CHICAGO—A couple of months ago, the Packers appeared to be playing for a wild-card spot in the playoffs. Following Sunday's 21-13 win over the Chicago Bears, the Packers are NFC North Division champions with their sights set on a first-round playoff bye.
"This is the first step for us," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following the win. "We know we're in the tournament. Now we fight for the seed."
As the Packers headed back to Green Bay, the San Francisco 49ers were preparing to play a game in New England that would go a long way toward deciding how high the Packers reach in the NFC playoff seeding. At 10-4, the Packers would appear to have a realistic chance of winning the No. 2 spot.
"We're just getting started. I'm not being arrogant. We fully expected to come in here and win this thing," McCarthy added.
Beating the Bears was more grit than art. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers got hot late in the first half and threw three touchdown passes to James Jones in a flurry of offense that sandwiched halftime.
The Bears wouldn't go away, however, and when McCarthy ordered a curious throwback play on a punt return in the fourth quarter, with the Packers leading by 11 points, the resulting fumble and recovery by the Bears made for some tense moments for the Packers.
"That was clearly not the highlight of my career," McCarthy said of the throwback play, on which Randall Cobb attempted a lateral. The Bears took possession at the Packers 16-yard line but could only manage a field goal.
"We had a couple of guys with injuries. It's a play we've been working on," McCarthy explained. "In the end, it's not a very good decision. I wish I had it back."
The Bears had two opportunities late in the game to send the game into overtime, but failed to move the ball in each case. Defense was clearly the star of this win.
"I thought Dom (Capers) did a great job," McCarthy said of his team's defensive coordinator. "I just really like the patience of our defense and making the quarterback beat you. I thought it was outstanding."
Once again, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler did not beat his nemesis from the north. Cutler suffered another statistical nightmare, completing only 12 of 21 passes for 135 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 72.5 passer rating. It was an interception Cutler threw to rookie cornerback Casey Hayward late in the first half that led to a Rodgers-to-Jones touchdown pass and a 14-7 halftime lead. It put the Packers in the driver's seat.
The Bears scored first but the Packers immediately responded with an 89-yard touchdown drive, the big plays of which were third-down completions of 31 yards to Randall Cobb and a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jones.
"That was really important; keep the crowd at bay. We didn't let them get a couple of scores and get into what they wanted to do. It looked like they wanted to run Forte. Getting up took them out of that stuff," Rodgers said.
"Third down is the money down. You have to be able to make plays."
Rodgers completed 23 of 36 passes for 291 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 116.8 passer rating.
Kicker Mason Crosby suffered another down day, missing field goal attempts of 43 and 42 yards. McCarthy also elected not to attempt a field goal from similar yardage, which might suggest slumping confidence in his kicker, though the coach said he remains committed to Crosby.
"Mason needs to make those kicks. It's time for him to step up. We're not going to change our kicker. He's our guy. He has to do his part," McCarthy said.
The defense certainly did its part, and the Packers' rally from a slow start to the season has brought the postseason back to Green Bay and Lambeau Field.
Additional coverage - Dec. 16