Knockout games in professional football help make the NFL wildly popular. Several such affairs were on tap last Sunday including Green Bay versus Chicago at Soldier Field that was decided when quarterback Aaron Rodgers found wide receiver Randall Cobb all alone with a 48-yard strike on fourth and eight with 38 seconds left that gave the Packers a 33-28 victory.
The play handed over the NFC North title to Green Bay, which will open the playoffs with a match against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“I lost my voice,’’ said Rodgers, who missed seven games due to a broken left collarbone and had his first start since the injury. “I made some bad throws in the first half. I felt more in rhythm in the second half. Our defense did the job late.”
Rodgers (25 of 39 for 318 yards) wasn’t sharp early as he was intercepted on his first two possessions.
The setback was a bitter pill for the Bears to swallow. “We had a blitz on,’’ said Chicago Head Coach Marc Trestman, who saw his team finish with 345 total net yards. “Aaron was able to get outside. Once he got outside things happen. When you’ve got a zero blitz on, things can happen. And we just lost coverage with our eyes in the backfield.”
Chicago’s Jay Cutler (15 of 24 for 226 yards and one pick) came out and drove the Bears 80 yards on eight plays on his second series and found running back Matt Forte (47 yards on four receptions) with a four-yard pass and 2:07 left in the opening quarter that made it 7-0.
Green Bay pulled ahead 10-7 after Mason Crosby nailed a 33-yard field goal with 7:59 left in the second quarter followed by an odd touchdown in which Rodgers was hit by defensive end Julius Peppers, who jarred the ball loose.
No one seemed sure whether it was an incomplete pass or a fumble. For several seconds everyone just stood around until wide receiver Jarrett Boykin was urged by the Green Bay sideline to pick up the ball, which he did at the Chicago 15-yard line and ran in for the score as 3:28 remained before the half.
Green Bay (8-7-1) took a 13-7 lead into the locker room on Crosby’s 27-yard field goal with two seconds left.
Each team was able to run effectively as the Bears totaled 121 yards and the Packers 160 including James Starks’ team-best 88 on 11 carries.
Devin Hester’s 49-yard punt return set up Forte’s five-yard run and 10:46 left in the third quarter that pushed Chicago in front 14-13.
Rodgers answered with a seven-yard offering to Cobb (55 yards on two catches) that ended an 80-yard, seven-play trek with 7:27 showing in the same quarter and gave the Packers (473 total yards) a 20-14 advantage.
When Forte (game-high 110 yards on 22 rushes) scored on a one-yard burst up the middle and less than three minutes later, the Bears (8-8) pulled ahead 21-20. The 74-yard march included a 67-yard toss from Cutler to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (80 yards on three catches).
Cutler’s five-yard dart to wide receiver Brandon Marshall (74 yards on six receptions) gave the Bears a 28-20 cushion early in the fourth quarter until running back Eddie Lacy’s six-yard gallop with 11:38 showing trimmed the lead to 28-27.
“He (Rodgers) made some mistakes, but he stayed focused,’’ said Lacy, who tallied 66 yards on 21 carries. “It’s great having him back.”
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.