CHICAGO—After Green Bay's defense gave up 303 yards and 17 points in the first half, this Packers-Bears showdown was headed toward shootout territory.
That all changed when cornerback Tramon Williams jumped Chicago QB Jay Cutler's slant pass for Josh Morgan midway through the third quarter with the Bears approaching the red zone. The ball deflected off Williams and up into the air, and it was hauled in by linebacker Clay Matthews, whose 40-yard return set up a Packers touchdown.
The sequence boosted a seven-point Green Bay lead to 14, and the Bears offense was never the same in a 38-17 Packers victory on Sunday at Soldier Field.
"It definitely changed the game," Matthews said. "Unfortunately we gave up too many yards in the first half, but once we got that pick, followed that up with a score … I was just hustling to the ball. It was a fortuitous bounce right into my hands."
The defense didn't stop there, as cornerback Sam Shields picked off Cutler on Chicago's next drive, when receiver Brandon Marshall continued running deep and wasn't on the same page with his QB.
Shields' 62-yard runback led to the game's final points, and the two takeaways highlighted a second-half shutout that seemed the most unlikely of results given the way the first half unfolded.
"When I got my head around, the ball was there," Shields said of his pick. "When the ball's in the air, we have to come up with it."
Stopping the Bears looked impossible before then. In the first half, with Matt Forte rushing for 80 yards and tight end Martellus Bennett going over 100 yards receiving, Chicago scored three straight times and led 17-14 shortly before intermission.
The Packers took advantage of two huge breaks, though. On the Bears' second possession, a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line was ruined by a false start, and Cutler overthrew receiver Alshon Jeffery in the back of the end zone, forcing Chicago to settle for a short field goal.
Then on the final possession of the first half, with the Packers up 21-17, Bennett gashed the defense for two big receptions and moved Chicago inside the 10. Out of timeouts and with just nine seconds left, Cutler then made the mistake of throwing over the middle to Bennett short of the goal line.
Packers rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was there to make the tackle, and as Bennett tried to reach the ball out across the goal line, he juggled it. The clock ran out, replay upheld the no-touchdown call, and the Packers had escaped.
Fellow Packers defensive back Micah Hyde might have inadvertently helped, too, by blocking the sideline camera along the goal line from being able to see the ball as Bennett reached it out. With a clearer view, it might have been a Chicago touchdown.
"I'm glad he was right there so they couldn't overturn it," Clinton-Dix said. "On the replay, I saw he bobbled it and I knew the play would stand."
Added Hyde: "Good play by Ha Ha, coming up and hitting him, good play by me, shielding him from the cameras, and we got off the field."
The Bears ended the first half with a whopping 21 minutes of possession time, but they were trailing, and they never scored again despite Forte (23 carries, 122 yards) and Bennett (nine catches, 134 yards) finishing with monster games.
"We just trusted the process," Williams said. "As well as we game plan, Chicago's doing the same thing. A lot of tips and keys we had, they had their own. They had some good plays. They countered what we were thinking, but we stuck together and did what we needed to do."
To a man, the Packers acknowledged they have plenty of work to do on defense, though. No one is proud of allowing the Bears to compile 496 yards and 33 first downs while running 77 plays.
Matthews declared "some of that is not going to fly" as the season goes on, but the Packers will take the turnovers anytime they can get them.
"That was good," said veteran Julius Peppers, who chalked up a win against his old team. "As far as the yardage output, we're not very happy with that, but unfortunately for them, yards don't win games, points do, and we were able to get the takeaways when we needed them." ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - SEPT. 28