"We didn't win the championship today, but, obviously, playing for the division lead is monumental that way," said Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman, whose team snapped the Bears' two-game winning streak at Lambeau Field. "But we didn't win anything today. We still have a ways to go. It was big, but they're going to get bigger as we go."
The win puts the Packers in a tie for first place in the division with the Bears at 9-3. It also gives the Packers the tie-breaker advantage if the two teams finish the regular season with identical records. The Packers are seeking their first division title since 1997. With four games remaining, beginning at Tennessee this Sunday, nothing will be given to the Packers.
"We still have four games left," said Packers quarterback Brett Favre. "We should expect to win them as a team. We'll see what happens after that. We set ourselves up great. It's a matter of how we finish."
The stakes are high. If the Packers keep pace with the Bears, who have an easier schedule, they could receive a bye in the first round of the playoffs and possibly homefield advantage, depending on their overall record.
Chicago plays at home against Tampa Bay this Sunday, then plays at Washington and at Detroit, then at home against Jacksonville. After playing the Titans, the Packers play at home against Cleveland and Minnesota, then at New York against the Giants in the regular season finale.
First, the Packers need to figure out how to get more distance and/or better coverage on punts and kickoffs. Chicago won the battle of field position against the Packers with an average start on their own 39 compared to the Packers' average start on their own 26. The Bears started at their own 45, the Packers' 45 and 41, and their own 39 yard lines in the third quarter because of short kickoffs by Ryan Longwell and short punts by Josh Bidwell. "It's very much a concern," said Sherman. "The field position was definitely in their favor most of the game. That's what makes this win all that more more exciting because we had given them so many positions against our defense where our defense was in bad field position. I thought they hung in there. That's stuff that we have to address this week and get that fixed."
But the Packers used a 91-yard drive to dig themselves out of their end of the field midway through the third quarter. Ahman Green's 12-yard touchdown run gave the Packers a 14-7 lead with 3 minutes remaining as the crowd of 59,869 on a sunny, 34-degree afternoon went wild.
Green finished 125 yards rushing on a season-high 29 carries (4.3 yard avg.) against the Bears, who entered the game ranked No. 1 in the NFC against the run allowing just 76.5 yards per game. It also was the first time in 21 games that the Bears allowed an individual to rush for more than 100 yards.
"Our goal was to stop the run," said Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. "We didn't do that today."
Green breezed past the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the second straight season, raising his total to 1,094. He also caught two screen passes for 49 yards.
"Our confidence is real strong in our running game," said Green, who had his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. "We've got myself, William Henderson and Dorsey Levens in the backfield. The offensive line has been doing its job all year and it makes our jobs a lot easier."
The Packers found their way to the end zone with a blend of Favre's passing and Green's running. Beginning at their own 9 yard line, Favre passed for 20 yards to tight end Bubba Franks to the 29 and the Packers were off and running.
Wide receiver Corey Bradford made a beautiful catch for a 16-yard gain to the 47 and Green took over from there. He burst through the right side for a 29-yard gain to the 24. A few plays later, Green ran three yards for a first down at the 12, then broke through a hole on the left side.
"At that time of the game, they were 'spilling' to the outside," said Green. "I just kind of took it where they were taking us. I took it to the outside and outran them to the end zone. I got some great blocking out there from Billy Schroeder."
Safety Darren Sharper's team-high fourth interception of season on the ensuing series set up Ryan Longwell's 27-yard field goal with 12:40 left in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay again shut down the Bears' pop-gun offense. The Packers limited Chicago to 189 total yards and only 50 yards rushing. Rookie Anthony Thomas helped the Bears tie the game at 7-7 with 13:41 left in the third quarter with a 19-yard touchdown run.
From that point on, the Bears only got past the Packers' 40 once in five series. The Packers played without starting nose tackle Gilbert Brown (groin), defensive end John Thierry (knee) and for most of the game without linebacker Nate Wayne (hip and back). Wayne was injured late in the first quarter and may miss Sunday's game at Tennessee.
The Packers' defense often had its back against the wall, like at the end of the first half when Urlacher intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it 41 yards to the 17. Green Bay kept the Bears out of the end zone, and Bears kicker followed by shanking a 23-yard field goal attempt to the left.
"We sort it out and put it in our head that we're going to stop them right here even though they already have good field position," said defensive lineman Cletidus Hunt, who started for Thierry.
Favre's three-yard pass to Antonio Freeman with 10:31 left in the first quarter capped a 64-yard drive on the opening series of the game as the Packers took a 7-0 lead. Favre's 33-yard pass to Freeman on the second play of the drive got the Packers to the Bears' 31. After completing a three-yard pass to Bill Schroeder for a first down at the 20, Favre found fullback William Henderson wide open over the middle for a 16-yard gain to the 4.
Aside from the first drive, the Packers were only able to muster 131 yards of offense the rest of the first half. Green Bay drove to the Bears 23 midway through the second quarter, thanks to a 37-yard screen to Green, but Longwell's 41-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and was no good.
Green Bay's defense held the Bears to 81 yards of offense in the first half, forcing the Bears to punt four times.
Urlacher's interception gave the Bears a golden opportunity to score with 32 seconds left in the second quarter. But Green Bay forced quarterback Jim Miller to throw incomplete twice in a row in the left corner of the end zone with 8 seconds left. Edinger then missed his field goal attempt, leaving the Packers with a 7-0 halftime lead.