Defense Leads Packers Into Playoffs

You've got to hand it to Lovie Smith: he's true to his word. On the day he was hired as Bears coach he said his number one priority was to beat the Packers. On a day when his team had nothing to gain, except to keep his team's greatest rival from reaching the playoffs, Lovie kept all his guys out there and went all out for 60 minutes.

But the Packers defense made more plays than Lovie's and as a result the Packers will return to the post season, in Philadelphia next Sunday. This was an ugly game from the start. As smooth as the offense ran last week against the Giants, the sledding was much tougher this week against a tough Bears defense.

A fumble by Donald Driver ended an early promising drive and the Bears had Aaron Rodgers on the run and kept the Packers from running the ball effectively all afternoon. Meanwhile, the Bears offense had similar problems. After two long runs by Matt Forte late in the opening quarter, the Pack's defense made corrections and kept him in check the rest of the way. Mike Martz got a little pass happy in the second half, playing into the Packers' hands.

In the third quarter, a quarter the Pack has dominated all season, things got a little dicey, when Peanut Tillman picked off a pass and the Bears were in the red zone with a 3-0 lead. But Jay Cutler threw a pick in the end zone by Charlie Peprah and the Pack had the ball back.

They took it down the field on a long pass to Greg Jennings, but some very odd play calling from first and goal at the one resulted in going backwards a few yards and Green Bay settled for a chip shot field goal. There were no such problems the next time the Pack found themselves with first and goal at the one. Play action on second down resulted in an easy TD pass to Donald Lee.

With a 10-3 lead, the defense took over, sacking Cutler a couple more times, bringing the total in the game to six. Leading the charge was unheralded Erik Walden, a midseason pickup and fifth on the depth chart at OLB. 11 tackles, 10 of them solo. Two sacks and great in coverage, rendering tight end Greg Olsen all but invisible. And then Nick Collins delivered "the dagger" with a pick in the final seconds to end it. Just a great performance by the defense, playing without four opening day starters. Dom Capers dialed up another great gameplan, keeping Cutler off balance and frustrating the Bears all afternoon. And he did it with a bunch of guys who were not on the depth chart radar in September.

So despite the six close losses, despite the 15 or 16 guys on injured reserve, the Pack has punched its ticket to the playoffs and will play the final game of wildcard weekend, next Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia. The Eagles are 2-0 all-time against the Pack in the post-season, most recently the "4th and 26 game" a number of years back.

There's lots to dissect and consider as we look at this matchup, but for now we'll toast the Pack--one of just three NFC teams to return to the playoffs. True, no sixth seed has ever reached the Super Bowl out of the NFC. But with a defense playing as well as anyone's and a QB like Rodgers, the Pack is ready to take a shot at making a little history.

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