Bears sweep away Packers, 24-17

The Chicago Bears officially dethroned the Green Bay Packers from supremacy in the NFC North Division. On the same field that Lovie Smith got his first victory as head coach of the Bears in 2004, he celebrated again as his team won the division title. Mistakes, missed opportunities and turnovers again doomed the Packers, who have made a ton of them this season.

Chicago's 24-17 win ended the Packers' three-year reign at the top of the division as the Bears improved to 11-4 to stave off the Minnesota Vikings (8-7), who were eliminated from the playoffs Sunday night by the Baltimore Ravens. The Bears have won 10 of 11 games since a 1-3 start and have defeated Green Bay in three of four games under Smith after winning just two of 20 previous meetings with their arch rivals from 1994-2003.

Before they departed Lambeau Field, the Bears celebrated on the field immediately after safety Chris Harris' game-clinching interception as time expired, and wore their champship baseball caps as they boarded the bus. It was kick in the stomach for the Packers, who went from first to worst in the division in the span of one year.

"It was unbearable to watch them," said Packers middle linebacker Nick Barnett. "Who thinks losing feels good? It affects your life. It affects your family, everybody around you. It's a disappointment. It's been depressing. We still have one game to try to keep our heads up high, but basically it hurts."

Green Bay held its own against Chicago early on, but Brett Favre struggled again to keep the ball out of the hands of defenders and the normally reliable Ryan Longwell was unable to kick the ball through the uprights. In between, the Packers committed a number of penalties (9 for 69 yards in the game) and lost for the sixth time in seven games at home this season.

For the second time this season, the Packers finished with more total yards than the Bears, 365 to 292, and had more first downs 24 to 16, but the Bears had four take-aways, all on interceptions, to Green Bay's one.

"All that yardage and whatnot is irrelevant when you don't score points," said Packers coach Mike Sherman.

"We didn't score the points we needed to score. We didn't make the field goals. We didn't make the touchdowns we need to make."

When all was said and done, the Packers, who had dominated the Bears for more than a decade, were swept by the Bears for the first time since 1991 and lost for the second straight season at home. Antonio Chatman's electrifying 85-yard punt return midway through the fourth quarter and a late field goal by Longwell closed the Packers to within a touchdown, but Green Bay's final drive of the game ended when Harris intercepted a Hail Mary pass thrown by Favre as time expired.

The Packers fell to 3-12 in a season that will mercifully come to an end on New Year's Day at Lambeau Field against Seattle.

Favre was interecepted four times by the Bears, pushing his career- and league-high total to 28. It also didn't help that the normally reliable Longwell missed two very makeable field goal attempts in each half. Longwell entered the game having made 15 of 20 field goal attempts with only one miss in the second half of the season. But Longwell, Green Bay's all-time scoring leader, pushed two of his three attempts wide right with newly acquired punter Ryan Flinn holding. Flinn, a part-time bartender from Central Florida, arrived in Green Bay on Thursday after B.J. Sander was placed on injured reserve.

"I know we had a good pregame and just couldn't transfer it to the game," Longwell said. "They're big kicks that we should have made. They didn't go through, obviously. We should have made them."

Rex Grossman, starting in his first game in 15 months for the Bears, completed 11 of 23 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once by safety Mark Roman, but was able to guide the Bears to score just enough points to win. Grossman, who broke his ankle in the Bears' second preseason game, took over for rookie Kyle Orton.

"They are a little bit more two-dimensional (with Grossman)," said Barnett. "That's not to say anything bad about Orton. He can throw the heck out of the deep ball, but Rex Grossman is a little bit quicker making decisions. That's the difference basically."

One play after Longwell pushed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide right, Grossman completed a 54-yard bomb to wide receiver Bernard Berrian to Green Bay's 18. Defensive end Mike Montgomery's roughing the passer penalty gave the Bears nine more yards to the 9. On the next play, the Packers were flagged again, this time for holding, which put the Bears on the 2. Thomas Jones ran around the right tackle on the next play for a touchdown as the Bears took a 14-7 lead with 5:05 left in the first half.

"That was our game plan going in," Grossman said about the bomb to Berrian. "We saw on tape that their safeties come down low for run support and we just used Bernard's (Berrian) speed and our protection to get a couple of plays downfield."

The Bears stretched their lead to 17-7 on Robbie Gould's 45-yard field goal with 9:39 left in the third quarter.

Grossman's 18-yard pass to Berrian coupled with Adrian Peterson's 13-yard run set up Robbie Gould's 45-yard field goal, widening the margin to 17-7 with 9:39 left in the third quarter.

The Packers advanced to the Chicago 21, but Longwell missed a 39-yard field goal attempt wide right with 6:00 remaining in the third period.

Chicago took a commanding lead late in the third quarter when Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs intercepted Favre's pass intended for fullback William Henderson at the Packers' 10 and walked into the end zone for a touchdown to push the Bears' lead to 24-7 and their second playoff appearance since 1994.

Chatman closed the Packers to 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter with his 85-yard return for a touchdown. It was Chatman's first punt return for a touchdown in 107 attempts and first punt return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum ran one back against Tampa Bay on Nov. 4, 2001.

Longwell's 26-yard field goal with 1:54 left in the game made it 24-17. The Bears were penalized for being offside on Longwell's ensuing onside kick. On the subsequent onside kick, Longwell attempted to pooch the ball over the right side of the Bears return team, but he his a low line drive that the Bears were easily able to recover.

Green Bay's defense forced the Bears to punt, and Favre followed with a 56-yard completion to wide receiver Donald Driver to Chicago's 35 with 1:02 remaining. The Bears sacked Favre twice, and with no timeouts remaining, all Favre could do on the final play was heave a bomb in the direction of newly acquired Rod Gardner, but Harris was in position to make the catch.

Favre, declined to speak to the media afterward, completed 30 of 51 passes for 317 yards. Favre's 44.3 passer rating was his second lowest of the season. Favre hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Nov. 27 at Philadephia.

"Anytime your quarterback has four interceptions, you have to look at that," Sherman said. "I do know this, he did give us a chance to win there at the end. On the interception for a touchdown, he had a guy in his face and it got tipped. The linebacker (Briggs) made a great play and obviously that was a significant play in the game."

Grossman completed 5 of 6 passes and finished off a 68-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass over the middle to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad with 5 minutes left in the first quarter. Grossman completed passes to Muhammad on the final three plays of the drive, including a 20-yarder that got the Bears to the 10.

The Packers responded with an 84-yard drive that consumed nearly 8 minutes over the first and second quarters, and tied the game on rookie running back Noah Herron's 1-yard plunge into the end zone. Green Bay actually scored twice on the drive. Packers tackle Mark Tauscher's 1-yard touchdown reception from Favre on a tackle-eligible play was nullified by guard Grey Ruegamer's holding penalty. Facing 3-and-goal from the 11, Harris was flagged for pass interference on Driver in the end zone. Herron than used a block by Tauscher and Ruegamer to squeeze into the end zone for his first touchdown as a pro.

"The turnovers were big," said Smith, who got his first victory as a head coach on Sept. 19, 2004, 21-10, over the Packers. "(Safety) Chris Harris had two interceptions. I like the way that the defense finished the game at the end there because Green Bay had a little momentum going. It is tough to win on the road at anytime, especially when you are playing against a team like Green Bay with Brett Favre quarterbacking."

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