The Green Bay Packers are the 2012 NFC North Champions.
With all the team has been through this season, winning the division is quite the accomplishment. After the Chicago Bears started the season 7-1 and the Packers limped to a 5-3 start, it seemed like the Packers would have to take the long road to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
Thanks to masterful roster building by general manager Ted Thompson and another brilliant coaching job by head coach Mike McCarthy (as well another epic collapse by the Bears), the Packers have won their second straight NFC North title.
The Packers wrapped up the division with a 21-13 victory over the Bears Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. After spotting the Bears an early 7-0 lead, the Packers scored 21 unanswered points en route to the victory. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdowns, all to wide receiver James Jones, and the defense once again made life miserable for Jay Cutler.
Here’s who stood out for the Packers in the division-clinching victory as well as those who left some things on the field.
WR James Jones
All Jones does is catch touchdowns.
With injuries beleaguering Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings most of the season, Jones has stepped up to the plate and became the unsung hero of the Packers offense this season. With all the attention paid to Nelson and Jennings plus the emergence of Randall Cobb, not enough attention has been paid to Jones who leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions.
Someone on offense usually has a big day against the Bears. In the past it was Jermichael Finley and on Sunday it was Jones. He accounted for all three Packers touchdowns including one beautiful back shoulder catch (which was a wonderful throw by Rodgers too).
Once the Packers get Nelson back, they now have a four headed monster at receiver (Nelson, Jennings, Cobb and Jones). If they can continue to establish the run, the Packers will be a formidable foe in January.
LB Clay Matthews
Everyone knows how important Matthews is to the Packers defense and Sunday just solidified that belief.
Matthews, in first game back since injuring his hamstring, brought fire to a defense that definitely needed it. His two sacks were the most by any Packer in a game since he left and his presence alone changes the way the opponent’s offense attacks the Packers defense.
As for that sack dance, stick with “The Predator.” As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
DE Mike Neal
This was a performance many have been waiting a long time for.
Neal flashed all sorts of potential in training camp since he was drafted, but for whatever reason he couldn’t stay healthy. Neal so far has had much better luck on the injury front in 2012. Neal needed to step up with CJ Wilson out for the year and so far he has not disappointed.
He finished the game against the Bears with 1.5 sacks and was part of a disruptive defensive line that made life difficult all game for Cutler.
Neal seems to be coming into his own and at the perfect time. If he can continue to improve, that’s one more weapon on a defensive line that suddenly is looking better and better each week.
K Mason Crosby
Crosby earns the “Obvious Lame Call of the Week” Award.
Something is wrong with Crosby and it is breaking more and more each week. McCarthy again this week (almost incredulously) said he’s sticking with Crosby. It’s a decision that pretty much goes against all forms of common sense in the NFL.
You can understand why changing kickers now would be questionable. It’s the middle of December when kicking conditions at Lambeau are not ideal.
That said, McCarthy’s logic is flawed here can only hope it’s not fatally flawed. If the Packers lose a playoff game on a missed Crosby field goal, McCarthy is going to hear about it all offseason. It will almost be worse than the aftermath of the loss to the Giants last year.
Make a change, Mike. Please.
LT Marshall Newhouse
This might be a bit of a nitpick since he was up against Julius Peppers, but Marshall had some issues on Sunday.
Peppers is an All Pro and is tough to block, but Newhouse has faced him enough times now that getting absolutely blown up by Peppers is just not acceptable. If Newhouse wants to make it as a starting offensive tackle in this league, he’s going to have to at least slow down the big boys and he hasn’t done it.
Newhouse has been up and down as a starter, but he’s a solid backup. Is he serviceable? Probably. Still, every time you lean on Rodgers’ mobility you’re putting mileage on the quarterback and that’s going to catch up with the Packers eventually.
The special teams, uh, “lateral”
A lot of people were blaming special teams coordinator Sean Slocum for that awful lateral from Cobb to Jeremy Ross, but anytime any type of trickery is going to go onto the field it has to go through McCarthy.
That play needs to be burned. Changing things up once in a while is fine, but why at that point? The Packers were up 11 and the Bears offense had been atrocious all game. It was one of the worst calls the Packers have made since McCarthy took over in 2006.
Did they get a little cocky after all the trick play success on special teams earlier this season? Possibly. That still doesn’t excuse a brutal call that gave the Bears hope in a game they had no business even being in.
Stick the knife in. Don’t get cute.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke