Behind five touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers wrapped up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and won a franchise record 14th game in 2011 with a 35-21 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Five observations from the game:
1. Next man up
The Packers makeshift offensive line bounced back in a big way Sunday night. Facing one of the better defensive lines in football, Rodgers wasn’t sacked and rarely was hurried. The banner performance came from left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who all but took All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers out of the game. This was a big time performance with just two players, Scott Wells at center and Josh Sitton at right guard, starting at the same position they did to begin the 2011 season.
2. Missing Pickett
It’s been shockingly evident how much the Packers miss Ryan Pickett up front. Without him the past two weeks, the Packers’ run defense has been gashed repeatedly. On Sunday night, third-string running back Kahlil Bell ran for 121 yards as the Bears totaled 199 on the ground. If not for a big lead in the third quarter that took the Bears out of their game plan, Chicago could have ran for 250 or more yards. Getting Pickett back will help, but the gap discipline from the run defense has to be much better. They were all over the place against the Bears. Frank Gore, Michael Turner and the rest of the NFC running backs had to be salivating watching Sunday night.
3. End of discussion?
Is the case finally closed? After a week of MVP debate surrounding Drew Brees and Tom Brady as potential candidates, Rodgers might have stamped his name on the trophy with his first career five touchdown passing game. He now has 45 passing touchdowns and 48 total on a 14-1 team. If that doesn’t win you the MVP, I’m not sure what will.
4. Making their case
Think all the “blueprint this, blueprint that” talk fell on deaf ears in the Packers’ offensive meetings? Not the case. James Jones, who caught two touchdowns Sunday night, mentioned after the game how that discussion was motivation for the offense to put their best foot forward against the Bears. Mission accomplished. Jones had one of his finest games of 2011, Jordy Nelson went for 115 yards and two scores and Jermichael Finley was the catalyst for the Packers’ opening touchdown drive. Even though Greg Jennings is expected back for the playoffs, this was a confidence-restoring performance for the Packers’ passing offense.
5. Special specialist
I challenge you to find a punter who has been as good as Tim Masthay over the second half of the 2011 season. He was terrific again on Sunday, as Devin Hester (two returns, seven yards) was a non-factor in the return game. Three of Masthay’s four punts were downed inside the 20, too. With some dangerous weapons (Ted Ginn, 49ers; Darren Sproles, Saints) looming in the playoffs, the Packers can have a lot of confidence in their punter to put a cap on the opponent’s special teams weapon.
The Packers did not commit a single penalty Sunday night…RB James Starks left the game in the third quarter with another ankle injury and didn’t return…Rodgers broke Lynn Dickey’s franchise record for passing yards in a season. He finished Sunday’s game with 283 yards, which puts him at 4,643 yards for the season…As was the case last week, the Packers were dominated in total plays (70-51) and time of possession (35:48-24:12).——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2