The Packers began in a steady sprint, slinging the ball around in the kind of high wire entertainment act we saw last week in Atlanta. In the end, they almost pulled up lame.
During the first half, it was as if time had stood still for a week, and Green Bay had never left Atlanta. Aaron Rodgers was still scrambling, still making completions with pinpoint accuracy, and was still dismantling any and every defensive formation. His first two pass attempts were completions to Greg Jennings for a total of 48 yards, and several plays later Rodgers was stretching into the endzone.
Somehow though the Packers needed interceptions from a guy nicknamed “The Freezer” and Sam Shields to win a game that seemed over in the second quarter, a game that saw the Bears go through two quarterbacks, and a game in which the Packers had 230 offensive yards to the Bears’ 79 with five minutes to go in the second quarter.
The taste of the champagne that’s already flowing in Green Bay will drown out the mistakes and near failure. Similar to Green Bay’s sputtering during Wild Card Weekend against the Eagles, this became both a tale of two halves, and nearly a sad story of missed opportunities.
Thriving through adversity and pulling out a 21-14 win will make those mistakes melt away quickly. Propelled by the interceptions from B.J Raji and Shields, the Packers held on and will now appear in their fifth Super Bowl. With a win the legend of Titletown will grow, and the Packers will move into sole possession of fourth on the NFL’s all-time championship leaderboard.
Green Bay’s offence had been so efficient throughout the playoffs that their punter had started to grow mold on the sidelines. In the first quarter today we discovered that they do in fact have a punter, and his name is Tim Masthay. He had only four punts throughout the post-season so far, and wasn’t needed at all last week against Atlanta. Today, Masthay was called upon eight times.
As dominate as the Packers were offensively in the first half, the inability to close was glaring. After putting the Bears firmly under their heal behind the easy pitch and catch game between Rodgers and Jennings, and the running of James Starks, Green bay was up 14-0. Another touchdown would have been crushing, but instead two trips into Chicago territory finished with two interceptions, one coming on the six-yard line.
Rodgers had 193 passing yards in the first half, and followed that up with just 89 yards in the second half, completing just seven of his 14 pass attempts. Green Bay’s emphasis shifted to the ground in an effort to keep the clock grinding down, but when called upon Rodgers just didn’t look the same after getting rocked early in the third quarter.
But Rodgers found another way to win, using his legs instead of his arms. At one point in the second quarter he had more rushing yards (26) than the entire Bears offence (23). The swarming Green Bay defence remained, led by Shields–who finished with two interceptions and a sack–and the always tenacious and scary looking Clay Matthews.
The Packers’ first sack of Jay Cutler in the opening quarter came on a three man rush, showing us two things that were already blatantly obvious: the Bears’ offensive line couldn’t stop a group of dancing grandmothers, and Green Bay’s pass rush can go into beast mode whenever it pleases. The tenacity of the Packers combined with Cutler having the toughness of Charlie Brown led to the early exit of the Bears starting quarterback, and the NFC North champions having to rely on some guy named Caleb Hanie.
Regardless of their opponent two weeks from now deep in the heart of Texas, Green Bay’s defensive strengths will be thoroughly tested. Both Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger were two of the more upright quarterbacks in the league this season, and both were also careful with the ball. That especially applies to Roethlisberger, who threw just five interceptions.
Those aren’t inviting characteristics for a defence based on speed and its ball-hawking abilities.