The Green Bay Packers entered Monday night on a leisurely sail for the playoffs and left a battered galley being pressed against the shoals.
12:25 1st Quarter – The Chicago Bears won the toss and deferred — a strange strategy that to no one’s surprise did not work out very well.
The Packers offense starts in its money formation — three wideouts, the shotgun, with Eddie Lacy next to Aaron Rodgers. They get a 24-yard gain on their first play when a 9-yard scramble by Rodgers got a 15-yard facemask penalty added to it.
After a 2-yard run by Lacy, Rodgers gets 27 yards on a deep cross to Jordy Nelson. It is the same play Rodgers used to torment the Bears in the first half of the 2010 NFC Championship. Ever since the Lovie Smith era, the Bears like to set up in the two deep defense only to rotate a safety towards the line of scrimmage at the snap. The Packers like to attack that tendency by faking the run and then throwing the slant into the area vacated by the safety. It works for 27 yards here.
On the next play, Lacy follows a Josh Sitton cut block around the left end and bulls his way for 16 yards, which moves the ball to the Chicago 11. The Packers would go three and out and kick a field goal from there.
After a Lacy run only gets 2, Rodgers feels pressure from Julius Peppers working his way around David Bakhtiari and misses James Jones, likely hoping for a defensive holding that is never called.
On the fateful third and 8, Rodgers again feels pressure from his left and escapes the pocket to his right. Unfortunately, Shea McClellin, the Bears’ end on that side, doesn’t overcommit to the outside pass rush and quickly closes on Rodgers as soon as he leaves the pocket. While McClellin is watching Rodgers the whole way, Don Barclay has his back to him and therefore is helpless when Rodgers chooses to leave the pocket and put McClellin between he and Barclay.
Rodgers only has a moment to look upfield before McClellin grabs him. A saying in downhill skiing is that if you feel yourself falling, then fall. Fight it, and you are likely to hurt yourself. I would never blame a football player for instinctively trying to fight off a tackle, but Rodgers would have saved himself and likely this game for the Packers if he had just gone down. Instead, Rodgers tried to spin out of the tackle. McClellin responded the way a defender should. He wrapped up and drove Rodgers into the ground. Nickel corner, Isaiah Frey, even jumped onto the pile to add to the impact.
Rodgers was obviously immediately in distress. Packers fans were momentarily relieved when Rodgers jogged off on his own and then wasn’t mobbed by trainers on the sideline. That, of course, would change when Rodgers was seen shortly after jogging to the locker room.
9:48 1st Q – The Bears responded with a rather easy drive for a touchdown in which the only third down they faced was the play they scored on.
On 2nd and 10 from the Bears’ 41, the Packers line up M.D. Jennings on Brandon Marshall and then blitz Jennings. The blitz gets nowhere near Josh McCown, and he is able to find Marshall streaking across the field for 19 yards.
Two plays later it is 2nd and 10 again. The Bears throw a quick screen to Alshon Jeffery on the right side. The Packers are in a zone, leaving only two defenders on the line against three receivers. The big Bears’ receivers block the two Packers defenders, and Jeffery rather easily gets 13 before Morgan Burnett and a hustling Mike Neal can get him out of bounds. Like taking candy from a baby.
The Packers show some semblance of a defense from there, forcing 3rd and 6 from the 23. The Packers blitz six. Mike Neal gets a great jump and has a clean shot at McCown. McCown steps up, and Neal falls right off of him. Tramon Williams is in man-t0-man on Brandon Marshall, who lined up in the slot and ran a corner route. That is always a difficult route to cover and near impossible when it is a big receiver and the ball is thrown behind him.
All is the case here. Marshall makes the catch for a 23-yard TD to make it 7-3 Bears. This has to be the best play of McCown’s career. That is a perfectly flipped ball right after shedding a sack.
5:01 1st Q – The first Packers drive with Seneca Wallace actually goes well until the final play. Much of the success is thanks to Eddie Lacy, who gained 29 yards on four runs before Wallace even threw a pass. On his first pass, Wallace hit Myles White for an 8-yard gain. Lacy then breaks off two 4-yard runs, and the Packers have made it to the Bears’ 35 without even facing a third down.
On 2nd and 6 from there, the call is a sweep to the right with James Starks. It looks promising, like a possible big gain, except it never happens. Wallace decides to pull a T.J. Rubley instead. While the rest of the team runs the sweep, Wallace tries a quick slant to Nelson. Not only is the play well-covered by Charles Tillman anyway, but Peppers is unblocked on that side and in between Wallace and Nelson. Wallace tries to throw it over or through — can’t tell which — Peppers. Peppers bats the ball in the air, catches it, then heads in the opposite direction until T.J. Lang pulls him down.
3:45 1st Q – One debacle deserves another. The Bears first go three and out with Datone Jones collecting his first NFL sack by tracking McCown down when he tried to run for it on third and 8. Then, the benched Jamari Lattimore rips through the Bears and blocks the ensuing punt. The Packers recover on the Bears’ 32, which is a 3-yard improvement from the historic spot of the Wallace improv.
From there it takes the Packers exactly one play to score. James Starks comes in and takes a lead play over left guard. That guard is Josh Sitton, and he collapses the inside of the defense so far that Starks could have driven a Lincoln Continental through the hole. Starks uses John Kuhn to wall off one safety and runs through the tackle of the other for a 32-yard touchdown run to make it 10-7 Packers.
9:30 2nd Q – After the Bears go six and out, the Packers go three and out. On first and 10 from the 14, Wallace takes too deep of a drop, barely avoids disaster by escaping Peppers and McClellin, and then costs the Packers 3 yards when he decides to run out of bounds instead of just throwing the ball away. A 7-yard pass to Andrew Quarless would fail to convert the following 3rd and 11, and the Packers would be forced to punt from their 20. Tim Masthay punts it only 40 yards, and the Bears get to start at their 40.
The Bears would then go 60 yards in essentially two plays to take a 14-10 lead. Both plays were made against the Packers linebackers. On 2nd and 8 from the Bears’ 42, Brad Jones follows Martellus Bennett across the field, vacating his side of the field. Matt Forte catches a dump on that side with no one around him. Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett triangulate Forte, but Burnett does his best Jerron McMillian impersonation and overruns the play, letting Forte run right by him. Forte gets 33 yards before M.D. Jennings of all people has to save the touchdown by tackling Forte.
A couple plays later McCown has the time to wait until Bennett separates from Hawk. Bennett runs away from Hawk and gets tackled at the 1. Matt Forte would score on a trap play that bamboozled B.J. Raji a few plays later.
4:15 2nd Q – After three and outs by both teams, the Packers would advance into Bears’ territory with a 15-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin on a square in. On 3rd and 11 from the Bears’ 40, Wallace would escape to his left and make probably his best play of the game by finding Quarless along the sideline for the first down. Except Quarless bobbles the ball before collecting it, and the refs would incorrectly rule it an incomplete pass.
Replay seems to show that Quarless gains control of the ball while his feet are still in bounds, but the Packers have had terrible luck with replays all season and McCarthy refuses to challenge it. Though the refs likely find some way to stick with the call on the field, this is a no brainer challenge when you do some simple cost-benefit analysis. The benefit would be a first down at the Bears’ 25-yard line. That is relatively easy field goal range in a game where needing a touchdown to win versus needing a field goal to win is a huge difference. The cost is a timeout and possibly a third challenge.
After McCarthy passed on the challenge, the Packers would go to the half with all three of their timeouts unused, and they would never need another challenge. Bad call.
Masthay and Davon House pull off the perfect short punt and down the ball at the 1. The noise of the south end zone would have an impact for only two plays. On first down, B.J. Raji ripped through the offensive line and has a shot for a safety or bigger play. McCown sees or feels the pressure and manages to throw the ball away to avoid the sack. On the next play, Dom Capers gets aggressive and has Morgan Burnett jump the short flat, hoping to run into a slant to Marshall or an out to Bennett. Unfortunately, the Bears either make a sight adjustment or just get lucky. Marshall runs the deep out, which is the perfect route against high-low coverage, and gets 16 yards.
The Bears continue to once again move rather easily down the field, never facing third down until already in field goal range. The Packers seem content to bend without breaking, while the Bears are completely content to move into field goal range while taking up the rest of the half. With two seconds left, Robbie Gould kicks a short field goal to make it 17-10 at half.
13:00 3rd Q – Getting the ball after half doesn’t work out well for the Bears, as the Packers actually grab momentum.
The Bears go three and out. On 3rd and 7, McCown tries the dump to Forte again, but the Packers are in the dime this time with Burnett covering Forte. Forte drops it, and the Bears have to punt.
It is a 45-yard punt with a 12-yard return by Micah Hyde giving the Packers the ball at the Packers’ 43. Similar to their only other touchdown drive, the Packers would score in just two plays.
On first down Lacy went off the right side. T.J. Lang is already out of the game, and his replacement, Marshall Newhouse does a good job of sealing the inside while Quarless handles McClellin. Lacy splits the two and is untouched when safety Major Wright jumps the outside and falls down when Lacy cuts inside. Lacy sheds the tackle attempt of Chris Conte and runs loose up the right sideline until being chased down at the 1 by Tim Jennings.
Lacy finds a seam between Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay on the next play and scores standing up to tie the game at 17-17.
8:45 3rd Q – Mike McCarthy surprises pretty much everyone, myself included, by following the tying score with an onside kick. The Bears’ Blake Constanzo is in good position to collect the kick, but Hyde deflects the ball out of his hands and then bats it away from him when he tries to recover it on the ground. Lattimore jumps on it, and it is Packers’ ball at midfield.
Lacy would take a sweep left for 12 yards on the next play. After a 5-yard run by Lacy, however, he would take himself out of the game. I believe that would come back to hurt the Packers.
After James Jones caught a pass that should have been intercepted, the Packers had first and goal from the 6. On first down, it looks like Starks has the edge and a possible touchdown if he aggressively takes it. Instead, he takes on Tim Jennings. Jennings cuts him down, and it is only a 1-yard gain.
On second and goal from the 5, Wallace would try a quick slant to Nelson between defenders. Frey used the back of Nelson’s jersey to stop Nelson from catching the ball, but if no one has noticed by now, these refs don’t call ANYTHING.
On third and goal the Packers have a good matchup with Quarless against Conte, but Quarless runs some odd version of a fade while Wallace throws the back-shoulder. It is not even close. To quote The Cutting Edge — “That move needs a little work.”
The Packers have to settle for a field goal to lead 20-17.
2:40 3rd Q – After both teams got stops, Devin Hester returns a punt past midfield to give the Bears’ offense the ball at the Packers’ 47. The Bears would never even have to convert a third down in going 47 yards in seven plays to take the lead for good at 24-20.
On first down, a well-thrown out against Tramon Williams got 12 for Marshall. On the next play, the Packers linebackers again double the tight end and leave Forte all alone. He goes for 12 more. Two plays later, Forte took a draw and cut back up the middle for 11 yards, down to the Packers’ 6. On second and goal, a hard-thrown back-shoulder pass to Jeffery gets the touchdown.
9:50 4th Q – The Packers got a couple stops and had a few chances to turn the game around after the Bears took the lead. Their best chance was when they advanced to the Chicago 40 with 10 minutes to play.
On 3rd and 3, Marshall Newhouse got beat by a spin move by Shea McClellin. Wallace alluded McClellin and had a chance to escape out of the pocket and likely run for the first down, but Wallace tripped over his own feet trying to run to his right. The Packers would have to punt.
The Bears would take over from their 11 and go on a nine minute drive to kick a field goal and end the game.
The Packers next best chance to win the game came when the Bears went for it on 4th and an inch from their own 32. Amazingly, instead of doing a quarterback sneak, the Bears ran Forte off the left end. A.J. Hawk shot a gap and got his hands on Forte three yards in the backfield. However, just as Hawk grabbed Forte, Bears’ fullback Tony Fiammetta cracked back on Hawk and knocked him off of Forte. Forte cut off a block by his pulling center, Robert Garza, and got the first down.
Forte would be the main story of drive, repeatedly running around the edge and alluding the tackle attempts of the Packers defensive backs.
The Bears’ drive would basically be stopped by a holding penalty — the first of the game, but their field goal would be good enough to seal the game.
As painful as this game was for Packers fans, with the after-affects being even worse than the loss itself, I believe there has been a lot of mischaracterizations in describing it. It was a seven-point loss after you lost your starting quarterback on the first series of the game. It was a game that the Packers still had a chance to win until the final minute. There is something to be said for that.
To quote a pretty good coach — “Give them some effin credit. I mean, seriously.” Regardless of the fact that Rodgers went down, the Bears’ offense played well, and a lot of what they did had more to do with them than it did about anything the Packers did wrong. Josh McCown played a better game than Jay Cutler ever played against the Packers, and the Bears offensive line has four new starters, who are significantly better than the chumps that were there before.
The Packers defensive backs tackled poorly, and the Packers linebackers covered poorly. That is essentially everything that the Packers defense did wrong.
I saw a creative defensive scheme that tried schematically to do everything it could to throw Josh McCown off. It was just that nothing worked. The Bears were making the plays and not the Packers. Blitz, don’t blitz and play coverage — whatever the defense did, Josh McCown and the Bears offense adapted to it and made enough plays to win.
On offense, obviously Wallace needs to play better, and I believe he will with an actual week of practice under his belt. He doesn’t have to be an All-Pro. He has a running game that he can rely on. He will continue to see a lot of eight-man fronts and single coverage outside, and he has to take some shots down the field when he sees that. Nelson and Jones can both make plays against single coverage.
The Packers have overcome every injury thrown at them, but now comes the biggest test of all. This will take a team effort, and really, it starts with the defense, which is getting back some guys this week. THEY need to step up, or watch their season circle the drain. For the Packers to stay in the playoff picture over this next month, they have to play defense. They need to get big stops, and some big turnovers wouldn’t hurt either.
The Packers have been without Rodgers before and played well. That suggests some reason for faith.
Arguably the biggest game is this Sunday. The Packers aren’t going to get a much better shot at winning than against Philly at home. That game will tell us a lot about the direction of this football team.