The Insider's take on Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Packers won 21-13.
The big picture
The team that started with two losses in its first three games, yes that Seattle game really was a loss, and was 2-3 after five games is now champions of the NFC North, and there are still two regular-season games remaining. That start to the season must seem like ages ago for the Green Bay Packers, who clinched another division title (their third under coach Mike McCarthy), with Sunday’s 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
All James Jones does is catch touchdowns. Well, that’s not all he does, but you get the idea. The guy who earlier in his career was often the forgotten man among the Packers receivers had already set a career high with nine touchdowns heading into Sunday’s game. He blew that away with three more — the first three-touchdown game of his career — against the Bears. Jones had actually been on something of a dry spell, having scored only twice in the previous seven games after catching seven touchdown passes in the first six games. On Sunday, he had touchdown catches of 29, 8 and 6 yards. On Jones’ first touchdown, quarterback Aaron Rodgers went after cornerback Kelvin Hayden, the fill-in for injured starter Tim Jennings. Jones caught Hayden in single coverage, and Rodgers hit him for the 29-yard score down the right sideline. Jones may have gotten away with a push off to gain some separation. Rodgers went right back to Jones on second-and-goal from the 8 yard line with 28 seconds left before halftime. Jones beat nickel cornerback D.J. Moore over the middle. To be sure, Jones has benefited at times from not having to face the opponent’s best cover man, but that wasn’t the case on his third score. Matched against Charles Tillman, Jones caught a pinpoint back-shoulder pass for a 6-yard score.
No matter the reason coach Mike McCarthy called it, the trick-play punt return in the fourth quarter was too risky to attempt late in a tight game. Leading 21-10, McCarthy unveiled another in a line of special teams deceptions he has tried this season. This time, punt returner Randall Cobb threw a backwards pass to backup receiver Jeremy Ross, who was promoted from the practice squad just three weeks ago. Ross dropped Cobb’s floater, and the Bears recovered it at the Packers’ 16. The Packers were fortunate the Bears could only turn that into a field goal. McCarthy has been aggressive and trusting in special teams coach Shawn Slocum’s designs this season — having pulled off a fake field goal, a fake punt and a surprise on-side kick this season. He said one of the factors that went into calling this play was the fact that Rodgers had just limped off the field with an ankle injury, so he went for the special teams home run. At least McCarthy wasn’t too proud to admit after the game it wasn’t a good decision.
Play of the game
It was third-and-6 from their own 34-yard line, and the Packers trailed 7-0 midway through the second quarter. The Bears blitzed, sending six pass rushers after Rodgers. He escaped from the pressure, rolled to his right and on the run threw a dart to Cobb, who snared it in the middle of three defenders for a 31-yard gain that helped set up the Packers’ first touchdown.
Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery’s 36-yard catch would’ve given the Bears a first down at the Packers’ 20 and in position to tie the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter, but the play was wiped out by Jeffery’s third offensive pass interference penalty of the game, and the Bears eventually turned it over on downs.
Did you notice?
• Sam Shields moved back into the starting role and played right cornerback in the base offense, meaning rookie Casey Hayward played only in the sub packages. Still, Hayward got his team-leading sixth interception of the season.
• Running back DuJuan Harris didn’t play until the second half, but he opened the third quarter with a 21-yard rush. He carried five times for 27 yards in the second half.
• After Mason Crosby badly missed a 43-yard field goal wide right (the first of two misses on the day), McCarthy bypassed a 44-yard attempt and went for it on fourth-and-6 from the Bears’ 26-yard line on the opening drive of the third quarter. They converted when Rodgers hit Cobb on a crossing route for 12 yards.
By the numbers
• 0: Third-down conversions by the Bears, who had nine attempts. They also failed on their lone fourth-down try.
• 6: Consecutive victories by the Packers over the Bears.
• 12: Consecutive NFC North victories by the Packers, matching the longest streak in the NFL since it realigned division in 2002.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.