NFC: Bears, Packers get hot at right time

The Bears' defense suddenly came alive. Was it the Bears or the lack of competition? Aaron Rodgers is on a hot streak himself, but he'll have to return to the cold to face the Bears. How has he done lately in cold-weather games? Get the scoop from Green Bay and Chicago as they prepare for an all-NFC North conference championship.


Maybe the Bears' disrespected offense is peaking at the right time.

It finished Sunday's 35-24 victory over the Seahawks with 437 total yards, its highest total since the season-opening victory against the Lions and 169 yards more than it had averaged in the previous five games.

Quarterback Jay Cutler, a huge hit in his first postseason game since high school, posted a 111.3 passer rating, the fifth time he's topped 104 in the past seven games. He completed a modest 15 of 28 passes, but they went for 274 yards, including a 58-yard bomb to tight end Greg Olsen to kick-start the offense less than three minutes into the game.

Cutler also had a 39-yard strike to the No. 3 tight end Kellen Davis to complete the Bears' scoring. Cutler added touchdown runs of 6 and 9 yards, early in the second quarter and late in the third.

Besides Cutler, only the Cleveland Browns' Otto Graham has ever run and passed for two touchdowns in a postseason game. Cutler scrambled five times for 46 yards, and even after three kneel-downs at the end of the game still finished with a career-high 43 rushing yards.

"It starts with Jay Cutler," Smith said. "Whether it's running the football or making the different throws that we ask him to do, he was outstanding."

There were plenty of other encouraging signs from an offense that has struggled to find consistency all season but put together an exceptional all-around effort in the Bears' biggest game of the season.

The ground game produced 176 yards, the second-highest output of the season, and the commitment to the run game continued, with a season-high 45 rushing attempts. Cutler was sacked three times but for most of the afternoon was afforded more time and a cleaner pocket than he's enjoyed most of the season.

"The offensive line did a great job (against) their front seven," Cutler said. They gave me plenty of time, a lot of credit to them."

The line got little credit but lots of criticism early in the first half of the season, as it struggled with frequent lineup changes. But the group appears to have solidified down the stretch. The same starting five has now played 10 straight games together and the Bears are 8-2 during that stretch.

"We just stuck together all year and said we would try to improve," said 13-year veteran center Olin Kreutz. "Hopefully it's showing, and hopefully we'll improve again next week."

TRENDING: The Bears have emphasized the run ever since their bye week at the end of October, which they went into with a 4-3 record and an offense that was heavy on the pass, light on the run and going nowhere. Since then, the run-pass ratio has been almost even, and the Bears have won eight of their last 10. Sunday against the Seahawks the Bears ran a season-high 45 times in their 35-24 victory.

LINEUP WATCH: With safety Chris Harris leaving Sunday's game in the second quarter, Major Wright got his most extensive playing time of the season, and he may need to step up in the NFC Championship Game. That shouldn't be much of a problem, since Wright has been rotating in at both safety spots for much of the season.


  • TE Greg Olsen, almost completely ignored in the passing game for the final six weeks of the regular season, had three catches for 113 yards Sunday, including a 58-yard TD grab, the longest reception of his NFL career.

  • QB Jay Cutler threw two TD passes and ran for two more scores, accomplishing a feat that has only been done in the postseason by Otto Graham.

  • RB Matt Forte tied his season high with 25 carries but managed just 80 yards, although he also caught three passes for 54 yards.

  • RB Chester Taylor, who averaged 2.4 yards per carry in the second half of the season, had his most productive day of the season with 44 yards on 11 carries, including one TD.

  • DT Tommie Harris, who had one-half of a sack in the first 15 regular-season games, had two on Sunday after getting one in Week 17.


    Just like the elements inside the Georgia Dome, the results were ideal for Aaron Rodgers in Saturday night's 48-21 rout of the Atlanta Falcons that propelled the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.

    Rodgers carved up the top-seeded Falcons for 366 yards and three touchdowns on nearly perfect 31-for-36 accuracy in the divisional playoff mismatch that featured the highest scoring output by a Green Bay team in the postseason.

    "I like playing in domes," Rodgers said. "The weather is in perfect condition. I also get to wear my favorite shoes, so my feet don't hurt."

    Unfortunately for Rodgers, who has been sizzling with six touchdown passes and no interceptions after the first two rounds of the playoffs, he will have to ditch the preferred Nike Destroyer turf shoes for a pair of all-weather cleats this week.

    If the Packers are to become the first No. 6 seed from the NFC to win three straight playoff games on the road and advance to the Super Bowl, they will have to get past the Chicago Bears in blustery conditions on a slick grass surface at Soldier Field on Sunday.

    "Me, personally, I'm not really looking forward to the cold weather," Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said.

    The 182nd meeting between the league's oldest rivals will be only their second encounter in the postseason. The Bears won 33-14 at Chicago's Wrigley Field in the 1941 Western Division playoff.

    "It just doesn't get any better than for the NFC championship to come down to the Packers' coming down on our turf this time," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "The Packers and Bears to finish it up, that's how it should be."

    The NFC North-champion Bears and division runner-up Packers split the two games in the regular season, which ended with Green Bay's 10-3 victory Jan. 2 at Lambeau Field when Chicago had a chance to keep its archrival out of the playoffs.

    That was one of four wins for Rodgers in as many starts this season in cold-weather games. The latest such triumph came Jan. 9, a 21-16 outcome at Philadelphia in a wild-card playoff.

    Rodgers, conversely, had just a 5-4 record (1-2 on the road) in games played with the temperature below 40 degrees his first two seasons as a starter.

    Green Bay's hope is the heat wave Rodgers generated indoors Saturday, directing five consecutive touchdown drives that forged a 42-14 lead in the third quarter, will carry over to the Packers' second NFC title-game appearance in four years.

    "He was on fire," said head coach Mike McCarthy, whose team has won a season-high-tying four straight games.

    TRENDING: Cornerback Tramon Williams couldn't care less about being passed over for what would have been his first Pro Bowl invitation. Williams' heroics the past two weeks has Green Bay on the verge of a trip to North Texas for the Feb. 6 Super Bowl, which would make the Jan. 30 Pro Bowl in Hawaii needless anyway. "That's one way to shut people up — to go to the Super Bowl instead of the Pro Bowl," said Williams, who had two clutch interceptions against the Falcons, both in a decisive second quarter. After a leaping pick of a pass into the end zone to keep the score 14-14, Williams jumped a short throw from Matt Ryan to Roddy White and scored on a 70-yard return on the final play of the half to stake the Packers to a 28-14 lead. Williams has three interceptions in the playoffs — including a victory-clinching pick in the end zone in the closing seconds of the wild-card game at Philadelphia — on the heels of leading the team with six in the regular season.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 5 — Appearances by the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay has a 2-2 record, winning the conference title in the 1996 and '97 seasons and losing in the 1995 and 2007 seasons.


  • QB Aaron Rodgers was pulled from the 48-21 victory at the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC divisional playoff Saturday night for the last few minutes after he experienced some leg cramping. Rodgers was unbelievable before his departure, going 31-of-36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns without an interception for a 136.8 passer rating. Rodgers also had a 7-yard touchdown run.

  • FB John Kuhn, whose 1-yard touchdown run tied the score at 14-14 in the second quarter, suffered a neck stinger late in the game and was held out the rest of the way. Kuhn also had a 7-yard touchdown reception.

  • NT B.J. Raji, who had one of the team's five sacks of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, made his debut on offense on a specially designed play that resulted in FB John Kuhn's touchdown. The 337-pound Raji lined up alongside fullback Quinn Johnson in front of Kuhn in the team's inverted wishbone formation. Johnson and Raji provided the lead blocks on Kuhn's scoring run. Raji took a blow to the head later in the game, but he stayed in.

  • OLB Clay Matthews led the defensive assault on Ryan with two sacks and also had a fumble recovery. Matthews has three sacks in the Packers' two postseason games after he racked up a team-high 13.5 in the regular season.

  • WR Greg Jennings bounced back from a season-worst output of one catch for eight yards in the wild-card win at Philadelphia by snaring a game-high-tying eight receptions for 101 yards Saturday. Jennings, however, had a fumble for a turnover on his long catch of 30 yards early in the game.

  • RB James Starks was heavily involved in a rushing role for the second straight game. After his breakout performance of 23 carries for 123 yards against the Eagles, the rookie ran the football 25 times for 66 yards with a long gain of 13 against the Falcons.

  • CB Pat Lee sustained a hip injury in the game and didn't return. Lee contributed on special teams.

  • OLB Frank Zombo didn't play for the fifth straight game because of a knee sprain. Erik Walden continued to start in the rookie's absence on the right side.

  • FB Korey Hall also was deactivated, missing a third straight game because of an aggravated knee sprain. Kuhn opened the game as the starter.

  • Viking Update Top Stories