At the midseason point, there were three areas the Packers' defense wanted to improve to not only regain its swagger but also become the unit it felt it could be entering the 2020 season.
It had to cut down on explosive gains on the ground, do a better job of keeping the opposition out of its end zone and generate more takeaways.
After a strong December, the Packers' defense leaned on past lessons learned to survive a grueling battle with Chicago on Sunday and walk out of Soldier Field with a 35-16 victory.
The Bears ran 74 offensive plays, dominated time of possession (35:29-24:31) and stressed the Packers' gap discipline with how it deployed talented running back David Montgomery in the biggest game of the season for both teams.
And Green Bay passed that test in limiting Chicago to only 108 yards on 31 carries, holding its NFC North foe to 1-of-5 in the red zone and forcing two critical turnovers. The Bears had one explosive gain – a 53-yard pass to Darnell Mooney in the second quarter – but Green Bay managed to hold them to a field goal.
"I think that goes with our defense in general," safety Adrian Amos said. "We try not to make those same mistakes that we were making earlier in the year in the red zone. I feel like we're getting better each and every week."
A week after containing All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, the Packers didn't afford Montgomery much traction, either. After getting gashed by the Bears' 1,000-yard rusher on the first play of the teams' Week 12 matchup, Green Bay didn't allow Montgomery a carry of more than eight yards on Sunday.
The third-year running back found paydirt once, finishing the Bears' opening series with a 2-yard TD run up the middle, but Green Bay otherwise clamped down inside its own 20.
That included after Tavon Austin fumbled a punt return in the second quarter that gave Chicago the ball at the Green Bay 20. The Bears went three-and-out and were forced to settle for a Cairo Santos 30-yard field goal.
The defense earned its first takeaway later in the quarter, with cornerback Jaire Alexander stripping tight end Cole Kmet of the football at the Chicago 22.
"The one thing I'm really proud of our defense is we've challenged them in terms of running to the football, getting multiple hats at the point of attack, and I think our guys have answered that," LaFleur said. "They're playing with more energy, more emotion, playing together, really focused on doing their 1/11th, doing their job at the best of their ability, so that's something we'll continue to stress, and I think our guys have really improved in that regard."
Linebacker Krys Barnes had a career-high 14 tackles and stopped several runners short of the first down. The Bears endured due to a 4-for-4 streak on fourth-down conversions.
That trend stopped when nickel cornerback Chandon Sullivan broke up a pass for Allen Robinson in the flat for a turnover on downs early in the fourth quarter. On the next series, Amos intercepted Trubisky to help seal the win.
It's been a rollercoaster season for the Packers' defense, but the gradual improvements it made throughout the course of the year made it possible for the Packers to finish inside the top 10 in total defense for the first time in a decade.
On the eve of the postseason, the unit feels it's peaking at the right time.
"We just stayed together," said Amos of the key to the defensive success. "When there's adversity throughout the season, we have to stick together. We figure things out. Great communication between the leaders of the team, between the coaches, everybody just locking in and grinding each and every day, taking one step at a time. I think that's helped us big-time."
Soldier Field hosted a Week 17 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021.
'An unbelievable year:' After years of close calls, Davante Adams finally carved out his own piece of Packers history.
With six catches for 46 yards and a touchdown against the Bears, Adams broke Sterling Sharpe's franchise record for single-season receptions (115) while tying Sharpe's 26-year-old mark for TD catches in a season (18).
And Adams did it in only 14 games.
"It definitely feels good," Adams said. "(I've) been putting in a lot of hard work and have come up short of a few different things in my career. So, it feels good to be able to achieve that."
The Bears tried to take Adams out of the game early before the Packers began moving the four-time Pro Bowl receiver around more in the fourth quarter. He tied Sharpe's receptions record on the first play of Green Bay's 12-play, 76-yard scoring drive before breaking it on a 7-yard pass on the very next play.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he spoke with Adams after the game, reminding him of what he accomplished in practically 13½ games due to the hamstring injury he sustained against Detroit in Week 2.
"I said 13½ games and you just had the greatest season by a Packer receiver in history. And I meant it," Rodgers said. "And it got me emotional and it gets me emotional in this moment. I just have a ton of respect and appreciation for him and what he's accomplished. It's been an unbelievable year."
O-line continues to shine: An offensive line touted for its flexibility and resolve once again put its best foot forward despite the absence of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Thursday.
With Billy Turner filling in at left tackle and veteran Rick Wagner handling the right side, Rodgers had plenty of time with which to work against the Bears' defense. He was sacked just one time, bringing his season total to 20.
That's the fewest times Rodgers has been sacked during a 16-game regular season…by eight.
Aside from Bakhtiari, the Packers had some lingering questions going into the game with Wagner leaving last Sunday's win over Tennessee with a knee injury of his own that caused the eighth-year veteran to miss practice on Wednesday.
"I couldn't be more thankful or proud of the way those guys played today and against a really good pass rush," Rodgers said. "Those guys, tackles are a quarterback's best friend a lot, and I'm just very thankful for those guys being pro's pros in the way they play. Especially Rick, because his status has been kinda up in the air, backup, starter, banged up, comes back, just a pro's pro, a very steady guy. I'm really happy he's ours."
One more first: Mason Crosby became the first kicker in team history to record a perfect season on field goals, converting all 16 of his attempts this season. He didn't get an opportunity to add to that total against the Bears, but made five extra points.