NFC North: Packers-Bears

Monday night turnaround

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

How did Chicago achieve Monday night's 20-17 overtime victory against Green Bay? Yes, there were a series of critical instances that went the Bears' way. But my colleagues at ESPN Stats & Information also point to the turnaround in each team's running game.

While the Bears' got tailback Matt Forte going in the fourth quarter and overtime, their defense shut down Green Bay tailback Ryan Grant as the Packers tried to run out the clock. First, here is a breakdown of Forte's evening:

By the Numbers: Matt Forte Monday vs. Packers
 AttYdsAvgTD1st Downs
First Quarter 7 12 1.7 0 1
Second Quarter 1 2 2.0 0 0
Third Quarter 3 6 2.0 0 0
Fourth Quarter/OT 12 53 4.4 1 4
Total 23 73 3.2 1 5

And here is how Grant's performance slipped late in the game:

By the Numbers: Ryan Grant Monday vs. Bears
 AttYdsAvgTDRec
First Quarter5 3 0.6 0 0
Second Quarter 7 37 5.3 0 2*
Third Quarter8 20 2.5 0 1
Fourth Quarter 5 1 0.2 0 0
Total 25 61 2.4 0 3
*Includes 17-yard TD catch

The fates converge on Soldier Field

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
2:15
AM ET
 
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
 Rookie running back Matt Forte keyed Chicago's comeback victory with 73 rushing yards and a critical touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- You know the fates have turned your way when a referee named Ron Winter flips a coin into the frigid night sky above your home stadium. Gravity pulls the coin down on the helmet of your captain. It bounces onto your frozen field and rolls a few yards before determining that, yes, you get the first possession of overtime in a game in which a division title is at stake.

And that's exactly what happened late Monday night at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears had improbably forced overtime after overcoming a 14-3 halftime deficit. Winter's toss landed on Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher's head and ultimately put the Bears in position to defeat Green Bay, 20-17, on the final "Monday Night Football" game of the season.

"Shoot," Urlacher deadpanned in the Bears' still-thawing postgame locker room. "I need to get that guy to throw it at my head every time."

It was a night of fortunate bounces and opportune plays for a Bears team that didn't have a lead until Robbie Gould's 38-yard game-winner on the first possession of overtime. Their offense managed 20 points on 210 total yards, converting three of 12 third-down opportunities, and the Bears fought off near-certain defeat by blocking Mason Crosby's 38-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in regulation.

Quietly, the Bears have won three consecutive games -- including the past two in overtime -- to keep maximum pressure on the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings.

"It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win is a win," Bears quarterback Kyle Orton said. "Let's hope we keep on doing that. It's just been one of those seasons. Early on in the season, we had a chance to pull ourselves into the lead and we were never able to do it. Minnesota's had a chance and they haven't had a chance to do it. Hopefully we can this time."

Indeed, the Bears can clinch the NFC North by winning Sunday at Houston and if the Vikings lose at home to the New York Giants. Even if the Vikings win, the Bears enter the weekend in reasonable contention for a wild-card playoff berth.

But after a night of improbable occurrences, the Bears were thinking big.

"We've still got a chance," defensive end Alex Brown said. "So all I can say is, 'Go Giants.'"

Smiling, Brown looked in the lens of several television cameras and added:

"Giants, please play all four quarters in Minnesota. You're going to get a week off before that first playoff game, anyway. So just play the whole game.

"My brother is a huge Giants fan. This is the only week in my entire life that I'm going to cheer for the Giants. I'm going to cheer for the Giants like they're the Bears."

Brown helped save the Bears' season by getting his hands on Crosby's 38-yard attempt. Brown, in fact, made the strategic decision to move about five spots down from his usual position on the field goal block team in hopes of crashing through the line.

Crosby's attempt was low and likely to be blocked regardless.

"The kick looked low to me," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. But it wasn't until Brown got his hands on the ball that a victory seemed possible.

The Bears did not tie the game until 3:11 remained, when tailback Matt Forte crashed through the middle of the line for a 3-yard touchdown run. Their offense was lifeless and their defense was on its heels for most of the night as the Packers built leads of 7-0, 14-3 and 17-10.

"We knew we came out flat," cornerback Corey Graham said. "There was a little yelling at halftime. We knew we needed to come out in the second half with more energy."

But by the time Winter's coin toss gave the first possession of overtime to the Bears, a victory suddenly seemed likely. Gould is a lock inside of 50 yards, and he said Monday night the frigid temperatures belied a relatively calm wind at Soldier Field.

"Now, the big thing is we've still got a heartbeat," Gould said. "We're still alive."

A few other observations before we call it a night -- or early morning:

  • The Packers dropped to 5-10 on the season. Seven of their losses have been by four points or less. "It's a nightmare," safety Nick Collins said. "Every game we've been in. We're just not closing."
  • At least one Bears player is actively rooting for the Packers to lose next Sunday and give Detroit its first victory of the year. "Go Giants!" exclaimed defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. "And go Lions!"
  • Crosby has now failed to connect on two game-winning field goals this season. He missed from 52 yards last month at the Metrodome. "Obviously, I'm frustrated," Crosby said. "I had a chance to help the team win here and it's really disappointing. I don't like doing these interviews and it sucks this has happened twice this year."

Rapid Reaction: Bears 20, Packers 17

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
12:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- And we'll see you ... next week.

The Chicago Bears remained in playoff contention Monday night with an epic, if not perfect, 20-17 victory over Green Bay. On the coldest night of football in recorded Chicago history, the Bears came back from a 14-3 halftime deficit and dodged two potential game-winning field goals from Packers kicker Mason Crosby.

Robbie Gould's 38-yard field goal with 11:28 left in overtime won the game for the Bears.

The NFC North title will now come down to the final weekend of the regular season. Minnesota remains in control and can clinch the NFC North title with a home victory against the New York Giants or a Chicago loss at Houston. But the Bears can win the division by defeating the Texans if the Vikings lose to the Giants.

There is also a scenario in which the Bears could win next week and clinch a wild-card playoff berth if the Vikings win the division.

Should be an interesting week in the NFC North. We'll be back with reaction and analysis soon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Move that Mason Crosby range up a few more yards.

The Green Bay kicker had a 38-yard field goal attempt blocked by Chicago's Alex Brown, denying the Packers a victory with 25 seconds left and keeping the Bears' playoff hopes alive. (It also denied Minnesota a division title, but that's for another day.)

In reality, Crosby launched the kick excessively low and the ball almost hit Brown's helmet.

We're headed to overtime on the coldest night of the NFL season. The Bears have won the toss.

A bungled kickoff for the Bears

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
11:39
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- We lied. We're back to point out what a turn of events occurred on the ensuing kickoff.

The Bears inexplicably squib kicked to Green Bay returner Tramon Williams.

Williams let the ball bounce at the 18-yard line, but then picked it up and raced 32 yards.

Bears veteran running back Adrian Peterson inexplicably threw Williams to the ground when both players were several feet out of bounds.

The Packers took over at the Bears' 35-yard line.

The Packers are in field goal range after a nine-yard pass to receiver James Jones on third down. They're at the Bears' 24-yard line with two minutes left.

Forte takes over for Bears

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
11:34
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- When your quarterback throws two interceptions, including one in the red zone to end your best drive, the Chicago Bears did what they should do: Hand the ball to rookie tailback Matt Forte.

Forte carried the ball on six of the Bears' seven plays of a drive that tied the game at 17 with 3:11 remaining. Included in that mix was a two-yard dive on fourth-and-two and a two-yard touchdown.

I'm surprised the Packers didn't challenge the spot on Forte's fourth down conversion, which was very close. But it's history now. The game is tied and the Bears have the momentum in their efforts to keep their playoff hopes alive.

We're going to focus in here on the final few minutes and will bring you some quick analysis after the final gun. See you there.

Bears offense stuck in neutral

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
11:05
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Through three quarters Monday night, the Chicago offense hasn't put together a drive longer than 27 yards. The Bears' 10 points is largely attributable to special teams. Quarterback Kyle Orton threw an interception that allowed the Packers to extend their lead to 17-10.

The Bears simply aren't getting any traction in the running game. Matt Forte has 20 yards on 11 carries.

As the fourth quarter opens, you would assume the Bears are going to rely more on their passing game. They'd be well-advised to limit their throws to tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen.

Tough sledding for kickers

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
10:55
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- We just saw Green Bay succumb to its first case of cold-weather problems Monday night at Soldier Field.

Kicker Mason Crosby just skipped a 46-yard field goal attempt well short of the goal post. It was difficult to tell what happened, but one guess is that it's really tough to kick a football 46 yards when the temperature is approaching 0.

Suffice it to say, Packers coach Mike McCarthy should have a pretty good idea of Crosby's range now.

A chilling coincidence

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
10:45
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Anyone else notice that on the coldest night of football in recorded Chicago history, the referee is named Ron Winter?

Just wondering.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Three Chicago players will not return in this game because of injuries:

Packers open the door for Bears

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
10:31
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Green Bay just let Chicago back into this game. More specifically, Jarrett Bush did.

The Bears opened the second half with another three-and-out, but Bush allowed Brad Maynard's punt to bounce off his leg while he was trying to block Rashied Davis. Jason Davis recovered the ball at the Packers' 27-yard line, and five plays later Kyle Orton threw a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen.

That turn of events cut the Packers' lead to 14-10 less than five minutes into the second half.

It's been a tough day for Bush, who has indirectly been involved in both Bears scores. Bears kick returner Danieal Manning dragged him about 25 yards during a 70-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.

Halftime: Packers 14, Bears 3

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
10:17
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Some halftime observations from Soldier Field:

  • Does anyone want to win the NFC North? Sunday, Minnesota fumbled seven times and lost a potential division-clinching game to Atlanta. Monday night, Chicago is lifeless, boring and unable to move the ball on a Green Bay defense that has been in disarray during the second half of the season. The Bears look like the team playing out the string, and the Packers are playing like the team with the division title in their sights.
  • We'll have to look into it more after the game, but the Packers' use of the nickel defense as their base formation seems to have the Bears on their heels. And for reasons that aren't immediately obvious, the Packers are stopping Chicago's running game out of a pass defense. Bears tailback Matt Forte has 14 yards on eight carries, with a long of three.
  • Here are some of the worst numbers: The Bears have two first downs. They are 0-for-5 on third downs. They have 48 total yards. Green Bay, on the other hand, has 14 first downs and 221 total yards.
  • If you're a Packers fan, you like the aggressiveness coach Mike McCarthy has brought to this game. He's called a fake punt and allowed Aaron Rodgers to push the ball downfield. Overall, Rodgers has thrown 24 passes in frigid conditions, completing 16 for 176 yards.
  • I wouldn't call this half a fluke. This is the kind of team Green Bay thought it had when it left training camp: An offense that pushes the ball downfield and a defense that swarms around the ball, particularly on the back end.
  • The Packers haven't been a good cold-weather team under McCarthy, but there is no question they look more comfortable on the coldest night of football in recorded Chicago history.

Packers take advantage again

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
10:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Another fortunate call in the red zone has given Green Bay a 14-3 lead here at Soldier Field.

One play after Bears safety Mike Brown limped off the field, the Packers capitalized with a 17-yard screen pass to tailback Ryan Grant. Brown's replacement, rookie safety Craig Steltz, had a clear shot to tackle Grant well short of the goal line. But Grant lowered his should and bowled over Steltz and into the end zone.

The Bears have two timeouts left and 1:04 left, so it will be interesting to see if the Bears even try to make an offensive surge before halftime.

Bears offense a no-show so far

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:46
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- It's safe to say the Bears' offense has been a bit stagnant so far in this crucial game.

Green Bay has outgained them 159 yards to 44. The Bears are within four points at 7-3, but that's only because Danieal Manning returned a kickoff 70 yards -- dragging Packers safety Jarrett Bush for the final 25 yards of it -- to set the Bears up at the Packers' 29-yard line.

The big problem is that the Bears can't sustain a drive. The went three-and-out on their first two possessions and have only run 15 plays in the first half. (As we type these words, there are four minutes left in the second quarter.)

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- The Bears seemed to be in some level of confusion on the play where Green Bay took a 7-0 lead here at Soldier Field.

Defensive back Trumaine McBride sprinted onto the field at the last second with the Packers facing a third-and-four at the Bears' 7-yard line. McBride arrived just in time to line up in front of Packers receiver Greg Jennings in the slot.

Jennings ran a shallow cross into the end zone against McBride, who fell as Jennings hauled in the catch. It wasn't entirely clear what type of defense the Bears were in, but I assume it was the dime.

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