The Green Bay Packers' playoff express kept rolling, and it followed a familiar theme.
The Packers played stretches of dominating football, followed by stretches of lackluster football, followed by a key play to swing the game to its final outcome – this time a 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
The win was Green Bay's fifth straight, and at 9-4, it remains in firm control of its playoff destiny.
The Packers placed a thumping on the Bears for most of the first half, but two failures in the red zone and one strong drive by Chicago made it 13-7 at halftime. When Aaron Rodgers fumbled twice on one play to start the third quarter, the Bears drove down the field to take a 14-13 lead. Jay Cutler hit Devin Aromashodu on a back-shoulder completion against Charles Woodson for the touchdown. Suddenly, a crowd that had given the home team a standing ovation after finally getting a first down in the second quarter had come to life.
The Packers went three-and-out on the next possession but the defense delivered a huge play to turn the game. On third-and-5 on the third play of the fourth quarter, Tramon Williams came on a corner blitz. Cutler threw it to Johnny Knox, who Williams had been covering, but Nick Collins jumped the route for an easy interception. He returned it 31 yards to the 11-yard line, and moments later, Ryan Grant pounded it in from 1 yard for the touchdown. Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for the two-point conversion and a 21-14 lead.
The Packers failed to convert a third-and-1 that would have run out the clock, which gave the Bears a crack in the final 2:07. But packed up at their 9-yard line and with no timeouts -- thanks to a dubious decision by Bears coach Lovie Smith that cost his team two timeouts on one play because of a failed challenge – the Bears never got close to threatening. A sack by Williams on another corner blitz and a fourth-down incompletion ended the game.
Green Bay's top-ranked defense held Chicago to 33 yards and two first downs on four fourth-quarter possessions.
Grant got the Packers rolling with a 62-yard touchdown run on the first snap of the game. He carried the ball 20 times for 137 yards and the two scores. He's rushed for 1,068 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
The Bears had taken a 14-13 lead and the Packers' offense had a fumble and two punts to show for its second-half possessions. With the Bears in position to seize control of the game, Dom Capers dialed up a corner blitz. Just before the snap, Williams left receiver Johnny Knox and rushed off the offense's left side. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler attempted to hit Knox, but Nick Collins darted over from his safety position to get an easy interception. Moments later, Ryan Grant plowed in for the decisive score.
Ryan Grant probably wishes he could play the Bears every week. In five games against Chicago, he's rushed for 504 yards on 100 carries. He scored at least once in every game, including a pair of scores on Sunday.
Six: The Packers picked off Jay Cutler six times in the two games. Charles Woodson and Nick Collins had the interceptions on Sunday, and the offense turned those into 10 points.
"When we turned the ball over and they went down and scored on us to take a 14-13 lead, they got the crowd into the game, they got all the momentum on their side," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I told the guys on the sideline, ‘Get them together and tell them we have to go out and find some way to turn this momentum back in our favor.' That corner blitz, where Tramon came free in his face and the trap coverage, where he threw into, that was the play that turned the momentum back in our favor."
The other things you need to know
-- Because the Packers had to go without all of their key defensive linemen at the start of the practice week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers put together a package called "Psycho" that featured Cullen Jenkins as the only lineman, Desmond Bishop, Nick Barnett, Clay Matthews III, Brandon Chillar and A.J. Hawk as the linebackers, and Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush as the defensive backs. The Bears never got close to making a play against that look.
-- Aaron Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the third time as a starter. The Packers lost at home to Dallas and at Minnesota last season.
-- Bears coach Lovie Smith on wasting two timeouts on a second-and-22 incompletion to tight end Greg Olsen: "For the first timeout, things just weren't right and we needed to call a time out to take care of some things. That is separate. After that, I had to make a decision on the situation about whether it was worth us challenging and possibly getting a first down. I made that decision. In the end, the timeout didn't really hurt us."
-- It was an up-and-down day for the special teams. Mason Crosby's miss from 42 yards is a black eye, punter Jeremy Kapinos had two touchbacks and the return teams didn't provide much help, but the Bears' lethal kickoff return unit was held to 18.6 yards on five runbacks. Plus, when Kapinos needed a big punt late, he delivered as the Bears were forced to start from their 9-yard line in the final 2:07.
-- How about this for role reversal: The Packers were flagged four times for 30 yards compared to 13 infractions for 109 yards against the Bears.
-- Mike McCarthy earned his first season sweep of the Bears. And don't think he didn't know, as he rattled off his 4-4 career record against Chicago and 17-7 career mark against division foes. This year, he swept Detroit and Chicago and got swept by Minnesota.
-- The Packers' five-game winning streak is the longest since winning six straight in the middle of the 2007 season.
-- Don't talk playoffs, though. McCarthy said that isn't a point of conversation until the team gets to 10 wins.
-- The Packers enjoyed a whopping 206-yard edge in field position, with drives starting at the Bears' 15-, 8- and 1-yard line. Plus, the Packers took a knee after taking over at the Bears' 11 in the final minute.
-- All of the Packers' injured players were able to return: cornerback Brandon Underwood (hip), receiver Greg Jennings (knee), defensive lineman B.J. Raji (shoulder) and defensive end Johnny Jolly (back).
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.