NFL Nation: 2013 Week 17 GB at CHI

Good seats in Green Bay still available

December, 30, 2013
CHICAGO -- How unexpected was the Green Bay Packers' NFC North title?

Nearly half of their season-ticket holders didn’t bother to send in their playoff money.

Shortly after the Packers' 33-28 victory against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field, the team announced that approximately 40,000 tickets would go on sale Monday for the wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Season-ticket holders were given the chance to reserve their playoff tickets a few weeks ago, well before they knew whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers would return this season from his broken collarbone, and clearly many of them scoffed at the notion that a team that at one point had a five-game winless streak would be playing in January.

But at 8-7-1, the Packers are in as the fourth seed and will host the fifth-seeded San Francisco 49ers (12-4).

It will be interesting to see how many of those season-ticket holders, who will get the first chance to buy the remaining tickets on Monday, take advantage of it. Whatever tickets remain after that will be available to the general public beginning Monday at 3 p.m. local time.

Rodgers, Cobb give the Packers a chance

December, 29, 2013
Aaron RodgersJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Packers knew that as long as they had No. 12 on Sunday, their playoff hopes were in safe hands.

CHICAGO -- Time and again during the Green Bay Packers' final drive at Soldier Field on Sunday, linebacker Mike Neal had just one thought as he watched from the visitor's sideline.

On fourth-and-1 from their own 22, when coach Mike McCarthy made the bold decision to go for it even though 4 minutes, 41 seconds still remained.

On fourth-and-1 from their 44, when McCarthy had no choice but to go for it with two minutes left.

On fourth-and-8 from the Chicago Bears' 48-yard line, when there were potentially only 46 seconds left in their season.

Each time, Neal told himself the same thing.

"We've got 12," Neal said.

He was, of course, referring to his quarterback.

For seven weeks, that was something no one on the Packers' sideline could say. But with Aaron Rodgers making his first appearance since he fractured his left collarbone on Nov. 4, Neal's words rang true.

Except that he forgot to add No. 18.

With receiver Randall Cobb also back in action for the first time since he fractured the tibia in his right leg on Oct. 13, the Packers had the right combination of playmakers to pull off Sunday's 33-28 victory that gave them their third straight NFC North title and the home playoff game that goes with it.

With Rodgers and Cobb together again, the Packers look better than their 8-7-1 record that got them into the postseason for the fifth straight year. As the No. 4 seed in the NFC, they will host the fifth-seeded San Francisco 49ers in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field next Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET.

It was an unlikely 48-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Cobb with 38 seconds left that kept the Packers' mercurial season alive, but that doesn't happen if not for the first two fourth-down plays on the final drive.

All three showed just how important it was to have Rodgers back.

On the first one, he saved the play when he reminded tight end Ryan Taylor to move closer to the line of scrimmage to avoid an illegal-formation penalty. After Rodgers barely got the snap off on time, fullback John Kuhn plunged forward and got just enough to keep the drive alive.

On the second one, Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson, who had a stellar game with 10 catches for 161 yards, for a 6-yard gain.

And then there was the play that linebacker A.J. Hawk called "one of the best plays ever ... in Packers history."

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called an all-out blitz, sending seven pass-rushers after Rodgers. The Packers cleanly blocked six of them, but defensive end Julius Peppers came free to Rodgers' left. That's when Kuhn slid across the formation, dove at Peppers and struck just enough of him with his right shoulder to slow him down.

"I just tried to get as much of Peppers as I could," Kuhn said.

That allowed Rodgers to step to his left, avoid Peppers' outstretched right arm and float a rainbow to Cobb, who ran down the seam waiving his left arm to let Rodgers know that he had slipped behind the coverage.

"Oh my gosh, it was in the air for so long," said Cobb, who caught both of Rodgers' touchdown passes on Sunday. "I had so many thoughts going through my head -- 'You better not drop it, if you drop it they're going to kill you, everybody. You better catch it, just catch the ball, body-catch it if you have to, do whatever you have to do' -- and I was able to make the catch."

Whatever rust Rodgers had in the early going, when he threw a pair of first-half interceptions and otherwise played it safe by throwing a variety of short passes and even sliding much earlier than usual on his scrambles, he played like his MVP self down the stretch.

Nearly two months of frustration, waiting for his collarbone to heal and hoping to get clearance to return, came out in his emphatic celebration after Cobb found himself safely in the end zone.

It was a moment that Rodgers said will rank "right near the top" in his career.

"This has been a wild season," said Rodgers, who completed 25 of 39 passes for 318 yards. "There's been a lot of stuff that's happened to get us to this point -- from our comeback to get a tie [against Minnesota], to comeback in Dallas to win, a 61-yard field goal in Baltimore that gave us a little edge there over Detroit, and then everything that was today: a sack-fumble that goes for a touchdown, fourth-and-8 to win the game."

The Packers have celebrated some meaningful wins in this stadium, including the NFC Championship Game in January 2011, but McCarthy called this one "clearly one of our finer moments in our time in Green Bay."

Said Hawk: "That last drive our offense put together, three fourth downs including that last one, we have faith in them. We know they do crazy things like that all the time, especially Aaron, especially that last play. I think that'll go down as one of the best plays ever, I'm sure, in Packers history. For sure."

That's what happens when you have No. 12.

"Need I say more?" Neal asked.

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall pulled a Terrell Owens in the aftermath of his team’s 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers when asked about the prospect of Jay Cutler returning in 2014.

“That’s my quarterback,” Marshall said.

Cutler showed why Sunday. After eight previous outings of futility against Green Bay as a Bear, the quarterback finally shined under the bright lights against the Packers, throwing for two touchdowns and racking up a 103.8 passer rating while completing 62.5 percent of his throws, albeit in a losing effort. Cutler did throw one interception, but that came on a desperation heave with 10 seconds to play in the midst of his fight to rally back the Bears.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler played well Sunday against Green Bay, but have Bears fans seen the last of him?
“I thought Jay played very well tonight,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I don’t know what the stats are. I though he threw the long ball well. He gave the guys a chance to make plays, which gave them the long ball. I thought he was efficient throwing the ball inside. I thought he was in total command of what was going on out there.”

Case in point: Cutler’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Marshall with 14:55 remaining. The Bears called a run-pass option, but Cutler was unsure of the coverage the Packers might show. Instead of checking out of the run, Cutler kept the call on but pulled the handoff at the last second and found Marshall for the touchdown.

“They had an all-out blitz,” Cutler said. “I left the run on, then I pulled it last second, just threw one up to [Brandon] and he did what he does best: make a play for us.”

The play was one of many Cutler made on the night despite limited opportunities. The Bears ran just 49 plays on offense, compared with 76 snaps for Green Bay, which dominated time of possession 35:09 to 24:51.

Cutler completed three passes for 30-plus yards, including a 67-yard bomb to a wide-open Alshon Jeffery. He also hit Marshall for a 37-yard gain and completed a pass to Matt Forte for 33 yards.

In eight previous games against the Packers, Cutler completed 127 of 237 for 1,518 yards and eight touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, to go with a passer rating of 54.8. Against the rest of the NFC North over that same span, Cutler had thrown for 33 TDs and 16 INTs.

The matchup against the Packers on Sunday marked just the third time in Cutler’s career he generated a passer rating of 100 or better and his team still lost. Counting the postseason, Cutler is 28-3 when he finishes with a passer rating of 100 or better.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Cutler said. “Right there, knocking on the door.”

Again, the Packers shut it in Cutler’s face. But neither this performance nor Cutler’s 1-8 record as a Bear against Green Bay should have any bearing on whether the team decides to bring him back in 2013, and it won’t. Cutler has just played the final game of a contract that paid him $8.47 million in 2013, and he wouldn’t get into what might take place in the coming weeks or month in terms of negotiations with the front office or the prospect of leaving.

Bears general manager Phil Emery has made it clear on numerous occasions he wants to bring back the quarterback, and Cutler has made it clear he wants to stay, even going as far as saying on ESPN 1000 that he’s optimistic it’ll “get done.”

“You’d love to predict the future,” Cutler said. “I’m not really going to get into what’s going to happen.”

Trestman declined to as well, saying, “That’s something for a later evaluation.”

“I would suspect that the Green Bay game, a rivalry game that’s going to play out for a championship, the speculation is let’s see how he does on this kind of stage,” Trestman added. “I thought Jay played well enough for us to win tonight.”

Marshall agreed, and unlike Cutler he offered a prediction for how the quarterback’s contract situation might play out.

“Jay will be back. So all the stories for the offseason you guys can just put that at the bottom. Write everything you have to say and just say, ‘Brandon said Jay will be back,’” Marshall said. “Just like I said Jay would be back from the groin injury, Jay’s gonna be back in a contract year. I don’t have any inside information. That’s my quarterback.”

Cutler, however, preferred not to ponder the future. Having displayed a tendency to be flippant in the past after a loss like Sunday’s, Cutler displayed genuine disappointment about how the game played out and the finality the defeat to the Packers presents.

Asked about his contract situation, Cutler shook his head.

“I think we’ll deal with that later in the week,” he said. “Right now, I’m kind of living in the moment. I’m a little upset about the game and how it went. This locker room is never going to be the same. [We’ll] miss some guys. Some guys are going to leave. Some guys are going to stay. It’s part of the business.”
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman struggled to explain Sunday how Green Bay's Jarrett Boykin scooped up a loose ball and scored while everybody else on the field stood and watched.

The play was perhaps the most unusual turn of events in a 33-28 Packers victory at Soldier Field which end the Bears' season.

"We didn't pick it up and scoop and score with it. For me to try to explain why that happened, I really can't at this time because we've never allowed the ball to sit on the ground like that at any time in practice," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Green Bay took a 10-7 lead basically as the result of failure by the home team to play heads-up football.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastAaron Rodgers looks for confirmation of Jarrett Boykin's touchdown against the Bears.
With 3:28 left in the opening half, Julius Peppers sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind as Rodgers attempted to throw the ball. The ball came loose and hit the cold, damp turf at Soldier Field. Players from both teams froze, and officials never blew the play dead.

As players from both teams watched, Boykin alertly picked up the ball and romped 15 yards for a touchdown.

"[The whistle] didn't blow, that's why they allowed it to be a touchdown. Twenty-two players basically stopped," Trestman said. "[No.] 11 probably got the word from the sideline to pick the ball up because it was over on their side. But I thought both teams stopped. So that's why it's such an unusual situation. Nobody got on the football."

Officials immediately reviewed the play and determined Rodgers fumbled as opposed to throwing incomplete, and confirmed the original call of a Boykin touchdown.

"We all thought it was a dead ball," said linebacker James Anderson, who watched the ball roll right past him. "That's why everyone kind of stopped. It was a big play. We need to make sure that we hear the whistle. I thought I did [hear a whistle], but I don't even know initially if anyone else knew what it was a live ball."

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take some heat for the club's defense not being more alert and not following the tenet of playing until the whistle is blown, something taught to players at every level. Surely, some will question whether or not a defense coached by Lovie Smith would have let such a play occur.

Given what was on the line -- the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs -- all those criticisms would be legitimate, but it appeared the players should shoulder the blame in this instance.

At Bears' practices, every time the ball hits the ground -- even on an incomplete pass -- typically a defender scoops it up and starts running the other way.

"I guess the one time that you don't, it hurts you," Anderson said. "That's neither here nor there. That was one play in the game, and we still had an opportunity to win."

Trestman echoed those sentiments, but expressed disappointment in the fact the play resulted in points for the Packers. Take away Boykins' score, and the Bears win the game.

"I didn't hear a whistle. So I was just as curious as everybody else why nobody was moving towards the ball; nobody," Trestman said. "Certainly, completely disappointed. As I told our players, no one play is going to make a difference in the game. That was a highly unusual play, no doubt about it."

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 29, 2013

CHICAGO -- Here are a few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

What it means: The Bears missed out on the NFC North title and a playoff berth with the heartbreaking loss to the Packers. So their season is over, and they’ll now set upon the task of evaluating the roster internally, in addition to turning the focus toward improving for 2014. The Bears have several veterans with contracts coming to an end. So they’ll have to make a determination on which players to bring back. The club has already identified some of the veteran free agents they’d like to pursue in the spring, and the personnel staff will also now turn the focus toward the upcoming Senior Bowl and NFL combine in preparation for the draft.

No timely stops: Despite playing a fairly solid game on defense, the Bears failed in clutch situations too many times during the moment of truth. During Green Bay’s final drive, the Packers converted two fourth downs on a run by John Kuhn and a 6-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. In that same drive, Rodgers converted another third down with a 5-yard scramble, but Chicago’s defense held the Packers to minimal gains during that sequence.

Then, on what should have been the final play of the game: a fourth-and-1 with just 46 seconds left to play, Rodgers scrambled around in the pocket before firing a 48-yard bomb to a wide-open Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown. What’s worse, it appeared the Bears busted the coverage on the play as Chris Conte seemed to let Cobb run right by without the safety dropping back to account for him.

More takeaways: The Bears entered Sunday tied for 12th in takeaways, and generated two more against the Packers to run up their total on the season to 28 (nine fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions). Conte and Tim Jennings each picked off Rodgers passes, with the Bears scoring seven points off one of the miscues.

For the most part this season, the Bears have capitalized when they generate takeaways. Entering the contest ranked sixth in the NFL in points scored off takeaways (97), the Bears boosted that to 104 points when Matt Forte scored his first touchdown of the game on the drive that followed a Conte interception in the end zone.

Status of Mills unclear: Right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a foot injury during Chicago’s first possession, and was ruled out for the game. But the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately disclosed.

A rookie fifth-round pick, Mills became the starter at right tackle at the beginning of the season and started 15 games. Veteran Eben Britton filled in for Mills.

Hester tries for record: With the matchup against Green Bay potentially his last as a Chicago Bear, return man Devin Hester made a strong push to break the NFL’s record for career return touchdowns. Hester owns the NFL records for total kick return touchdowns (18) and career punt return TDs (13), but he needed only one more return score to break Deion Sanders' record for total return TDs (19).

Hester took his first kickoff 39 yards, and broke a punt return 49 yards in the third quarter. He’ll eventually break the record, but the chances of doing that as a Chicago Bear remain uncertain. Hester is in the final year of his deal, and there’s a chance either he or the club could elect to go in a different direction in 2014.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to clean out their lockers and likely take care of end-of-the-season physicals as their season comes to an end. The club will also hold final meetings and start the task of performing internal personnel evaluations.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

December, 29, 2013

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 33-28 win against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

What it means: Fourth-and-8 from the 48-yard line with 46 seconds left will be remembered for quite some time. Aaron Rodgers, in his return from his Nov. 4 collarbone injury, won the NFC North with a 48-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, who was playing his first game since his Oct. 13 broken tibia injury. The Packers (8-7-1) ran their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to five.

Stock watch: No one was probably happier to have Rodgers back than Jordy Nelson, who had only one 100-yard receiving game in the seven weeks Rodgers missed because of his broken collarbone. Nelson bettered his previous season high of 130 yards receiving with 10 catches for 161 yards.

Gimpy but effective: Running back Eddie Lacy's sprained right ankle appeared to limit his playing time. Several times, Lacy looked gimpy coming off the field. The Packers gave James Starks more work than usual. He responded with a 41-yard gain on a third-quarter, third-and-1 play. It helped keep Lacy available for the entire game, and he scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.

What’s next: The Packers will host a wild-card playoff game on either Saturday or Sunday.
CHICAGO -- The Green Bay Packers took a 10-7 lead over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field under a freakish set of circumstances. But ultimately, the play came as the result of failure by the home team to play heads-up football.

With 3:28 left in the opening half, Julius Peppers sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind as Rodgers attempted to throw the ball. The ball came loose and hit the cold, damp turf at Soldier Field. Players from both teams froze, but officials never blew the play dead.

As the players watched, Rodgers appeared to scream out to Jarrett Boykin to scoop up the ball, which he alertly did, before romping 15 yards for a touchdown.

Officials immediately reviewed the play and determined that Rodgers fumbled as opposed to throwing incomplete, and confirmed the original call of a Boykin touchdown.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take some heat for the club’s defense not being more alert and not following the tenet of playing until the whistle is blown, something that is taught to players at every level, all the way down to the youth leagues. Surely, some will question whether a defense coached by Lovie Smith would have let such a play occur.

Given what’s on the line -- the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs -- all those criticisms would be legitimate, even though I tend toward placing the blame on the players in this instance.

Either way, the Bears need to find a way to bounce back.

At intermission, the Bears trail 13-7, and the Packers get the ball to start the second half.