Insider: Thumbs up to Nelson, thumbs down to run defense

Dec. 29, 2013

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Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (87) tries to elude Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, left, and linebacker James Anderson after making a catch in the first quarter Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) runs into end zone for a touchdown as quarterback Jay Cutler (6) reacts during the second half of Sunday's game. At left is Packers linebacker Mike Neal (96). / AP

• 428 — Points allowed by the Packers this season, the second-highest total in franchise history behind the 439 given up in 1983.
• 2,583 — Rushing yards allowed by the Bears this season, a franchise-worst total and the worst in the NFL by a whopping 410 yards.
10 — Multi-interception games by Rodgers during his 95-game starting career. Rodgers threw interceptions on the Packers’ first two possessions.
89 — Percentage of field goals made by Mason Crosby this season (33 of 37), the best in his seven-year career.


Big picture

The Packers captured their third straight division title and fifth consecutive playoff berth with their last-minute victory over the Chicago Bears. The Packers earned the No. 4 seed as the NFC North champion with an 8-7-1 record and will host San Francisco (12-4) in a first-round wild-card playoff matchup. No NFC team has a longer streak of playoff appearances than the Packers. The Packers have lost three times to the 49ers in the past two seasons. The 49ers swept two games in 2012, including a divisional postseason game at Candlestick Park. San Francisco also won the regular-season opener 34-28 in September at home.

Thumbs up

No one benefited more from the return of Aaron Rodgers than receiver Jordy Nelson, who produced a monster game with 10 catches for 161 yards. Nelson was targeted 16 times by Rodgers, nine more than any other receiver. Nelson had season highs for catches and yards. In the nearly eight games Rodgers missed, Nelson produced just one 100-yard receiving game. “I think just the way the defense was playing, we had some things that we liked,” Nelson said of his connection with Rodgers. “Aaron put us into some checks to make some plays. Matt (Flynn) did a good job when he got here to do that, but he just doesn’t have the knowledge and had to get back in the rhythm of things with our offense. Obviously Aaron has the knowledge and the years to make those checks, and it’s great to be able to do that. He put us in opportunities to make plays and, for the most part, we were able to make them.” Nelson had catches of 32 and 26 yards in the first half and a 34-yard reception in the fourth quarter that pulled the Packers within 28-27. Perhaps Nelson’s biggest catch came on fourth-and-1 on the final drive, when he hauled in a low, 6-yard pass from Rodgers that kept the Packers’ season alive.

Thumbs down

The Packers’ leaky run defense, ranked No. 26 in the NFL, gave up 121 yards on 24 carries against the Bears, a 5.0-yard average, and just under their season average (125.0). The Bears’ Matt Forte rushed 22 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns. On their first possession of the second half, the Bears ran the ball on every play with Forte going the final yard for a touchdown and a 21-20 lead. “That’s the way we expect things to go,” Forte said. “If we can get the running game going, that takes the pressure off of (Jay Cutler) and he can work the open receivers on those deep throws.” But for as bad as the Packers’ run defense was, the Bears’ was worse. They showed why they came into the game ranked last in rushing defense by allowing the Packers to gain 160 yards on the ground in 34 carries.

Turning point

The Packers trailed 28-27 with just less than 5 minutes remaining in the game and faced a fourth-and-1 from their 22. Coach Mike McCarthy was torn between punting or going for a first down, and opted to take the aggressive approach. “Very tough call,” McCarthy said. “I wasn’t going to look back. If I didn’t go for it, I may look back on that with some regrets. Our guys went and got it.” The Packers sent fullback John Kuhn off right tackle, and he earned a tough yard that was confirmed by a measurement. “We had the wrong formation on that fourth-and-1,” Rodgers said. “I was able to get in a legal formation there. John stuffed it up in there for enough for a foot to get us the first down.” That sent the Packers on their way to the game-winning touchdown.

Did you notice?

• It was a tale of two halves for the Packers’ defense, which forced the Bears into three-and-out possessions three times in the first half. But Chicago opened the second half with consecutive touchdown drives of 30, 74 and 68 yards.

• On Rodgers’ first interception on the Packers’ first possession it appeared tight end Andrew Quarless stopped running his route, which allowed Bears safety Chris Conte to pick off the pass.

• Former Bears player Kahlil Bell returned his first kickoff for the Packers for 22 yards in the first quarter. Micah Hyde had the only other return, and there were three touchbacks.

• Bears defensive end Shea McClellin, who broke Rodgers’ collarbone on a sack in the first meeting this season, was penalized for unnecessary roughness when he piled on Rodgers following a Lance Briggs sack in the second quarter. The penalty kept the drive alive and led to a field goal.

• Sam Shields got beat on a 67-yard pass from Cutler to Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter that led to a touchdown, but safety Morgan Burnett should have been there to help and was nowhere to be found.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports