A Special Feeling: Pack Wins NFC North AgainPosted:Dec 17th, 2012 12:27 am
It is always special to beat the Bears. It's even more special to beat them six straight times. It's special to win the NFC North for a second straight season. All in all, a special day at Soldier Field. What wasn't special was the Pack's special teams, which almost singlehandedly kept the Bears in it until the final minute.
More on that later. This was a game dominated by the Packer defense, which found its footing after opening the game allowing big chunks of yards on the ground. The Bears amassed only 190 yards and were 0 for 9 on third down. What a difference Clay Matthews makes to this unit. Two sacks, five tackles and a whole lot of attention from the Bears offense, which freed other guys to make plays. BJ Raji was all over the field, as was Mike Neal, and once again the young secondary stood tall.
Casey Hayward got his sixth pick and it was his easiest of the season. Sam Shields got pushed all day by rookie Alshon Jeffery, who was flagged multiple times in the second half. And Tramon Williams did a solid job on Brandon Marshall, who scored thanks to some poor tackling but was held to six catches for 56 yards. Cutler completed just 12 passes for 121 yards--his biggest play was the pass interference call on Morgan Burnett, which gave the Bears the ball on the five.
Offensively, the Pack got off to a slow start, but never gave up on the run, with 32 carries for the game.. Du Juan Harris had the best run of the day but Ryan Grant coughed up the ball in the third quarter, giving the Bears some life. The Pack was driving and leading 21-7 at the time, but the Bears only managed a field goal to cut the lead to 21-10.
The passing game was money. Aaron Rodgers found James Jones three times for touchdowns and hit a number of key third and fourth down conversions, mostly to Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley. Rodgers got hit a lot and took a bit of a beating, though I thought the roughing the passer penalty on Julius Peppers was a bad call.
Let's consider the Missin' Crosby situation. Mike McCarthy once again steadfastly stood behind his kicker after the game. "We are not changing our kicker. You can write that down right now," he said after the game. "He is our guy. He needs to make those kicks. He knows that."
Yes, Mike, we all know that. But he's a mess right now and he will cost this team in the playoffs if he doesn't shake his funk. I've been patient and slow to endorse the radical change of switching kickers this late in the season. But enough is enough. I'd bring in a couple of guys this week, if nothing else to put a scare into him. Maybe that's what he needs.
Now let's talk about that asinine punt return play in the final seven minutes. Pack's defense forces a three and out and the Bears punt the ball, trailing 21-10. Randall Cobb fields and fires a pass across the field to Jeremy Ross, who muffs it and the Bears recover and ultimately kick a field goal to make it a one possession game. I have yet to hear who made the call and what possible explanation he could give. The only one I will accept is something like this, "I completely lost my head for a minute there and had a complete brain fart." Any other reasoning will ring hollow. That was the single dumbest call I can recall from this regime.
Fortunately, it didn't cost the Pack on this day. They won their 12th straight NFC North game and have put themselves in a position for a first round bye. If they win out and San Francisco loses once, they'll grab the #2 seed.
The most encouraging takeaway from the Bears game, to me, is the play of the defense. If this team can add Charles Woodson and CJ Wilson to the mix, they should be in great shape for the post-season. And we know one thing, there will be at least one playoff game at Lambeau, giving Rodgers a chance to win one at home for the first time.