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Solid play at crunch time gets Packers to 13-3

Green Bay earns NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and a bye into divisional round

Packers RB Aaron Jones runs for a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Green Bay's 35-16 victory over the Chicago Bears
Packers RB Aaron Jones runs for a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Green Bay's 35-16 victory over the Chicago Bears

The Packers were in control of the game, lost it, but got it back again when it mattered most.

A key fourth-down stop on defense in the fourth quarter spurred a strong finish on both sides of the ball as the Packers beat the Bears, 35-16, on Sunday at Soldier Field to secure the No. 1 seed for the NFC playoffs.

The Bears trailed just 21-16 and were driving for a possible go-ahead score. Having converted four times on fourth-and-short on the day, Chicago went for it again on fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 25 with just over 11 minutes left.

But the Packers finally got the stop they needed, and what followed were a touchdown by Aaron Jones, an interception by Adrian Amos and a record-tying touchdown by Davante Adams to put the game away.

"It's never easy in this league and this game was pretty indicative of that," said Head Coach Matt LaFleur after his team matched last year's regular-season record of 13-3. "For us to be able to deliver in crunch time, that's what it's all about."

For a while, it appeared there might not be a crunch time. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three TD passes on the Packers' three first-half possessions for a 21-13 advantage, and Green Bay was poised to go up by two scores early in the second half on a bomb to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

But the third-year receiver, who hauled in a 72-yard touchdown earlier in the game, dropped what would have been a 53-yard score, and suddenly the game shifted in a way that Rodgers called "disjointed" and LaFleur referred to as "strange."

The Bears went into ball-control mode as they drove for a field goal, forced another punt, and then were moving again when the pivotal fourth-and-1 occurred. The Bears had converted two of those on the drive already, and four on the day.

This time nickel cornerback Chandon Sullivan blanketed the Bears' top receiver, Allen Robinson, on a sprint-out pass to the boundary, and Green Bay maintained its lead.

"I heard a lot of guys on the sideline calling it out … I don't know if he knew it was coming, but he made a hell of a play," LaFleur said of Sullivan. "That was a big-time play in a big-time moment."

At that point, the Packers faced significant deficits in time of possession and total offensive plays that became 11 minutes (35:29-24:31) and 30 snaps (74-44), respectively, by game's end.

But the offense – which adjusted well once again up front following left tackle David Bakhtiari's injury, with Billy Turner replacing the four-time All-Pro – regained its footing when it had to, foiling the Bears' plan to take Adams out of the game by moving him to the slot and getting him going again.

As he broke Sterling Sharpe's single-season franchise record for receptions with three catches in a span of five plays, Adams set up the Jones score to cap a 12-play, 76-yard march that made it 28-16.

"We spoke it into existence, 'Here's where we put the game away,'" Rodgers said. "A methodical drive. We converted some third downs, guys made some plays. It wasn't splash plays."

Soldier Field hosted a Week 17 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021.

Amos then made the splash, picking off Trubisky (33-of-42, 252 yards, 81.7 rating) in Chicago territory, leading to Adams' 18th TD on the year to tie Sharpe's team record in that category and seal the win.

With six catches for 46 yards, Adams finished the regular season with 115 receptions (beating Sharpe by three) for 1,374 yards. The yardage total fell just shy of his personal 2018 career high (1,386).

Adams' record-tying TD was Rodgers' fourth on the day to give him a new team record of 48 for the season, three better than in his first MVP year of 2011. He wrapped up the day 19-of-24 for 240 yards and a sparkling 147.9 passer rating.

It's hard to see Rodgers not getting his third MVP after finishing with a career-best 70.7% completion rate, a league-high 48 TDs against just five interceptions, and a league-best 121.5 passer rating that fell just one rating point shy of his single-season NFL record (122.5 in '11).

Defensively, the Packers won the game in the red zone. After allowing a Montgomery TD run on the first drive of the game, the Bears went 0-for-4 inside the 20 thereafter and scored only via three field goals, including one after the Bears recovered a punt-return fumble by Tavon Austin and started at the Green Bay 20.

"Anytime you hold somebody to 1-for-5 in that area and you're scoring touchdowns, that typically makes a difference," LaFleur said. "It was really encouraging to see our guys, when we had to, backs up against the wall in the red zone, come through and make some plays.

"That's what it's going to take moving forward. Just playing complementary football is so important."

The defense set up two TDs with turnovers, as Jaire Alexander's forced fumble on tight end Cole Kmet and Rashan Gary's recovery in the second quarter preceded Amos' big pick in the fourth.

Green Bay also continued its late-season surge against the run, holding David Montgomery to just 69 yards on 22 carries, yet another good sign heading into the postseason, which will begin for the Packers in two weeks, following a first-round bye.

"I'm really proud of our guys, the way they've answered that challenge, because that was a glaring blemish, if you will, prior to the last couple weeks," LaFleur said of the run defense. "Our guys have answered it time and time again, and we're going to need to continue to do that because that's playoff football."