CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Soldier Field:
What it means: The Green Bay Packers made it hard on themselves, but they clinched their second consecutive NFC North title -- quite an accomplishment after starting the season 2-3. They have won eight of their past nine games since that point and on Sunday extended their NFL-leading divisional winning streak to 12 games. The Bears, meanwhile, lost for the fifth time in six games since starting 7-1 and now will need help to get into the playoffs.
LovieWatch: Did Bears coach Lovie Smith coach his final game at Soldier Field? Time will tell. His team has collapsed in December for the second time in as many years, and it must win its final two games -- both on the road -- to have a realistic chance at a wild-card spot. This game could have huge ramifications from a franchise perspective.
Say what? Leading 21-10 midway through the fourth quarter, the Packers took a completely unnecessary and ultimately harmful risk on special teams. They had punt returner Randall Cobb throw a backward pass to first-year player Jeremy Ross, presumably in an attempt to put the game away with a big return. Cobb once played quarterback, but his throw was low and Ross could not catch it. Bears safety Anthony Walters recovered the live ball at the Packers' 16-yard line, and Olindo Mare's 34-yard field goal made it a one-score game. I look forward to hearing the Packers' explanation for the trick play.
Momentum change: The Packers turned a 7-7 game late in the second quarter into a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter in part because of a constant problem for the Bears this season: finding someone other than Brandon Marshall to reliably catch the ball. Quarterback Jay Cutler's interception to cornerback Casey Hayward appeared to be a miscommunication with receiver Devin Hester, at least based on Cutler's immediate reaction on the field and later on the sideline. The Packers soon made it 14-7 at halftime and took the opening drive of the third quarter in for another touchdown. All three of their scores were throws to receiver James Jones.
CrosbyWatch: The Packers made it through another shaky performance by place-kicker Mason Crosby, who shanked a 43-yard attempt in the second quarter and hit the right upright from 42 yards in the fourth quarter. The Packers also passed on a 45-yard attempt in the second quarter to go for it on fourth-and-6. The last thing the Packers wanted to do was consider a change at place-kicker this late in the season, but their decision is getting more difficult to deny by the moment.
MatthewsWatch: Playing for the first time in more than a month, linebacker Clay Matthews had a big impact with two sacks while also knocking down a pass. Overall, the Packers held the injury-plagued Bears offense to 190 yards. The Bears also lost a touchdown and a long completion late in the fourth quarter because of offensive pass interference calls against rookie Alshon Jeffery, who will learn in his career to be more subtle with his push-offs.