CHICAGO IL - JANUARY 23: Charles Woodson #21 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates in the locker room after the Packers 21-14 victory against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23 2011 in Chicago Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Nearly 100 years of pure rivalry spilled into a sunshine lit affair at Soldier Field on Sunday. In the end, it was Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers who walked away with a trip to Dallas after defeating the Chicago Bears, 21-14.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers put it best when saying Sunday’s win against Lovie Smith’s side was for the older guys on the Packers roster. Cornerback Charles Woodson has experienced limited success in his 13 year career, while wide receiver Donald Driver is also short of a championship ring.
Green Bay hopes those records will be broken in two weeks’ time.
Before the Packers can take on the role of the 2007 New York Giants, though, Sunday’s win in Chicago must be put into perspective.
On the opening drive the Packers finished what they started against the Atlanta Falcons a week ago. Aaron Rodgers led the offense down the field, finding wide receiver’s Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson to remain perfect on the possession.
Of course, the championship belt pose was next. Rodgers scrambled for a one yard touchdown on the final play, to place the Packers up 7-0 early in the first quarter – even though a mild shoulder strain was noticeable.
Then it was Dom Capers turn to work some mojo. For the Packers, the threat of running back Matt Forte was a major concern, as Chicago’s bruising runner ran for 80 yards last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
On Sunday, Forte posted a sturdy 70 yard performance, that was reasonably contained on the Packers part when all was said and done.
But unfortunately for offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Forte was one of the few promising players against Green Bay. Quarterback Jay Cutler struggled early, and was knocked out of the game to start the third quarter.
According to doctors, Cutler sustained a knee injury in the first half. Right now, the severity of the injury is up for debate, although linebacker Brian Urlacher backed Cutler 100% in a post-game press conference.
Filling in, backup replacement Todd Collins stepped up, a quarterback Bears fans have seen very little of, yet enough to know that Collins’ five interceptions on the year were capable of turning a tough situation into a bitter pill to swallow.
Luckily, that scenario never unfolded.
Wisely, Chicago’s coaching staff pulled Collins from the game, and instead went with third string quarterback Caleb Hanie. This move proved to be frightening to a slow-witted Packer defense, which more or less fell asleep in the second half.
Speaking of Hanie, some credit is due. Being thrown in the deep end with a hostile and wrestles crowd behind you is tough, but to play for 153 yards and one touchdown has raised eyebrows league wide.
Perhaps the best impression to come from Hanie’s part, though, was his successful drive down the field, which gifted the Bears a touchdown to pull the score back to 14-7. Running back Chester Taylor pounded the ball over the goal line, sending waves of uncertainty through the Packer fan base.
Luckily, those nervous moments were quickly cancelled out on the next Bears drive.
For humors sake, nose tackle BJ Raji recorded a game changing interception for the Packers, capped off with an unusual dance in the endzone. Raji’s 337 pound frame has been used to full effect this postseason, especially last week when the Packers chose to implement him in the offensive scheme.
Bless Hanie for trying, because he bounced back once again.
Another precise drive saw the Bears push forward into Green Bay territory, and when the Bears chose to target wide receiver Earl Bennett down the sideline, Nick Collins was caught wrong footed as Chicago brought the game to within seven.
But that was as far as the Bears came. Green Bay concluded with another three and out struggling on third down (a theme of the day) and Chicago then saw their promising quarterback throw the game ending interception, this time to rookie cornerback Sam Shields.
The remaining forty seconds was bliss for head coach McCarthy. Green Bay reaches its fifth Super Bowl in team history, under one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
The game ball?
Well it has to go to punter Tim Masthay. Not once did a wobbly kick leave Devin Hester with space, and after a memorable Week 17 performance against Chicago, the Packers special teams was pinpoint once again.
Still, that isn’t the entire story. Now the Packers prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team Green Bay fell to in 2009 during a thrilling game at Heinz Field. On the day, both teams combined for 886 yards in the air, yet in the end quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found receiver Mike Wallace in the corner of the endzone to steal the victory.
Experts are already deeming this year’s Super Bowl matchup as a game between two of the leagues most storied franchises. Pittsburgh clearly has the upper-hand in terms or rings, but don’t discount the Packers stealthy defense that withstood the Bears test on Sunday.
The Steelers have relished in the benefits of home field advantage throughout the postseason, while the Packers have won three straight on the road.
Dallas is a neutral field, and after excelling in a dome atmosphere last week against Atlanta, things look promising for the green and gold on February 6.
Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze.