What a difference four weeks makes.
The Green Bay Packers won their fourth consecutive game, beating the Bears 30-27 with a wild final sequence on Sunday at Chicago.
Just look at the difference over the last month:
-- The Packers (8-6) have gone from 14th place in the NFC to controlling their fate in the NFC North, thanks to Detroit (9-5) losing to the Giants. If the Packers can beat the Vikings (7-7) at Lambeau Field next week, they’ll travel to Ford Field with a chance to win the division in the regular-season finale.
-- The Packers, with no reliable running game since Eddie Lacy’s season-ending injury, plowed through the Bears for a season-high 226 rushing yards.
-- A defense that was demolished for 38.3 points per game during a four-game losing streak, let the Bears back in the game but forced four turnovers.
"What a great finish by our guys in the two-minute drill and killing the clock and getting the field goal," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Excited about the victory. Puts us in position to control our own destiny, and that’s all you can ask for at this time of year, especially going into two more division games and especially for what we’ve been through earlier. We’re getting stronger as far as our performance and our mentality, but we need to get healthy, because we’ve got another rough one at home on Saturday."
While Chicago finished with 449 yards, it couldn’t get the final 3 yards to take the lead. Micah Hyde broke up a goal-line pass on third-and-goal at the 3, and a chip-shot field goal tied the game at 27. Aaron Rodgers had 1:13 to drive the Packers to the winning points. On third-and-11, McCarthy could have opted to run the ball and play for overtime. Instead, he rolled the dice and Rodgers threw his best ball of the season, a bomb to Jordy Nelson for a gain of 60. Rodgers clocked the ball with 3 seconds to go, and Mason Crosby’s 32-yard field as time expired won the game.
"I’m watching the ball (to Nelson), and then I’m like, ‘Oh, man, we’re going to be in field-goal range if he catches this,’" Crosby said. "So I ran back and got one more kick, and the rest is history."
On the week that McCarthy made it official that Ty Montgomery was a running back rather than a receiver playing running back by necessity, Montgomery broke one tackle after another en route to 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Christine Michael added a 42-yard touchdown that put the Packers ahead 27-10.
The Packers started hot, driving to an opening-drive touchdown that Montgomery capped with a 4-yard run. Green Bay went cold for most of the rest of the first half. Chicago’s pass rush was too good and Rodgers’ mobility was too limited. The Bears went ahead 10-7 before Green Bay salvaged a 10-10 halftime tie. Two plays before Crosby’s knuckleball field goal, Davante Adams dropped a touchdown pass.
On the first play of the second half, Julius Peppers burned his former team with a sack-strip-recovery. Adams dropped another touchdown pass and Crosby booted a chip-shot field goal to move in front 13-10. The defense turned up the screws from there. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had interceptions on back-to-back drives. The first was capped by Montgomery’s 3-yard touchdown run, a play he set up with a 26-yard run to the 2. One play after Clinton-Dix’s second interception, Michael burst through the middle of the Bears’ defense, stiff-armed a defender to the turf around the 30 and outran everyone to the end zone.
The Bears rallied from that 27-10 deficit, though. Barkley, who threw for 362 yards, shook off the interceptions and receiver Alshon Jeffery began shaking off the Packers’ coverage. Jeffery had catches of 23 and 27 yards before scoring on an 8-yard slant. After the Packers went three-and-out, Jeffery had three more catches before running back Jordan Howard plowed through the Packers for a 9-yard touchdown. That made it 27-24 with 7:34 remaining.
A second consecutive three-and-out gave Barkley a chance. Chicago had a first-and-goal at the 3 but Peppers forced a holding penalty. After a 9-yard pass to the 4, safety Kentrell Brice blitzed and stopped Howard at the 3. A third-down pass was broken up at the goal line by Hyde, which forced the tying field goal and set up the frantic finish.
"(At) 27-10, looked pretty good, let them get back in it with a couple real poor drives on offense, didn’t take any time off the clock," Rodgers said. "But when we had to have a play, we made it. It’s good to get the win and everything’s right in front of us now."
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.