Packers clinch NFC North with 21-13 win over Bears
Like win the NFC North.
And a few other titles, perhaps.
The Packers delivered the ultimate comeback to the yapping Bears on Sunday, a 21-13 victory that gave Green Bay its second straight NFC North title and put a serious dent in Chicago's playoff hopes. Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on all three touchdowns, and Clay Matthews continued his dominance of Jay Cutler with two more sacks as the Packers won their sixth straight against their archrivals.
"Step one is done," Matthews said. "We just have to continue this thing rolling all the way to the playoffs."
The Packers are assured of a home playoff game and, at 10-4, are still in the running for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Not bad for a team that began the year 2-3.
"I think this team is playing the right way right now," Rodgers said. "We have two games left in the regular season. We want to be peaking at the right time because those are the teams that make the deep runs."
The Bears, meanwhile, are going to need help to get into the playoffs after dropping five of their last six games. It's a stunning slide for a team that began the year 7-1.
"We're down, but we're not out," Cutler said. "We need to remind the guys that there are two games left, and there's a lot of football left. We've got to get back together. We've got to piece this thing back together -- however we do it."
Running their mouths off clearly isn't the way to go.
Packers vs. Bears is the NFL's oldest and fiercest rivalry, and the Bears cranked up the heat when Brandon Marshall and Lance Briggs ripped their neighbors to the north earlier in the week. Marshall was particularly passionate, saying he'd never disliked a team as much as he did the Packers and that Sunday's game was "personal."
Rather than get drawn into the fray, the Packers saved their response for the field.
"We don't try to trash talk," Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields said. "When we get on the field we trash talk, but not in the paper. We let our actions show on the field."
Marshall scored Chicago's only touchdown, but finished with 56 yards on six catches, his fewest totals in a month. Cutler had another dismal day against the Packers, throwing an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown. He's been picked off 17 times by the Packers, including 10 in his last five games.
The Bears managed only 67 yards the entire second half, and Alshon Jeffery was whistled for offensive pass interference three times -- yes, three -- in the final 16 minutes of the game.
"Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs," said Marshall, who struggled to compose himself as he spoke before cutting short his postgame interview. "It's been this way all year. There's no excuse. We still have two games left. There's still hope, but at the same time, we need to be held accountable."
The Packers piled almost 400 yards on Briggs and his buddies, and turned a 7-0 deficit into a 14-7 lead over the last 4:19 of the second quarter thanks to a pair of Rodgers-to-Jones TDs sandwiched around a Casey Hayward pick.
"That was important. That was really important," Rodgers said of the 14-point swing. "We couldn't them get up a couple scores and get into what they wanted to do, which it looked like they wanted to run (Matt) Forte a lot. Getting ahead of them kind of took them out of some of that stuff."
The Packers made it 21 unanswered points on the first drive of the second half. In another third-and-long situation, Rodgers threw incomplete to Jermichael Finley -- the guy Bears linebacker Lance Briggs had dubbed "an idiot" after the Packers' tight end said he thought Chicago would be better without injured Brian Urlacher.
But Green Bay got a second chance when Chris Conte was called for pass interference. After a delay of game penalty, Rodgers found Jones for a 6-yard score.
It was Jones' first three-touchdown game and the fourth multiple-TD game of his career.
The Bears had chances to get back into it. Green Bay's Mason Crosby missed two more field goals, and Charles Tillman forced a fumble by Ryan Grant that Nick Roach recovered. Chicago got a big break on the next play when Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett hauled Alshon Jeffery down right in front of the end zone -- and right in front of an official. The pass interference penalty gave Chicago the ball at the Green Bay 1.
But the Bears could only get a 34-yard field goal by Olindo Mare out of it after the first of Jeffery's pass interference penalties.
"We're just getting started," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We feel that way as a football team, not trying to be arrogant, (but) we feel there's a lot better football in front of us. It was an extremely important game for everybody involved today, but we fully expected to come in here and win this thing."
NOTES: Matthews has eight sacks of Cutler in eight games. ... The Bears sacked Rodgers three times, with Peppers and Corey Wooton each being credited with 1½. ... Despite two more misses by Crosby, his 11th and 12th this year, McCarthy said the Packers will not be looking for a new kicker. "We're not changing kickers. Write that down right now," McCarthy said. "He's our guy."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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