The Green Bay Packers won a game for the ages, as the divisional rivalry between the Packers and Chicago Bears did not disappoint. Aaron Rodgers was brilliant in the fourth quarter upon his return, throwing a critical 48-yard fourth-down touchdown to Randall Cobb for the go-ahead score with 38 seconds left. Sam Shields clinched the victory with an interception of Jay Cutler on the game's final play as the Packers won the NFC North and earned #4 seed in the NFC Playoffs.
After winning the coin toss and deferring, the Bears received the opening kickoff. With a wind in Mason Crosby's face, Devin Hester took the ball up the left sideline close to midfield and the Packers' Victor Aiyewa took a 15-yard personal foul penalty. The Bears went three-and-out on their first drive, though, as Tramon Williams had Alshon Jeffery blanketed on third and three and broke up the pass, forcing a punt. The Bears appeared to down the punt at the two-yard line, but it was originally ruled a touchback. After review, the referees ruled that there was inconclusive evidence to overturn it, and Aaron Rodgers took over from the 20.
Eddie Lacy started the drive with a run off the left side behind a pulling Evan Dietrich-Smith, picking up a first down before going out of bounds. Rodgers completed passes to Jarrett Boykin early and Andrew Quarless for a first down. On a key third and two near midfield, Rodgers hooked up with Jordy Nelson on a perfect slant route over the middle to move the chains again. The Packers got help from the Bears with a pass interference penalty to take the ball down to the 20-yard line, and from third-and 5 at the 15, Rodgers found Nelson again in the right flat at the 10 for another first down. Rodgers was picked off on third down and goal, though, as he tried to force a pass in to Jarrett Boykin that was intercepted in the end zone by Chris Conte.
On the ensuing drive, Jay Cutler picked up the Bears' first first down with a 13-yard gain to Brandon Marshall. Matt Forte picked up a big chunk of yardage on the ground, and then Cutler floated a nice ball to Marshall, which Sam Shields had a read on. Unfortunately, Shields mis-timed his jump slightly, and Marshall brought in the pass for a big gain inside the 10. Three plays later, Cutler found Matt Forte on a four-yard swing pass for a touchdown, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead.
The Packers took over after the kickoff at their own 19-yard line, and James Starks picked up some substantive yardage and a first down before the first quarter ended.
One play after making a great catch-and-run up the sideline for 32-yards, Jordy Nelson couldn't corral a high pass from Rodgers on a slant, and the tipped ball fell right into the hands of the Bears' Tim Jennings for another interception. The Bears couldn't do anything though, as they went three and out.
Rodgers picked up a big first down to Nelson, with a 32-yard gain on a crossing route. On third down, Rodgers went down in an ugly manner behind the line of scrimmage, but was bailed out by a late hit penalty on Shea McClellin. Aaron couldn't connect with Jordy Nelson in the end zone on third down, though, and they had to settle for a field goal attempt from Mason Crosby, which he drilled from 33 yards to cut the Bears lead to 7-3.
Devin Hester fumbled the kickoff, but the Bears recovered after committing a block in the back penalty to pin them back at their own 10. Andy Mulumba sacked Cutler on the first play, then Jarrett Bush broke up a third-down pass and the Bears were forced to punt again, but a bad punt gave Green Bay the ball at the Bears' 40.
Rodgers hit James Jones on third and four to move the chains on a back-shoulder throw before James Starks ran a nice cutback for nine yards on first down and another three on second and one. What happened next I can't even describe, so I'll just leave this here:
The play was reviewed and the touchdown confirmed, so the Packers led 10-7.
The Bears took over at the 15 after a nice special-teams effort by Jarrett Bush. A few plays later, A.J. Hawk forced a fumble out of Alshon Jeffery after a deep reception, and Morgan Burnett recovered. With the help of a lateral to Sam Shields, the Packers returned the ball to the Bears' 29-yard line with just under two minutes to go in the half.
After overthrowing Nelson, Rodgers found him for a 15-yard gain on second down, giving the Packers a first and goal. Aaron couldn't connect in the end zone, and Mason Crosby came on for a 27-yard attempt, which he put right down the middle for a 13-7 Packers lead at the half.
On the opening drive, the Packers got into a third and one situation thanks to James Starks' running, but Rodgers could not connect with Boykin on a slant route (instead of a run by Lacy or Starks). A good punt by Tim Masthay was returned 49 yards by Devin Hester on a bounce, and the Bears got the ball at the Packers' 30 yard line.
Matt Forte gashed Green Bay for 15 yards on the first play, then ran on another three straight plays to pick up a first down at the five. On his fifth carry, Forte bounced off-tackle for an easy five-yard score to put the Bears back on top 14-13.
On the first play of the next drive from the 20, Eddie Lacy burst through the line for a 17-yard gain, but limped off the field. On another third and one, Starks got the call on a shotgun run, and rumbled for 41 yards deep into Bears territory. A short Starks run and quick pass to James Jones set up a 3rd and 4 from the 7. Rodgers leaked out of the pocket to his left and found a wide-open Randall Cobb in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown and a 20-14 lead.
The Packers did not kick to Hester this time, instead popping it up to an up-man and stopping the Bears at the 25. The Bears faced a third and four after two Forte runs were swallowed up well, and the Bears got their answer. Alshon Jeffery burned Sam Shields on a double-move and was wide open, and Shields was able to track him down just before he crossed the goal line, holding him to 67 yards instead of the 68 needed to get in the end zone. It was a moot point, though, as Matt Forte plunged into the end zone and the Bears retook the lead 21-20.
Jordy Nelson was the recipient of a Rodgers pass on the first play of the next drive, picking up 18 yards on a post. Andrew Quarless then made what appeared to be a rather absurd catch for a first down, going to the ground and pipping the ball up in the air and having it land right back in his waiting hands. The play was originally ruled a catch, then overruled by another official on the field as an incomplete pass. After Mike McCarthy challenged the incomplete ruling, the play was ruled as not being conclusive that Quarless did catch it, and remained an incompletion. Rodgers couldn't connect with Nelson on third down, and the Packers punted.
The Bears started off with a throw to Marshall, then a Forte run for a first down. Forte threw a stiff arm into Sean Richardson and picked up another first down to the Packers' 41. Forte then caught a dump-off pass with nobody within 20 yards, juked Nick Perry and A.J. Hawk, and set up a first and goal. Two Forte runs set up a third and goal from the four as the third quarter expired.
On said third down, Cutler delivered a throw to the corner of the end zone, but Tramon Williams got caught out of position (possibly because of Brandon Marshall initiating contact) and Marshall hauled in the pass over his shoulder for a touchdown to extend Chicago's lead to 28-20.
Jordy Nelson made another mark on the next drive. He caught a screen pass and broke a tackle from three Bears, scampering up the right sideline for X yards. Jones ran the same play on the opposite side, picking up another first down. Andrew Quarless made a ridiculous diving catch on the next play, picking up 23 yards inside the ten, and Lacy punched it in from six yards out to pull the Packers within one again at 28-27 after the PAT with 11:38 left.
The Bears picked up a first down on a Forte run, then another on a pass to Marquess Wilson. A penalty on Chicago, a big hit by Hawk over the middle on a dump-off pass, and a tackle for loss by Mulumba on Forte set up a 3rd and 17 for the Bears at Green Bay's 45-yard line. The Packers got a lucky break when Jeffery couldn't hang on to a deep pass down the left sideline though, and the Bears' punt gave Green Bay the ball back at their own 13.
A two-yard run by Lacy and six yards on a drop-off pass gave the Packers a third and two, which Lacy nearly converted, but John Kuhn got the fourth-and-inches to keep the drive alive. A bubble screen to Jones picked up six, but a tough drop by Jones set up a 3rd and 4. Rodgers somehow scrambled for just enough yardage to pick up the first down, shaking off Lance Briggs for a five-yard gain. Short gains by Nelson and Lacy brought up yet another third-and-one, but the toss to Lacy was sniffed out a little over a yard short.
To keep their season alive, the Packers needed to gain just over three feet. Rodgers dropped back and hit Nelson on a diving catch to keep the drive alive. An incomplete pass to Quarless and a short run by Lacy left Rodgers with a 3rd and 8 at the Bears' 48. Rodgers' throw was behind Nelson, and left Green Bay with a fourth and eight. Rodgers, facing an all-out blitz, escaped to his left and found a wide-open Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown and a 33-28 lead. The two-point conversion fell incomplete, but the Packers regained the lead.
The Bears were to get the ball back with 38 seconds left and two timeouts, and a Devin Hester return brought the ball up to the Bears' 40. A completion over the middle to Martellus Bennett and a timeout put the Bears at the Packers' 45 with 24 seconds. Morgan Burnett knocked away a first-down pass in the end zone, and Marshall dropped a second-down pass, making it third down with 10 seconds. On the final play, Cutler's heave was intercepted by Sam Shields, giving the Packers the win and the NFC North title.
The opponent will be determined by the 49ers-Cardinals game still in progress. (UPDATE: the Packers will play the 49ers, thanks to their win today.)