Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) reacts to Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) during the game at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sept. 27, 2010. The Packers were called for a team-record 18 penalties in that game. / File/Press-Gazette
The Green Bay Packers will find out Sunday whether their penalty problems indeed have become a thing of the past.
The same referee who worked their Week 3 game at Chicago, where they were flagged a team-record 18 times for 152 yards in a 20-17 loss to the Bears, will work Sunday’s NFC championship game Soldier Field.
The NFL has assigned Terry McAulay to referee the game. McAulay has not worked a Packers’ game since that Sept. 27 Monday night affair in which penalties not only wiped out a touchdown by the Packers but also took away an interception of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Had their 18-penalty debacle been a more recent occurrence, the Packers might have been more startled by officiating assignment. But no one in the Packers’ locker room was fretting over the fact that McAulay will head the crew.
“We know it was an anomaly,” said Packers left guard Daryn Colledge, who had a holding penalty in that game. “And it was something we did to ourselves. Whether we feel like the refs made a couple of bad calls or not, you could say that on maybe one or two, but 16 of those were on us. They’re false starts; they’re holdings. We did a lot of things wrong, but we learned a lot, and we’ve been a much better team penalty-wise over the last however many weeks.
“I want to go out and prove to those guys that we can play Packer football without, obviously, cheating.”
But it won’t be the exact same officials. During the regular season, the referee works with the same crew. But at this point in the playoffs, the NFL compiles what it believes to be the best officials at each position. Ed Hochuli is scheduled to lead the crew that will call the AFC title game between Pittsburgh and the New York Jets.
“Terry is the referee; he has obviously been selected for this game for good reason,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We look at that game as an anomaly. I don’t think this game is going to be about anomaly officiating. There are two very good teams that earned the right to be in this game, and this game will be about the football teams.”
The Bears were penalized five times for 38 yards in the Week 3 game. Of the Packers’ 18 penalties in that game, eight were offensive line infractions.
“That’s ancient history,” Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We really haven’t had that problem since, so we haven’t really been harping on that.”
Despite their worst single-game penalty total in team history, the Packers finished the regular season tied for the third fewest penalties in the NFL with 78. Declined penalties are not included in that total. The Bears ranked 16th out of 32 teams in penalties with 91.
In their two playoff games, the Packers have been called for a combined eight penalties.
With Frank Zombo’s sprained knee likely to keep him out for a sixth straight game, it will be all Erik Walden again against the Bears.
Walden, the street free agent who was signed on Oct. 27, made his coming out party against the Bears in the regular-season finale at Lambeau Field. He sacked Jay Cutler three times and recorded a team-high 16 tackles.
But that wasn’t the first time Walden had played Cutler. They met in 2005, when Cutler was in college at Vanderbilt and Walden at Middle Tennessee State. Vanderbilt started 4-0 that season, but Walden’s team pulled off a 17-15 upset that ultimately prevented Cutler from having his first winning season since high school. That would have to wait until this year with the Bears.
“There was a lot of talk about how that might be the first time in a long time that Vanderbilt would get to a bowl game, but beat them with a blocked field goal at the last second,” Walden said.
Walden had one tackle in that game, a minus-4 yard stop of Cutler on a designed quarterback draw on a third-and-short play.
“I actually missed a sack on him in the end zone that would have been a safety,” Walden said. “That stuck with me the last time we played them.”
Zombo was the only Packers’ player who didn’t practice on Wednesday. He believes he might have returned by now had he not tried to push it and return too soon from the sprained posterior cruciate ligament he sustained on Dec. 12 at Detroit.
“I kept trying to rush it back and in the long run, that set myself back farther,” Zombo said. “If I would have completely sat out for three weeks, I would have been back three weeks ago.”
Safety Atari Bigby didn’t play in Saturday’s divisional playoff game at Atlanta after being questionable because of a groin injury, but he wasn’t even listed on Wednesday’s injury report.
It’s usual that a player goes from not playing to not even being listed on the injury report, but Bigby must have made significant progress.
“We just felt that another week would be better,” McCarthy said. “I anticipate he’ll have a good chance of going this week.”
Those listed as limited participants in practice on Wednesday were: tackle Chad Clifton (knees), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), running back John Kuhn (shoulder), cornerback Patrick Lee (hip), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) and center Jason Spitz (calf).
Receiver Antonio Robinson was signed to the practice squad, and safety Anthony Levine was placed on practice squad/injured reserve.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Robinson (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) spent the entire offseason with the Packers’ opponent this week, the Bears, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Nicholls State and released him during training camp.
“They haven’t picked my brain yet,” Robinson said. “But we’ll see.”
Ever since the Packers were preparing for the Dec. 19 game at New England, McCarthy has been calling the Packers “nobody’s underdog.”
His message to his team, which has moved to a four-point favorite over the Bears, was a little different at the start of this work week.
“Nobody’s underdog; we’re nobody’s favorite, either,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s our motto today as a team.”