Game Review: Beating Bears Brings Season Full Circle

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CHICAGO - The Green Bay Packers knew they had come a long way since being shut out by the Chicago Bears in Week 1 of the 2006 season.

On Sunday night, they proved it.

Turning the tables on the NFC North Division champs and the conference's top seed, the Packers controlled things from the outset, using six turnovers and two defensive scores to roll to a 26-7 victory in front of a prime-time national television audience at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Though the Packers hopes for the final NFC playoff spot were dashed by the N.Y. Giants' victory on Saturday night plus other results on Sunday, Green Bay still racked up several accomplishments, not the least of which was throwing some doubt on the capabilities of their arch-rivals to win in the playoffs and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The Packers closed the season with a four-game winning streak, finished 8-8 to avoid a losing record in Head Coach Mike McCarthy's first season, beat a team with a winning record for the first time this year, and ended a three-game losing streak to Chicago.

The Packers also finished 5-1 in the division, including a three-game sweep of their NFC North brethren in the final three weeks.

"We wanted to come out and prove that the last three games we played, it wasn't just some type of luck, that this is how much we have improved," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "It's unfortunate we missed out (on the playoffs) by one spot, but it gives us a lot to look forward to next year."

All this after a 26-0 drubbing at the hands of the Bears to open 2006 and the McCarthy era at Lambeau Field back on Sept. 10.

"They got us early in the season, and that was a tough loss to swallow there at Lambeau," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "We wanted to get back at them. Obviously we did tonight."

Green Bay grabbed control of the game on the opening possession, driving 75 yards in 11 plays, with Brett Favre hitting Donald Driver on a slant route for a 9-yard touchdown and giving the Packers their first points against Chicago's vaunted defense in 2006.

"Last time we played them we might have crossed the 50 once, I don't even know," Favre said. "So to get anything going early was important. To go down and score was as important a drive as we've had all year."

From there the defense took over, tallying four turnovers in the first half, including three interceptions of beleaguered Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman. Two of those were returned for touchdowns by Nick Collins (55 yards) and Patrick Dendy (30 yards), the latter with just 34 seconds left in the first half to give the Packers a 23-0 lead at intermission.

"Our DBs in particular played really, really well," Kampman said. "We ended up with six turnovers, that's a great performance. We beat the Bears at their own game. That's how they do it, and it was a great performance for us."

The Bears, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs wrapped up, substituted liberally in the second half, but the necessary damage had been done. Grossman finished a nightmarish 2-for-12 for 33 yards with the three INTs for a bottom-basement passer rating of 0.0 before being replaced by Brian Griese for the second half.

And even then when the Bears threatened to score, and the defense still turned them away.

{sportsad300}After a well-executed fake punt on which punter Brad Maynard completed a 34-yard pass to Adrian Peterson, the Bears reached Green Bay's 17-yard line before Griese's pass for Clark was picked off by linebacker A.J. Hawk, keeping the Bears scoreless.

The Bears finally got on the board when Griese hit Mark Bradley in stride behind the Packers defense for a 75-yard touchdown, making it 23-7 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.

But, after a 46-yard field goal by Dave Rayner made it 26-7, Chicago's last chance to get back into the game was thwarted by Collins' second interception of the night, when he stepped in front of Muhsin Muhammad to pick off another Griese pass.

"It was an outstanding defensive effort," McCarthy said. "I thought they dominated the game."

If there was any hint of disappointment, it's that this team's four-game winning streak wasn't enough to qualify for the playoffs. The Packers finished 8-8, tied for the final playoff spot with the Giants, St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers, and the final tiebreaker was the "strength of victory" between the Giants and Packers, with the nod going to New York.

But that's not to say the Packers don't feel as though they could have made some noise had they snuck into the postseason.

"I believe so," running back Ahman Green said. "I'd bet right now nobody would want to play us if we got in.

"But you can't worry about that. You have to look forward to the future."

And that's a future that in essence began four weeks ago with a 4-8 team determined not to let the season finish on that path.

"The legacy of this football team is we've gotten better," offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. "We were able to finish with four in a row to get back to even, which four games ago was kind of a pipe dream."

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