The Green Bay Packers are headed back to the Super Bowl after beating the Bears 21-14 in some of the strangest ways possible.
Aaron Rodgers got the headlines in the playoffs, but the Packers have survived this deep into January because of their ability to win games in a variety of ways. That really showed up Sunday in Chicago.
This win was about their punter Tim Masthay, who pinned Devin Hester back all day. It was about undrafted player Sam Shields picking off two passes. It was about the coverage skills of nose tackle B.J. Raji, who scored the only second half points for Green Bay. It was about Rodgers making a Ben Roethlisberger-like tackle of Brian Urlacher after a costly interception.
Third-string Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie helped make it interesting, driving the ball inside the Packers’ 30-yard line with under a minute to go before Sam Shields clinched the game with a pick.
This was a game that the Packers could have put away a few times. Rodgers was picked off twice and didn’t seem to play the same after taking a big shot to the helmet from Julius Peppers in the fourth quarter. After Raji’s score made it 21-7, Hanie rallied to put together a lightning quick touchdown drive.
This was a game that may be remembered as much for Jay Cutler’s disappearing act as anything the Packers did. But the contributions the Packers got from throughout the roster show how this team has grown.
James Starks and the running game were huge in the first half. Greg Jennings had 130 yards receiving. For the most part, Rodgers’ protection held up well. The defense thoroughly confused and harassed Cutler while he was in the game without having to blitz much.
Rodgers has undoubtedly improved every season as a starter, but the players around him improved more this year. This Packers team is about so much more than a passing attack.
And now they are one game away from being Super Bowl champions.