Green Bay Packers Secure NFL's Best Record, Eliminate Chicago Bears
On Christmas night, the Green Bay Packers reached an unprecedented fourth win over the rival Chicago Bears in one calendar year. But that was not the only gift the team gave to its fans.
The win gave the team a franchise record 14 wins in a season. When a team older than the league it plays in sets a franchise record, it is noteworthy. When that team has more championships than any other and has the championship trophy named after one of its coaches, it is remarkable.
And not to sound more like a late-night infomercial, "But wait, there's more!"
The Packers secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bears were eliminated from postseason contention. Aaron Rodgers set the franchise record in passing yards in a season, reaching 4643.
But what sets the Packers apart is not the passing game—six other quarterbacks have over 4000 yards passing this season. The Packers win because no team executes the game's fundamentals better.
For as often as Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels wondered how the Packers could have only one loss when the defense gave up more yards than the offense gained, the answer was right in front of them: Green Bay forced two turnovers while committing none nor even taking a penalty.
The Packers commit the fewest penalties per game for the second fewest yards. Only three teams force the opposition into more penalties, and the 22- penalty yard margin is the biggest in the league.
Meanwhile, only the San Francisco 49ers (plus-26) have a better turnover differential than the Packers' plus-22. To put their accomplishments in perspective, no other team is better than plus-14 (New England) and only one more is better than plus-7 (Detroit).
Moreover, the game exemplified another Green Bay advantage: Enough depth that if one unit fails, another is there to pick up the slack. Here are the units that succeeded and failed Sunday...
Aaron Rodgers had a lot of reasons to smile Sunday. But just as he did after ESPN's "Swami" picked the Lions on Thanksgiving, he may have a "C'mon, man!" for me giving only an A rather than an A+ for Sunday.
All I can say is you have raised my expectations too much, Aaron. Besides, you were not the only quarterback to play for the Packers.
Rodgers missed on one throw high and one short to wide-open receivers. Matt Flynn slipped on the turf to take the team's only sack (for a one-yard loss). Those mistakes make the performance less than perfect.
But the rest of the game nearly was. Rodgers struggled a bit early because he was under pressure, but he managed to start and end the first half with touchdown drives.
In the second half, the Bears opened up with a touchdown to draw back to within four points. For Rodgers, that was enough of the rivals hanging around.
On the next three possessions, he went 8-of-11 for 159 yards and three touchdowns while running three times for 15 yards. This included a scramble that made All-Pro linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher look foolish on the same play and forced Urlacher to limp off the field.
Just like that, the game was over at 35-10 one play into the fourth quarter. Rodgers was pulled for Flynn, who did not attempt a pass and took two kneel-downs at the end of the game.
Rodgers finished 21-of-29 (.724) for 283 yards (9.7/attempt) with five touchdowns and no picks, earning a 142.7 passer rating. He rushed four times for 18 yards (4.5 average) and avoided a single sack, registering a 95.4 Total QB Rating. His cadence also drew the Bears offsides twice.
Running Backs: B-
Ryan Grant continued to look like the back he was before the season-opening injury in 2010. He ran the ball just eight times but generated 44 yards. He caught two passes for 34 yards.
A little more consistency would have been nice: 24 of his rushing yards and 32 of his receiving yards came on individual plays. However, he did help shorten the game by getting the only first down with Flynn under center, even though the Bears knew the Packers were going to run.
The bigger negative hanging over this unit was James Starks. He ran the wrong way not once but twice, and rightfully caught an earful from the franchise quarterback he endangered in the process after the second offense.
He also had just 13 yards on six carries and six on one catch. Brandon Saine had one carry for eight yards, giving the backs 18 touches and 105 yards—a 5.8-yard average.
The Bears secondary had early success with tight man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage. Packers wide receivers and tight ends had just 11 catches for 108 yards in the first half.
But in the second half, the Packers exploded with big plays. This unit finished with 18 catches for 243 yards (13.4 average) and all five scores. They did not drop a pass and drew two penalties, only one of which they needed to accept.
Jordy Nelson had his breakout day as the No. 1 receiver with six catches for 115 yards (19.2) and two scores. James Jones had his in the No. 2 role, hauling in four passes for 50 yards and two more scores.
Donald Driver and Randall Cobb added two receptions each for 29 and 22 yards, respectively. Jermichael Finley had only 20 yards on three catches, but scored once. Tom Crabtree caught the first pass for seven yards.
Offensive Line: B+
After struggling at the start of the game, the line gave Rodgers time to throw deep in the second half. While the Bears pass rush was near the bottom of the league in sack percentage, they had dangerous defensive ends matched up against the third and fifth tackles on the Packers depth chart.
Allowing only one sack on a late bootleg that only happened because the quarterback slipped is impressive. They did this without benefiting much from Rodgers' elusiveness, as he had only two scrambles.
Moreover, they opened enough running room for an unimpressive stable of running backs to get 65 yards on 15 carries (4.3). While 24 of those yards came on a big carry, they deserve credit for getting Grant to the secondary on that play, allowing only one tackle for a loss and taking no penalties.
Defensive Line: D
The Green Bay Packers' defensive line was just plain awful. The rotation that should have kept them fresh while Ryan Pickett was out instead got no pressure on the quarterback and was dominated in the running game.
The Bears third-string running back carved up the Packers defense for 121 yards on 23 carries (5.3). Their fourth-string back added another 40 on 11 carries, allowing a quarterback taken off the street to avoid being tested by handing the ball off 34 times for 161 yards. Only three of those 34 carries resulted in negative yards.
If not for the efforts of C.J. Wilson (four tackles—one for a loss—and two assists), the unit would be an utter failure. Mike Neal was the only other player in on more than one tackle, with one solo and two assists.
Howard Green could not shake blocks, netting no more than undersized platooning end Jarius Wynn—just one tackle. B.J. Raji garnered a lot of attention, but a lone assist is still not enough.
Most of the Packers linebackers played well enough, but not great.
Clay Matthews III had an interception and forced fumble (the Bears recovered it) among his five tackles and one assist. Both A.J. Hawk (six tackles, six assists) and Desmond Bishop (nine, three) had tackles for loss.
However, Erik Walden struggled (two tackles, two assists) and was pulled for Vic So'oto (two tackles) and Brad Jones (one tackle).
The linebackers have to take some blame for the rushing success that also padded their tackling stats, especially on Josh McCown's seven carries for 39 yards preceding his kneel-down.
But while the linebacking corps failed to register a sack and got minimal pressure, they were solid in pass coverage. McCown dumped the ball off five times, but those backs were held to a respectable 40 yards. Three passes to tight end Kellen Davis resulted in just 21 yards, though it included a touchdown.
McCown completed 19-of-28 (.679) for 242 yards (8.6), but had just one score and threw two picks despite no pass rush to speak of. The touchdown was on the linebackers (as was one of the picks), and the wide receivers caught just 11 passes but did get 181 yards (16.5)—none by Devin Hester.
Charlie Peprah's interception set up a short score that iced the game and helped keep McCown's passer rating to 76.8. He also forced a fumble that the Bears recovered, had six solo tackles and five assists.
Morgan Burnett had five tackles and three assists. Corners Sam Shields (three tackles), Charles Woodson (two), Jarrett Bush (one) and Tramon Williams (one plus an assist) all got into the action.
Special Teams: B+
Tim Masthay holds his best performances to keeping arguably the best returner ever, Devin Hester, in check. He had four punts for a 44-yard average and pinned the Bears inside the 20 on three of them, with only seven total return yards allowed.
Mason Crosby was less impressive on kickoffs, putting four of six into the end zone and only getting one touchback. However, Hester managed just 23.4 yards per return with a long of 35, while Randall Cobb had just one return on kicks (34) and punts (eight), but they combined to equal Hester's best returns.