James Jones scores

The Green Bay Packers banked their second consecutive NFC North title and likely either the second or third seed in the NFC by sweeping the swooning Chicago Bears.

9:20, 1st quarter — The Chicago Bears start the game with their second-best drive, reaching the Packers’ 30 before punting.

The Bears started the game with five straight runs — four by Matt Forte. The Packers are in their base defense, but Bears fullback Evan Rodriguez buries both A.J. Hawk and M.D. Jennings to help the Bears pick up two 1st downs.

After picking up a third 1st down with a 9-yard pass to Brandon Marshall, a 9-yard run by Forte — where Erik Walden got crushed by Gonzalez and M.D. Jennings missed the tackle — got the Bears to the Packers’ 30. The Bears would go backwards from there, thanks to Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels getting around blocks to trip Forte up in the backfield followed by a false start on 3rd-and-1.

On 3rd-and-6, the Packers switched to their nickel and blitzed both inside linebackers. Jay Cutler tried the quick pass over the middle to Alshon Jeffery, but Sam Shields knocked it down.

5:55, 1st quarter — The Packers had to start their first drive at the 2-yard line thanks to one of the luckiest punts I’ve ever seen, literally landing at the 2 and bouncing backwards.

The Packers moved away from the goal line and picked up a 1st down on an Aaron Rodgers scramble around the right end. After a 3rd down pass to Greg Jennings misconnected, the Packers were forced to punt. However, the Bears were called for having too many men on the field and the Packers offense went right back out there.

That would only be temporary, as the Packers went three and out from there with Rodgers having his ugliest series of the game. After taking a coverage sack on 1st down, Rodgers missed Jermichael Finley up the seam on 2nd down. On 3rd-and-long, no one accounted for Lance Briggs, who ran free to Rodgers forcing the throwaway.

11:27, 2nd quarter — Both teams trade punts to finish out the first quarter. On the Packers’ first drive of the second quarter, they drive to the Bears’ 25, only to have Mason Crosby return to his nose dive toward unemployment.

The very first play of the drive was an amazing pass to Randall Cobb on the seam route for 29 yards, which moved the Packers past midfield. On 3rd-and-1 from the Bears’ 36, Rodgers tried to catch the Bears defense off guard and instead managed to catch three Packers subs still on the field. His pass toward Finley was batted at the line and caught by Rodgers himself, who lost a yard gamely trying to run for the 1st down. On 4th-and-2, the Packers went for it and picked it up with a smart route by Finley where he faked the out and then turned inside for 10 yards.

On 3rd-and-6 from the Bears’ 25, Rodgers found Cobb on the seam route again for an apparent touchdown, but the ball bounced off of Cobb’s hands.

Crosby came on to try the 43-yard field goal, but his kick, in golfing lingo, was a block right with a fade.

8:10, 2nd quarter — As we have seen in past games this season, Crosby’s miss seemed to energize the opponent. The Bears follow with a six-play, 67-yard drive for a TD to take the lead at 7-0.

On 2nd-and-7 from the Bears’ 46, Matt Forte ran around the left end, skipped over a diving tackle attempt by Sam Shields and went up the sideline for 22 yards. On the play, Clay Matthews might have been surprised that the tight end blocked down on him and was driven to the inside, which opened up the edge. On the other side of the play, Walden was called for a facemask, tacking on 15 yards to the end of the run.

Two plays later the Bears catch the Packers off guard by going with an empty backfield. Though the Packers have their nickel on, they still leave Brad Jones in a zone coverage against Brandon Marshall from the inner slot. Marshall does a simple hook in front of Jones, breaks his tackle attempt, stiff arms Casey Hayward to the ground and picks up a block in going 15 yards for the TD.

4:25, 2nd quarter — The Packers respond with a seven-play, 89-yard drive for a TD to tie it at 7-7.

On 3rd-and-6 from the Packers’ 34, the Bears tried the blitz again. Rodgers sprints out of the pocket to his right and fires down the sideline for Cobb who makes a spinning catch while bracketed by three Bears. The play goes for 31 yards and Troy Aikman, though harping about the refs too much throughout this game, describes this play perfectly — “that’s just two players making a play.”

On 3rd-and-4 from the Bears’ 29, the Bears go with the single safety look and Rodgers goes 2011 form on them by firing a dart to James Jones on the fly route for the TD.

1:36, 2nd quarter — After the teams trade three and outs, the Bears get the ball back at their 37. On the first play, Cutler tries for Devin Hester and hits Casey Hayward right in the chest. Hayward returns his sixth pick of the year to the Bears’ 26.

The Packers’ rush package of Frank Zombo, Dezman Moses, Mike Neal and B.J. Raji did a good job to squeeze the pocket, which appeared to set off an alarm in Cutler’s head, and Hayward has the knack of always turning to look for the ball.

The Packers score five plays later to make the score 14-7 at half.

After converting another 3rd down with a circle route to Cobb, Rodgers finds James Jones on the square in at the goal line. When Greg Jennings clears the middle of the field by running a post from the inner slot, Jones simply runs to the goal line and then drives underneath the coverage of D.J. Moore. I have seen Rodgers hesitate to throw to this route this season, but he has no such issue here and throws it in there.

8:12, 3rd quarter — The Packers offense has obviously not been what it was last season. However, it has shown a knack for these long, time-consuming drives, and they start the second half with one of their best of the season. It goes 79 yards in 13 plays, taking nearly seven minutes off the clock.

The drive started with a 21-yard scamper up the middle by DuJuan Harris. This is a stretch right play where Harris saw a gap up the middle and broke free after D.J. Moore whiffed on the tackle. The Packers would stay committed to the run throughout this drive, but the Bears stiffened after giving up this initial chunk.

The key to the drive was Rodgers’ ability to convert on 3rd and 4th down. On 3rd-and-2 from midfield, Rodgers rifled it to Finley on the slant. On 4th-and-6 from the Bears’ 26, Rodgers rather easily finds Cobb across the middle for 12 yards.

The drive would appear stalled at 3rd-and-13 from the Bears’ 17, but a pass for Finley in the end zone nets a defensive pass interference call on Chris Conte. Conte clearly holds Finley during the whole route, but the call of pass interference is generous.

After an odd delay of game backed the ball up to the 6, Rodgers throws a perfect back hip pass to James Jones for his third TD of the game, which makes it 21-7. This game is effectively over, but neither team knows it.

2:50, 3rd quarter — After another punt by the Bears forced by a Mike Neal sack, the Packers drove into Bears territory again. However, on a 14-yard jaunt by Ryan Grant on a stretch play to the right, Grant gets tackled by Major Wright and the ball is punched loose by Charles Tillman.

It was great to have Packers nemesis Brian Urlacher on the sideline during this game. Now, if we could find a way to get Charles Tillman there.

The Bears answered by going deep twice for Alshon Jeffery. On the first shot, Sam Shields was called for illegal contact when he was thrown to the ground by his facemask. On the second, Cutler threw a ball that hung up, but Morgan Burnett ran Jeffery over instead of looking for the ball.

That put the ball at the Packers’ 5. Three runs by Matt Forte moved it to the 1. On 4th-and-goal, Cutler momentarily appeared to find Jeffery for a TD, but an offensive pass interference call on Jeffery took it away. Jeffery and Shields had pretty equal action, but Jeffery’s final shove put Shields flat on his back, which drew the flag. Chicago settled for a field goal to make it 21-10.

10:15, 4th quarter — The Packers drove into scoring position again as Rodgers stayed hot. On 3rd-and-8, he had all day to throw and found James Jones for 11 yards. Two plays later Rodgers hit the seam pass again, this time to Finley for 31 yards.

The drive would end at the Bears’ 24 when a scramble by Rodgers came up one yard short of the 1st down. Crosby would trot out for the 42-yard field goal and promptly hit a draw that was rejected by the left upright.

8:10, 4th quarter — The Bears go nowhere, partially thanks to Clay Matthews’ second sack of the game. However, the punt ends up being their best offensive play of the half when Cobb throws a backwards pass right through the arms of Jeremy Ross to be recovered by the Bears at the Packers’ 16.

The Bears get zero yards and kick another field goal to make it 21-13.

The Packers next drive wouldn’t get to midfield, but it would run the clock down to under four minutes. The drive would include one 3rd down converted when Julius Peppers got a free run and took another head shot at Rodgers. We have seen this from Peppers before. He had plenty of time to lower his helmet to assure that it wouldn’t hit Rodgers in the head and he didn’t. Easy call, and Peppers would ring his own bell on the play.

The Bears next drive would be another turnover on downs to all but end the game, which the Packers defense has excelled at forcing this season.

On 3rd-and-10, Cutler appeared to complete a pass up the left sideline to Jeffery at the Packers’ 20. However, another offensive pass interference call erased that and gave the Bears 3rd-and-20. Shields had perfect coverage on that play, and that is clearly offensive pass interference. It is just always a little surprising when the referees actually call it.

On 4th-and-9, Cutler would curiously try the same play, as apparently the Bears remained convinced that Jeffery’s height should be enough for him to dominate Shields. Shields has good position again and knocks the ball down. The replay shows Shields had a hold of the bottom of Jeffery’s jersey, which could have been called, but Shields has good coverage whether he does that or not.

The Packers run three times and punt. Tim Masthay and Jarett Bush do their thing and the Bears are forced to start from their 3-yard line with 56 seconds remaining. After a dump to Forte failed to get out of bounds, Culter comically wasted time by running around the pocket before getting sacked by Neal and Jerel Worthy. The sack would basically end the game.

Aaron Rodgers was sharp this game. The Packers receivers didn’t get any more separation than they typically do. The difference was that Rodgers appeared confident against the defense and was willing and capable of throwing accurate passes into tight windows. His use of Finley and Cobb over the middle, especially on 3rd and 4th down went a long way towards solving the 2 deep coverage that the Packers have been regularly seeing.

With T.J. Lang back, the interior of the Packers offensive line was strong and virtually all the pressures that there were came against Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay. Barclay started slow but seemed to get better as the game went on. Newhouse gave up a sack and a half to Julius Peppers with the full sack coming after Newhouse whiffed on a cut block.

The offense actually moved the ball better than the score indicates thanks to two missed field goals and a Ryan Grant fumble. Crosby’s ineptness is a heavy handicap for the Packers offense that they were fortunate to overcome in this game thanks to two 4th down conversions, two great defensive stands, and a couple crucial penalties that went their way.

I can understand seeing if Crosby can straighten it out in Lambeau, but if he struggles there, it is hard for me to believe there isn’t someone out there that can kick a 40-yard field goal. Crosby’s value on kickoffs is overstated. The Bears recent pick up, Olindo Mare, consistently kicked the ball just as deep as Crosby did.

The defense continues to ascend and befuddle Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. After some success running the football on their first series, the Packers consistently shut that down and forced Cutler to pick up 3rd downs. He was 0-9 at that.

The return of Clay Matthews makes a huge difference for both the run and the pass defense, and he had a big impact in the game. B.J. Raji is finally playing as well as he did at the end of 2010 and the Bears struggled to block him all game. With the secondary continuing to play well, replacing M.D. Jennings with Charles Woodson should only help this defense continue its improvement.

Now that the NFC North and at least one home playoff game is wrapped up, the Packers can look towards the possibility of getting the bye, which though certainly not necessary in today’s NFL, I still think would be highly appreciated by a team bothered by injuries all season. The first step is to win their last home game and get to 11 wins by beating up on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

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