The Green Bay Packers shrugged off all the Chicago trash talk, went into the Bears’ den and came out with the NFC North division title Sunday. And they did it the old-fashioned way, using a balanced, team approach, especially on offense. They made the big plays through the air and had just enough of a rushing game to keep the Bears honest in crucial situations.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers made sure he got everybody into the act, throwing to five different receivers (six, if you count Rodgers on deflected pass that came back to him). Randall Cobb led the way with six catches for 115 yards for his second consecutive 100-yard game. Tight end Jermichael Finley caught five for 61 yards, Greg Jennings had four for 50 yards and Alex Green, who led a 113-yard rushing output with 35 yards, snagged a pair of throws for 6 yards.
In particular, the Packers enjoyed plenty of success with the quick slant.
“Well, the slant play is really the starting point of our offense,” said coach Mike McCarthy. “This is one of the first routes we put in. They put a lot of two-high in the game and then went to some three-deep and came after us with some pressure on some important downs in the game. We are going to throw them, they are going to defend them. It is clearly one of Aaron’s better balls and our receivers did a good job running the routes.”
The unquestioned receiver of the afternoon was James Jones, who pulled down five aerials for 60 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first TD trifecta of his career and, with his freshly minted Packer “NFC North Champions” hat at his side, Jones flashed a smile when asked about his performance.
“I was just able to make some plays to help my team win,” said Jones, who has four touchdowns in his last nine receptions. “You never know coming into a game how it’s going to go or how it’s going to swing but I’m glad I got some opportunities, especially in the red zone to make some plays.
“Whenever you come in here, you know it’s going to be a dogfight. No matter how you look at it, throw all the schemes and the play-calling out the window. It’s man on man. They want it, we want it and it’s going to be a dogfight, and we came out here and got it done.”
Jones’ first score came on a 29-yard beauty at 4:19 in the second quarter with the Bears in man-to-man coverage against Kelvin Hayden, who was starting for NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings. Then, just before halftime, Green Bay moved in to capitalize on Casey Hayward’s 24-yard return with an interception. The Bears tried a different approach with Jones but paid the price, anyway.
“The second touchdown they had zone coverage,” said Jones of his 8-yard score with 28 seconds left. “Greg Jennings took the safety out of the way and I was able to come in. Randall was on the outside and I was able to sneak into the zone and make a play.”
But Jones wasn’t through.
In the third quarter, the Packers were deep in the red zone and the Bears went back to their man coverage scheme. Jones burned them again on a nifty back-shoulder throw from Rodgers against standout cornerback Charles Tillman.
“On the third one, it was just man to man,” Jones said. “We were on the 6-yard line and it was a back-shoulder throw. Everybody got involved today. We needed everybody because the offense doesn’t move with one person. Our offense starts with number 12 but we needed everybody to make plays. Randall Cobb made a bunch of crucial third-down catches. Jermichael came up big and made some plays. It was a team win.”
“Three touchdowns. What else can you say about that?,” asked Cobb. “James makes plays when he gets in the red zone. He makes the plays and finds a way to make the big catch. All season, we haven’t had everybody healthy at our position and we’re looking for that game where we have everybody back to get them on the field making plays. We always talk about the next man up and that’s definitely been a key factor for us this season.”
Despite the Bears’ Cover-2 defense, Cobb found a way to get open down the middle.
“They disguised their coverage really well,” said Cobb. “They’re a good defense, a smart defense. They know us and we know them. We were able to find those key third downs and were able to make the plays to keep the sticks moving.”
Finley, who’s had his share of criticism for dropped passes, approach to the game and talkative nature, said he was just happy to be part of such an important victory on the road against a hated rival.
“I feel great, man,” said Finley. “It’s another win for us and we clinched our division. We’ve just got to keep it rolling. Aaron Rodgers looked at me often and got me comfortable, so once that happened, the ball can be pretty much anywhere and I’m going to go get it for sure. I’m satisfied, period, because it was a team victory. We clinched the NFC North and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
And what about all that Windy City trash talk from Brandon Marshall and the inevitable verbal sparring between players from both clubs during the game? Cobb and his teammates just took it in stride as they won for the second consecutive week without Jordy Nelson.
“Yeah, that’s part of football,” Cobb smiled. “There was a lot of talk on the field but in the game, we came out on top and that’s all we care about. All the talk can be said but when you make plays and find a way to win, that’s what it’s about.”
The Packers are 10-4 and NFC North Champs. That’s what it’s about.