The Green Bay Packers defeated their arch rival, the Chicago Bears, on Sunday to lock up a Wild Card berth and the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
To steal a line from Jim Mora, “PLAYOFFS?! PLAYOFFS?!”
Yes, the Packers are playoff-bound for the second consecutive year. This one, however, seems to be a little more special because of the injuries and adversity the Packers had to overcome. With 14 players on injured reserve, the Packers refused to feel sorry for themselves and are now in the middle of a wide-open NFC playoff field.
Can the Packers win three straight on the road? That remains to be seen, but for now let’s take a look back at Sunday’s game in another edition of Game Balls and Lame Calls:
LB Erik Walden
In yet another example of why general manager Ted Thompson’s system works so well, Walden came out of nowhere and sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler twice. Replacing the injured Frank Zombo, Walden gave all he had yesterday and contributed to the Packers' dominating pass rush, which accounted for six sacks.
In such a close defensive struggle, any tackle for a loss is huge and Walden got to Cutler more than most. His tremendous hustle and surprising power helped turn the tide of the game in the Packers’ favor.
P Tim Masthay
I think it’s safe to say the Packers have finally found their punter.
With dangerous Bears returner Devin Hester lurking downfield on every punt, Masthay played brilliantly, keeping the ball out of Hester’s hands for the most part, and at one point pinning the Bears at their own two-yard line on back-to-back punts.
In the two times Hester did get the ball, the punt was long and high enough that it gave the Packers coverage team enough time to get downfield to minimize any damage that could have been done.
It may or may not be enough to save special teams coach Shawn Slocum’s job (judging by the body of work, it shouldn’t), but at least coach Mike McCarthy can rest easily knowing he finally found his punter after five years on the job.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers
Words really cannot express what Capers has meant to the Packers the past two years.
Capers’ unit did a brilliant job of disguising blitzes, so much so that Cutler had no clue who was coming and from where. He’s a quarterback that frustrates very easily, and that was evident in his two interceptions. Both came on typically boneheaded Cutler throws, one in the end zone and the other with time winding down in the fourth quarter.
The defensive coaching staff has brought fire and a swagger to the Packers that was lacking on the defensive side of the ball since Fritz Shurmur left all those years ago. That attitude is back and the credit belongs not only to Capers, but to McCarthy for hiring him in the first place and Thompson for giving Capers the talent he needed.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy
When you get the ball 1st-and-goal at the opponent’s one-yard line, you need to get six points. A field goal might as well be zero.
Well, that’s what happened after a long completion from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings. A failed fullback dive, a fumble and a sack from three feet out of the end zone just doesn’t cut it.
Pounding John Kuhn for three consecutive plays up the middle would have likely worked once, and that’s all it would have taken. Instead, McCarthy tried to get fancy with his quarterback and catch the Bears off guard.
That kind of stuff won’t cut it in the playoffs, Mike. Pound it in. Wear the defense out.
Packers Receiving Corps
Chicken soup can cure a common cold, or so they say. Perhaps it could cure a case of the drops too?
Either way, the normally sure-handed Packers receivers picked other bad game to start dropping passes. When you have a quarterback like Rodgers that usually puts the ball right between the numbers, there is no excuse for dropping those passes.
My recommendation would be to tell them to catch the ball and then think touchdown or extra yardage, not the other way around. Jennings’ drop up the middle comes to mind.
Again, these mental lapses can’t continue to happen if the Packers expect to make a deep playoff run.
RT Bryan Bulaga
The last time the Packers played the Bears, the Packers committed a team record 18 penalties. For a while, it seemed like Bulaga would reach that total all by himself.
Even though one holding penalty was questionable, Bulaga looked like a rookie on Sunday. His penalties resulted in a couple big plays coming back that could have helped the Packers extend their eventual margin of victory. Combine those with some false starts, and Bulaga had a very rough day. He could very well turn out to be a solid lineman, but the mental errors have to stop.
With Bulaga now exposed as someone who could fall prey to making mistakes, the Eagles and other teams going forward, should the Packers advance, will be targeting him constantly.
If they can get some free yards via penalty flags, opponents will go after him all day long.
Follow Kris Burke on AllGreenBayPackers.com and on Twitter @burke_kris