CHICAGO – Welcome back Aaron Rodgers.
And welcome back, Randall Cobb.
On fourth-and-8, Rodgers sidestepped Julius Peppers and beat an all-out blitz by lofting a 48-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cobb as the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North by beating Chicago 33-28 on Sunday evening.
The Packers (8-7-1) will host San Francisco in an NFC Wild Card game at 3:40 p.m. on Sunday.
"I think today's game is a pretty much a microcosm of our season," coach Mike McCarthy said, wearing an NFC North championship hat. "I feel like I've been saying that for a couple of weeks. But I just can't say enough about the fight. You talk about the guts, the grit and the final achievement, the glory, that we were able to accomplish here on the field this afternoon. Just a great, great team win. Clearly one of our finer moments in our time in Green Bay. It's great to take the NFC North crown, take it home."
The Packers started a do-or-die drive at their 13-yard line with 6:24 remaining and one timeout. Coach Mike McCarthy faced an immediate decision on fourth-and-inches from the 22. He sent out the punt team, then changed his mind, with John Kuhn converting after a measurement. Rodgers then converted a third-and-3 with a 4-yard scramble. When Eddie Lacy was stuffed on a third-and-1, the Packers faced a fourth-and-1 from the 44 at the two-minute warning. With Lacy and James Starks on the bench, Rodgers went out of shotgun and fired a pass to the sideline, with Jordy Nelson making a diving catch for a 6-yard gain to midfield.
An incomplete pass to Andrew Quarless, a 2-yard run by Lacy and an incomplete pass to Nelson set up the pivotal fourth-down play. With the Bears sending seven, Rodgers hit Cobb around the 11, and he beat Zackary Bowman to the end zone.
Devin Hester took a lateral and returned the ensuing kickoff to the 40 with 31 seconds remaining. A 15-yard completion to Martellus Bennett moved the ball to the Packers’ 45, with a timeout with 22 seconds to go. Morgan Burnett broke up a bomb to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone and Sam Shields intercepted Jay Cutler’s last-gasp heave into the end zone.
Green Bay (8-7-1) won the NFC North for the third consecutive year and will host a playoff game next weekend.
It took a while but the shootout that almost everyone expected broke out in the third quarter.
The Bears took a 14-13 lead on their first possession of the third quarter, set up by Devin Hester’s long punt return. Green Bay, however, answered immediately. With Lacy briefly sidelined by his nagging ankle injury, James Starks rumbled for 41 yards to the 13 on third-and-1, with key blocks by guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. Then, on third-and-4 from the 7, Rodgers stepped up in the pocket, moved to his left and fired a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb.
Chicago answered immediately. On third-and-4 from its 32, Alshon Jeffery ran a stop-and-go against Sam Shields. He caught the ball at the 35 before being dragged down at the 1. Matt Forte scored on the next play, giving Chicago a 21-20 lead with 5:04 to go in the third quarter. It was Forte’s third score of the game.
After Green Bay punted, Chicago scored again. Forte beat Sean Richardson around the corner for 16, then was left uncovered for a 33-yard gain to the 8. That set up a third-and-goal from the 5 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Jay Cutler threw a fade to Brandon Marshall, who ran into Tramon Williams and got behind him for an easy catch to make it 28-20.
The Packers pulled within 28-27 with 11:38 remaining in the game on three tremendous individual plays. The first was a 34-yard catch-and-run by Jordy Nelson in which he gained 26 yards after breaking a tackle. The next was a 22-yard catch by Andrew Quarless in which Bears safety Chris Conte almost had his second interception of the day. The third was Eddie Lacy’s 6-yard touchdown in which he was stacked up in the backfield but got away and ran untouched around the left corner.
The Packers had two interceptions, muffed a punt and a sack-strip yet took 10-7 on a bizarre play. With Green Bay trailing 7-3 but in the red zone for the third time in four possessions, Rodgers was hit from behind by Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers as he was about to pass. The ball fell to the ground, with 21 of the 22 players on the field thinking the ball was incomplete.
Receiver Jarrett Boykin scooped up the ball at the 15, with Rodgers jogging toward him and instructing him to run. Boykin did and it resulted in a touchdown with 3:28 remaining in the first half.
On the first play after the two-minute warning, Cutler completed a pass to Alshon Jeffery. Williams ripped the ball out as A.J. Hawk hit Jeffery. The resulting fumble was scooped up Morgan Burnett, who lateralled to Sam Shields, who ran the ball to the Bears’ 28. That drive bogged down after a first-and-goal at the 9, with Mason Crosby’s 27-yard field goal giving Green Bay a 13-7 lead at halftime.
Rodgers, playing for the first time since sustaining a broken collarbone against Chicago on Nov. 4, had a tough first half. Rodgers, who entered the game with four interceptions in 251 attempts, threw two in the first half. One was an end-zone interception in which Quarless stopped his route. The second was a ball that was thrown slightly behind and deflected by Nelson. Rodgers finished the half 14-of-22 for 145 yards and a rating of 44.7.
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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.