field on third down, especially when it's three-and-outs or four-and-outs or five-and-outs, it swings the momentum. People don't realize that third-down stops actually swing the momentum. Mentally, it tears up the opposing team's offense."
On the first drive of the game, Chicago drove to a third-and-1 at Green Bay's 31. A false start pushed the ball back 5 yards, Sam Shields broke up a pass and the Bears punted.
In the third quarter, a 53-yard pass-interference penalty on Morgan Burnett gave Chicago a first-and-goal at the 5. After Matt Forte's run to the 1, Dezman Moses and Jones stuffed Forte on second down and Mike Daniels and A.J. Hawk stuffed Forte on third down. The Bears went for it on fourth down but lost a touchdown on Alshon Jeffrey's offensive pass interference on Shields. Chicago settled for a field goal and the Packers' lead was 21-10.
In the fourth quarter, a special-teams gaffe gave the Bears life, with the ball at Green Bay's 16 with 7:54 to go. Instead, Shields broke up a pass in the end zone on first down, Jones stopped Forte for no gain on second down and Jones broke up a pass to Forte on third down. That forced Chicago into a field goal, that cut the margin to 21-13.
"I thought Dom did a great job," coach Mike McCarthy said of coordinator Dom Capers. "I thought he was very patient with the plan and our players were. We picked our spots as far as the pressure, but this was about the four-man rush going into the game and, obviously, being aware of where Brandon Marshall was. I just really liked the patience of our defense and the discipline of it and just trying to make the quarterback beat you today. I thought we were outstanding."
2: Times coach Mike McCarthy was critical of the botched lateral on a punt return, including on his explanation: "Really, the reason behind the fake punt was Aaron (Rodgers) had just come off with an ankle and we had a couple injuries on the sideline. I felt that the potential for the big play on special teams was there. It's a play we've been working on. You look for a certain part of the field, the wind, all the factors involved and that's what it equated to. Now, in the end, it's not a good decision. Wish I had that back."
3: Touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers. He had a combined four over the last four games.
4: Sacks by Green Bay's defense. The Packers had a combined two the last three weeks.
5.5: Sacks by Clay Matthews against the Bears – 3.5 in Week 2 and 2.0 on Sunday. He has 5.5 in his other seven games.
7: Possessions, out of 13, in which Chicago failed to get a first down.
14.1: The Bears' average scoring output in the nine games against the Packers since Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009.
17: Interceptions thrown by Jay Cutler, compared to eight touchdowns, against the Packers in his eight starts while with Chicago.
150: Total yards by Cobb, giving him 2,241 for the season. Ahman Green's franchise record is 2,250.
291: Passing yards by Rodgers, his most since piling up 342 against St. Louis on Oct. 21. His 116.8 rating also was his best since that game (132.2)
279:21:Time, in minutes and seconds, between leads for Chicago in the series. The Bears held a 3-0 lead in the 2010 regular-season finale until Mason Crosby knotted the game with 3:29 to go in the third quarter. The Packers never trailed in the NFC Championship Game, either game in 2011 or the first game of this season.
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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.