A fumble by Green Bay receiver James Jones with just over two minutes to go in a tie game and then a pass interference penalty on rookie safety Morgan Burnett set up a last-second, game-winning field goal for the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
Robbie Gould's 19-yard chip shot was good with 4 seconds left, giving the Bears a 20-17 win over the Packers in front of 61,446 at Soldier Field and separating the two NFC North rivals by one game in the division race.
Chicago improved to 3-0 while the Packers fell to 2-1, with each team scheduled to play 12 more games before they meet again in the regular-season finale. That gives the Packers plenty of time to ponder the missed opportunities, special-teams miscues and franchise-record 18 penalties that all contributed to a frustrating defeat.
"It's disappointing, … to give away a game like this," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We're not Santa Claus. We're not in the business of jumping down your chimney and letting you have a game."
But that's what the Packers did, letting this one get away despite outgaining the Bears by more than 100 yards (379-276) and possessing the ball for 11 ½ minutes longer (35:49 to 24:11).
The blunders at the end by Jones and Burnett were by no means the only costly ones, either.
After the Packers took a 10-0 lead in the first half, the Bears got back within three when Tim Masthay's low, line-drive punt was returned 28 yards by Devin Hester, setting up the Bears for a four-play, 44-yard touchdown drive right before half.
A bad night for the special teams continued in the second half when Mason Crosby's 37-yard field-goal attempt was blocked just two snaps after an apparent 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley was wiped out by a holding penalty on Mark Tauscher.
Then, after the Bears failed to score on fourth-and-goal at the 1, the Packers failed to get a first down to get out of the hole, hurting themselves with three pre-snap penalties. Masthay's punt from his own end zone was a high, deep 57-yarder, but Hester found a lane and ran it back 62 yards for the score, giving the Bears a 14-10 advantage in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
"We were trying to change the field position and you've got to cover the ball once in a while," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've been covering the football better, but it didn't happen tonight and obviously that was a huge play in the game."
The Packers responded with a 72-yard touchdown drive, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers (34-of-45, 316 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 92.5 rating) scrambled around the right side for the 3-yard score on third-and-goal. That put Green Bay ahead 17-14 with 6:52 left.
But from there seemingly nothing went Green Bay's way. The Packers appeared to have a potentially game-changing turnover when Barnett intercepted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (16-of-27, 221 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 82.5 rating) on the first snap of the ensuing drive.
Rookie linebacker Frank Zombo was called for roughing the passer, however, as his helmet caught Cutler under the chin just as he made the throw, and the penalty got the Bears started on their drive for a game-tying field goal.
Then with the Packers trying to drive for the game-winning score, Jones caught a short pass in the flat and was scurrying up the right sideline when Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher knocked the ball out. With the fumble sitting barely inside the boundary, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings recovered at the Green Bay 46 with 2:18 left.
The Bears overcame a holding penalty with a 21-yard completion to tight end Greg Olsen to put them on the outer edge of Gould's range. Then Cutler tried to go deep down the right side to Earl Bennett, and Burnett was called for interference as safety Nick Collins swooped across and intercepted the ball.
It was the Packers' 17th penalty – they added the record-breaking 18th with an illegal forward pass on the desperation, lateral-filled kickoff return following Gould's game-winning kick – and it capped an ugly night that ended with an ugly result.
"Seventeen penalties, that doesn't cut it," McCarthy said. "You can't play football like that."
Not if the Packers are going to fulfill the expectations they have for themselves in 2010. It's only one loss and it's still early, but the Packers are suddenly chasing a division rival in the standings, and they have no one but themselves to blame.
"You can't win a game like that, having that many penalties, letting them return the ball and get that field position," Barnett said. "You can't win a game like that. We just have to clean it up on all sides of the ball and play better football.
"We can play a lot better than the way we played. The good thing about NFL football is we get to see them again. This is not all lost. We're not going to throw everything away because we lost one time.
"We have to go watch this film and be very critical of ourselves, kick ourselves in the mouth, and come out and be very hungry for the next game."