James Jones

On Christmas night the Green Bay Packers accomplished everything that you can accomplish in a regular season by wrapping up the No. 1 seed for the NFC playoffs. Now the meaningful games begin, as the playoffs await.

15:00, 1st quarter – Much to everyone’s amazement, the Packers actually receive the kickoff.

Lovie Smith has been in the habit of deferring the kickoff long before Mike McCarthy started it, but one would think that a team hoping to copy any sort of blueprint left by the Chiefs would definitely want to start with the ball.

Well, good ol’ Lovie has never been known for his sound tactical decisions.

Given the opportunity, the Packers do the same thing they’ve done in four of the last five games against the Bears: start with a TD on their opening drive.

On the first play of the game, the Packers ran the same keep pass right that has had little success this year. After initially being covered, Tom Crabtree got free enough for Aaron Rodgers to dump him the ball. Crabtree did well to get seven on the play.

On 2nd down, Rodgers throws the quick pass to Jordy Nelson, who makes a rare poor decision by trying to run outside instead of straight up the field and gains zero.

That brings up 3rd and 3, which is the equivalent of the first 3rd down the Packers faced against the Chiefs. Same as then, Rodgers goes to Jermichael Finley over the middle. Finley juggles the ball, but hangs on and it’s 1st down Packers.

Two plays later, the Packers do something they didn’t do once all game against Kansas City and execute a screen. Rodgers fakes a pass to the left and then delivers it to Ryan Grant on the right. The play was well-timed and well-blocked, and Grant pretty easily got 32 yards before being tackled inside the Bears’ 30.

After finding Nelson over the middle for 16 more, putting him over 1,000 yards for the season, Rodgers would go to Finley twice in a row for the final nine yards. Apparently the Bears are still trying to figure out how to cover Finley.

The Packers lead the NFL in points scored on their first possession with six TDs and five field goals in 15 games.

4:21, 1st quarter —  The toothless Bears do their best Chiefs impersonation and have a long drive that ends with a missed field goal.

The drive consists of seven runs and three passes. Despite the Bears obvious intention to run, the Packers stay in their nickel defense, showing Dom Capers’ intention to limit the snaps for B.J. Raji, with Ryan Pickett missing the game with a concussion. C.J. Wilson, Raji, Howard Green, and Jarius Wynn rotate along the defensive line, but only Wilson records a tackle during the drive.

The Packers follow with a three and out, even after the Bears jumped in the neutral zone on 1st down. James Starks juked Lance Briggs and ran for four yards on 1st and 5, but on 2nd and 1, Rodgers tried the rollout pass again. With everyone covered downfield, Rodgers dumped it to Finley, who appeared to have the 1st down, but he lost the ball when he was hit from behind. The Packers challenged the ruling, but in today’s NFL it isn’t a catch until you take the ball home with you. The call was upheld.

On 3rd and 1, Starks is replaced with Grant. Grant has to juke Briggs when Josh Sitton is too slow off the double-team to block him, and Grant’s hesitation in the backfield allows a couple Bears to bring him down for no gain.

The Bears followed by picking up one 1st down on the ground before having to punt, but they would get the ball right back after the Packers went three and out again.

After a quick pass to Randall Cobb got three yards, Grant bulled his way for three more. On 3rd and 4, Rodgers threw an incomplete pass just barely in James Jones’ general vicinity, which I’m still trying to figure out.

8:22, 2nd quarter – The Bears have another long drive going, until Clay Matthews baits Josh McCown into throwing him the ball on a screen.

The Packers actually played fairly good defense on 1st and 2nd down, but got burned a couple times on 3rd. After Wilson made two tackles in a row to make it 3rd and 9 from the Bears’ 20, the Packers blitzed six. McCown quickly recognized Roy Williams running a deep out against Charlie Peprah and hit him for 20 yards.

On 3rd and 8, three plays later, the Packers blitzed both linebackers. This left no one home when Kahlil Bell slipped out of the backfield and took a dump off for 19 yards.

The Bears would get all the way to the Packers’ 22 before McCown threw the ball right to Matthews.

No big deal for the Bears. The Packers would go three and out for the third consecutive time. Two plays to Starks got seven yards, but that left a third and short again, which the Packers continue to struggle with. Finley looks open over the middle, but Rodgers hangs onto the ball, scrambles out, and then throws too late to Cobb, who can’t stay inbounds on the catch.

2:00, 2nd quarter – The Bears finally take advantage by going on a five-minute drive that ends with a field goal.

The Bears eight-play drive includes seven runs, as the Packers play their worst defense of the game. Even though they’re running the ball every down, the Bears don’t even face a 3rd down until they get to the Packers’ 13-yard line. The Packers are stubbornly staying in their nickel, for the most part, even though they continue to get gashed with the run.

On 3rd and 4 from the Packers’ 13, the Bears tried a draw play, but A.J. Hawk was on the inside blitz and crushed the play in the backfield.

Still, the field goal makes it 7-3 and after the loss to Kansas City this is a very sickening half of play so far for Packers fans.

00:16, 2nd quarter – Rodgers rediscovers his MVP form in another two-minute drill that ends with a touchdown and we’re all feeling much better with a halftime score of 14-3.

After Rodgers throws another inaccurate pass at Jones’ feet and I’m about ready to test how accurate I can throw a beer bottle at the TV, we have the play that seemed to reignite the Packers offense for the remainder of the game.

On 2nd and 10 from their 35, Rodgers drops back to pass, shuffles to his left to improve his angle, and guns a pass over the middle to Jones, who ran probably the best route I’ve ever seen him run. Chicago was in their normal cover 2 with their best corner, Charles Tillman, in man-to-man on Jones. Jones ran upfield, faked the out, stuttered and then streaked across the field. Tillman was confused by the route, thought he had inside help, or was just slow-footed and fell well behind Jones. Jones caught the ball in stride and took it to the left sideline for 32 yards.

On 3rd and 7, three plays later, the Bears jump in the neutral zone again and Rodgers capitalizes by finding Nelson up the right sideline for 17 yards. A pass over the middle to Donald Driver gets it to the 2-yard line. From there, Rodgers hits Jones on the quick slant for one of the easiest TDs you’ll ever see.

11:41, 3rd quarter – The Bears somehow manage to drive for a TD on their opening possession of the second half to get back into the game momentarily at 14-10.

The Packers remain in their nickel and the results remain the same. The Bears run for 16 yards on the first two plays of the half. A couple plays later, on 3rd and 5, the Packers blitz seven. Desmond Bishop and Raji both get quick pressure up the middle, but McCown throws the out as they arrive.

The blitz left Tramon Williams alone with Earl Bennett. Bennett fakes the in and goes out, giving Williams a little push as he cuts out. Williams falls down, leaving Bennett all alone at the right sideline. Williams then made a nearly comical attempt to, I guess, tackle Bennett, who cut back, dodged a couple defenders and then took it up the middle of the field to Packers’ 2 before Charlie Peprah made a good play to tackle him.

The Bears scored on the next play on a run around the left end. The Packers have their elephant package in and get several defenders in the backfield. Bell runs wide of them and gets pummeled at the 2 by Bishop and Peprah. He manages to spin off them, but loses the ball near the goal line. Bears offensive lineman Edwin Williams picks up the loose change for the TD.

10:11, 3rd quarter – Any disgust caused by the Bears’ touchdown is quickly erased as the Packers score four plays later.

Grant surprised everyone, including myself, by bouncing outside on a run up the middle. Marshall Newhouse did well to hold the edge and Grant got up the sideline for 24 yards.

Two plays later, Rodgers goes to the play-action rollout pass. There’s excellent blocking along the line, giving Rodgers plenty of time. He fires it deep to Nelson, who’s running the post right up the middle of the field a good five yards behind both Bears safeties.

It’s just another big play to Nelson — 21-10 Packers.

1:57, 3rd quarter – The Bears finally go three and out and the Packers offense puts together its own 12-play drive to all but end the game.

The Packers’ drive included a 19-yard pass to Cobb that jump started it. The Packers picked up three 3rd downs in making their way down the field. The first comes on a 3rd and 5, where Rodgers ran and managed to comically elude both Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. The next two were converted on passes to Driver and Jones, who were loose in the middle of the field.

Rodgers rewarded Jones for his play on 3rd down with an impressive back shoulder throw for a 7-yard TD. This game is already over at 28-10.

1:06, 3rd quarter – The Packers get their 29th interception of the season.

On 3rd and 8, McCown gets pressure up the middle from Vic So’oto, who’s been playing nearly every down since the first drive of the second half. McCown throws it over the middle to Bennett, trying to fit the ball into tight coverage by Charles Woodson. The ball goes off Bennett’s outstretched hand and ends up in Peprah’s arms. It’s Packers’ ball at the Bears’ 33.

14:52, 4th quarter – The Packers score on the second play of the 4th quarter.

Rodgers started the short drive by hitting Nelson up the left sideline for 25 yards. Nelson was interfered with on the play but made a great catch anyway.

Three plays later, Rodgers gets his fifth TD pass of the game with a quick slant to Nelson. That makes two touchdowns a piece for Nelson and Jones. This is what we had in mind when Greg Jennings went down.

If there was any question of a Packers’ victory, there wasn’t at this point.

The Bears manage to score a touchdown on their next drive, but the Packers defense was more interested in slowing the opponent down than stopping them. The Bears didn’t score until the 7:54 mark, and that was way too late for a comeback of any kind.

Matt Flynn would get in for one drive, where he never threw a pass.

The Bears rack up some more meaningless yards and then get a ridiculous field goal to end the game at 35-21.

The pass over the middle to Jones seemed to snap Rodgers and the Packers offense out of whatever funk they were in. Though he still threw some passes we rarely saw in the first 10 weeks, Rodgers played very well in this game and reversed the trend we were seeing with his passer rating. In fact, Rodgers is now back to having the best QB rating ever recorded during a season and it’s quite likely he’ll sit out the final game and clinch that record.

His 45 TDs, 6 interceptions and 4,643 yards are Packers records across the board and are arguably the greatest season ever posted by a QB. As we saw in this game, regardless of their defense, if Rodgers can maintain the incredible level he has played for most the season, the Packers will be extremely difficult for anyone to beat.

This game wrapped up the No. 1 seed for the Packers and probably the MVP for Rodgers, though the vote will no longer be unanimous with the late push of Drew Brees. Perhaps the most amazing stat of all the gems Rodgers has compiled is that his per attempt average is 9.2 yards per pass. There are only two quarterbacks in football within even a full yard of that and Brees is neither of them.

Props to the offensive line for stepping it up in this game. Rodgers had plenty of time and that might have been the key to the turnaround.

Props to Rodgers for utilizing more of the weapons of this offense. Now, let’s not forget about them when Jennings is back.

The Packers defense, especially its run defense, were pathetic in this game. However, the Packers clearly believed they could win while also preparing themselves for the playoffs. They stayed in their nickel, despite the rushing yards, because it only required two defensive linemen to play at a time, and keeping those guys fresh appeared to be a goal.

The Packers also substituted freely and their play on the back end was at times… uninspired.

At this point, it’s clear what the Packers are. They will rely on the same things during the playoffs they relied on to go 14-1: a dominant offense and an opportunistic defense.

I still believe a team’s best chance to beat the Packers is to control the clock and play error free on offense. Playing at Lambeau Field will make the prospect of outscoring the Packers even more difficult than it was during the season. Plenty of top seeds have lost at home in recent years and the conditions at Lambeau aren’t exactly ideal for this team. However, as I’ve suggested before, the one definite advantage the Packers have at home is that the cold turf slows the pass rush. Since the Packers don’t get a lot of that anyway, it’s an advantage for their offense and no disadvantage for their defense.

 

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