GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers swept division rival Chicago with a 21-13 victory at Lambeau Field Sunday—another close, one-score win that seems to be the trademark of this resilient Packers team that clinched a playoff berth.
While 11-3 Green Bay was taking care of its own business, a loss by the Los Angeles Rams in Dallas in the late afternoon game propelled Green Bay to postseason play for the first time following the 2016 season.
A victory over the Bears did not come easy.
It came down to the final play with the Green Bay defense recovering a fumble at the Packers 2-yard line after a frantic pass-and-multiple lateral play. Interestingly enough, replays showed one more lateral to the right to an open teammate may have resulted in a stand-up touchdown. Film study at Halas Hall will be tough to watch today.
Aaron Rodgers was just glad to be in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s #2 seed, which comes with a bye and a home game afterward.
“I love being 11-3 and I think the performance was a little up and down, but I thought we did some really good things and we just have to be a little more opportunistic when we have opportunities,” Rodgers said in his post-game press conference.
“I don’t know that we have the full respect of the entire league at this point based on some of our performances where we got beat by a couple of scores, and kind of the reaction to some of those situations, but we’re 7-1 at home and we have an inside track at the No. 2 seed. Obviously we have an opportunity to wrap up the division next week, which guarantees a home game and the third seed, at worst. I like our chances. I like our football team.”
Like so many games this season, the Packers offense started fast and then went into a lull.
Green Bay drew first blood, taking advantage of a short field after Chicago was flagged for interference on a fair catch by punt returner Tramon Williams. The 15-yard penalty set up Rodgers and the offense at the Bears 35, and after three plays netted six yards, Green Bay went for it on 4th and 4 from the 28.
Davante Adams ran straight up the field and cleaning beat cornerback Buster Skrine, and Rodgers hit him in stride for a 28-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
The Bears, stymied by an aggressive Green Bay defense for most of the first half, came alive late in the second quarter.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky drove the Bears 52 yards in eight plays to the Green Bay 13 where the Packers defense stiffened and Chicago settled for a 30-yard field goal Eddy Pineiro.
It was a wild finish to the first half. After the Bears held Rodgers and the offense on downs, Trubisky launched a Hail Mary that was intercepted by cornerback Jaire Alexander. A series of dangerous laterals by the Packers ended the half.
Green Bay took control of the game in the third quarter, bolting out to a 21-3 lead on two touchdown by running back Aaron Jones.
The first was a 21-yarder that capped a five-play, 73-yard drive, where Jones ran outside left behind a block by tackle David Bakhtiari and out-raced safety Eddie Jackson to the endzone pylon for a 14-3 lead at 12:44 mark. After the defense forced a Bears punt, Rodgers drove the Packers 66 yards in five plays on a march culminating in Jones’ 2-yard burst for a 21-3 cushion.
The Bears made it a two-score game on the first play of a wild fourth quarter on Pineiro’s 27-yard field goal at 21-6. Chicago forced a three-and-out and the Bears had the ball at their own 33 to start the ensuing drive.
Thirteen plays later, Trubisky hit Anthony Miller with a 2-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-13 with 8:09 left and Packer Nation was getting nervous.
The Bears defense, aided by a holding penalty on right tackle Bryan Bulaga, again forced a 3-and-out for the offense. Rodgers scrambled on third down and fumbled, but the Packers challenged the ruling that his arm was down before losing the football and were able to punt it away.
Chicago took over on its own 40 with 7:10 left, but Dean Lowry jumped up and made a tremendous athletic play to intercept a Trubisky pass and set the offense up at the Chicago 33. The Chicago defense again stymied the Packers on three plays to force another punt and the Packers rose up to hold the Bears on downs. Taking over at the Packers 49, Green Bay could only gain four yards in three plays and JK Scott’s 30-yard punt was out of bounds at the Bears’ 22.
The game came down to one final drive for Chicago.
Trubisky marched his team down the field to the Packers 34-yard-line for one final play with one second left on the clock. Instead of a Hail Mary in the end zone, Trubisky threw underneath 13 yards to Cohen, who lateraled back to Trubisky. Trubisky gained eluded one tackler ad then lateraled the football to rookie tight end Jesper Horsted, who barreled down inside the five before purposely fumbling as he was being tackled. The football was inadvertently kicked by a trailing Packers defender, and Tramon Williams recovered the loose ball at the Packers 2-yard line, much to the relief of a sell-out Lambeau Field crowd of 78,266.
“We have a bunch of guys that are going to fight for every inch out there and that are resilient and that care about each other,” said LaFleur, who re-set his own franchise record for victories by a rookie Packers head coach with 11.
“I think that speaks volumes to what these guys are all about in that locker room,” LaFleur said. “There’s a bunch of unselfish guys. When you get that and they believe in that, I think anything is possible. So, that’s what I love about this football team. These guys care about each other and they’re willing to do the little things, they’re willing to embrace their roles, no matter what that role is, in order to find a way to win football games.”
While the passing games struggled in the cold and receivers dropped several throws—including a potential touchdown bomb on the game’s opening play by Marques Valdes-Scantling—Adams finished with seven catches for 103 yards and one touchdown. Jones added 51 yards and two touchdowns on a day Rodgers only completed 16 of 33 passing attempts for 203 yards.
The Bears’ Anthony Miller had the most catches and yards (9 for 118 yards) among three 100-yard plus performances Sunday, with all due respect to Allen Robinson II (7 for 125) and Adams. Miller had 5 receptions for 80 yards after three quarters, but torched the Packers secondary in the final stanza with four catches for 38 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown catch with 8:09 remaining to make it a one-score game at 21-13.
Nose tackle Kenny Clark set the tone for the Packers on the second play of the game, tackling Tarik Cohen for a 3-yard loss. Clark was a disruptor in the run and passing game Sunday, recording eight total tackles and two sacks of Trubisky for nine yards. Clark had three tackles for losses and also a quarterback hit.
Another week, another difference-making performance for Tyler Ervin, nicknamed “Swervin Ervin.” Ervin returned his first kickoff as a Packer 45 yards, the longest for Green Bay this year. He had two kickoff returns for 71 yards and a lofty 35.5-yard average and one punt return for 12 yards.
Green Bay now faces border rival Minnesota, 10-3, at U.S. Bank Stadium next Monday night.
“Our goal is to win the (NFC) North,” LaFleur said. “Right now that is still out in front of us. We know we’re going to go into a pretty hostile environment next week in Minnesota. That place is a tough place to go play against a really good football team, one of the top teams in the National Football League. They’re good in all three phases so we’ve got a big challenge in front of us. We’re going to have to get to work and make sure that our process is on point in order to go up there and try to get a victory.”