Packers 21, Bears 13: Game Balls and Lame Calls

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QB Jay Cutler and the Bears’ hopes for a division title went down for the count against Mike Neal and the Packers

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.

Game Balls

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.

Lame Calls

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.

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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.

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  • Tarynfor12

    I cast an early vote for the Packers MVP…James Jones!!!

  • FireMM

    This was one of those games that was a really gratifying win, and left you pulling out your hair at the same time.

    The win was another grind it out victory that generally feels better after it is over than a 35-10 blowout.

    But the problem is this game could have been a 35-10 blowout.

    Crosby 2 missed field goals

    MM with maybe the worst coaching decision of his life

    Rodgers barely missing Cobb when he was as wide open as a guy can get against a cover 2.

    Things feel like they are starting to come together for this team. They have been scratching and clawing to get wins and it feels like they are very close to becoming a dominant team in the NFC.

    They have a defense that is getting better every week. A running game that has rushed for over a 100 yards in 3 straight games, the first time that has happened since 2006. And a WR corp that is starting to click. Jennings draws quite a bit of attention and guys like Finley and Cobb are benefiting from that.

  • ScottS

    I disagree with the lame call on the lateral. The result was lame but if it works it slams the door on the bears and we’re all calling McCarthy a ballsy genius. Packers knew they were winning on both sides of the ball and they took a chance to break the game open. I really like that McCarthy doesn’t always play it safe. Especially against the bears.

    • Oppy

      I’m 180 degrees on this one.

      I have no problem with the play design.
      I have a HUGE problem with the play call at that point in the game.

      When you know you are winning on both sides of the ball, as you put it, you keep doing what you’re doing and finish the game. You don’t pull out a high-risk play call deep in your own territory (punt return) where a mishap could lead to a turn over and possibly put the opponent right back into the game with a score.

      We dodged a bullet on an ill-advised play call. That kind of call should be reserved for when your team desperately needs a momentum swing (we didn’t) or when your team just can’t seem to get any traction and is struggling to keep up (we weren’t).

    • Ron LC

      Ifs don’t count in the NFL. The situation at the time said fair catch and start a drive that would have resultedin a dagger by Laravee. Bad Call!

      • FireMMNow

        The worst part about it for me was MM said Rodgers injury played a factor in the fake punt play call. But then 10 minutes later when they are trying to run out the clock he calls a roll out right with rodgers. Cannot have it both ways MM. You made one of the worst calls I can remember as a packer. Own it and move on. But do not try to justify it. Packer fans are pretty knowledgable and they will not buy it.

        • Lucas

          He did own it. He said he wants that call back. He has moved on. We haven’t.

          • FireMMNow

            He tried to justify it. That is what I did not care for. He is not going to want to hear excuses when a WR does not read the defense properly and a ball gets intercepted. he did not read the situation properly and made a bad call. no justification, just a mistake.

            MM is a fantastic coach, that was just an awful awful lapse in judgement from a coach that generally has very good judgement.

            • Lucas

              But he would expect a WR to explain what he saw on the field and defend why he made his decision. MM gave his motivation behind it; accepted the blame. Is there a difference between providing the thinking behind a decision and justification? He didn’t excuse it away. At least he had reasons, and those reasons he has now said weren’t very good reasons. A good reason doesn’t excuse, but does explain. I felt he explained.

  • Chad Lundberg

    I know I’m the only person who believes this, so go ahead and give me a thumbs down. But I liked the pass from Cobb on that fake return. Ross was wide open, and had a large gap in front of him so there was a lot of potential on that play. He just didn’t catch the ball.

    The same was with the pass from Masthay. Yeah, it didn’t work, but it still could have if Masthay only hadn’t gotten greedy and just thrown it to Ryan Taylor who was right in front of him.

    I’ve always felt that McCarthy never takes any chances, so to see him attempt creative little schemes like these gives me some hope. Even when they do fall flat, it’s just nice to see McCarthy actually trying something a little different.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      No Chads, Ross had two bears players “bearing” down on him. He was not wide open and it would not have resulted in much of anything. regardless, it was STUPID. Playing with fire when you have a win in the bag. STUPID.

      • Chad Lundberg

        Ok, I watched the coaches film, and it just looks to me like Ross (if he had only caught it), could have ran to his right and gained some huge yardage. And there have been a few calls by McCarthy that were very gutsy and worked this season. The one’s that didn’t work were just poorly executed.

        For the sake of the argument, let’s pretend we don’t believe that would have happened.

        That still doesn’t take away McCarthy finally showing a little backbone. That principle still applies here.

        I remember when the Packers played the Bears on Monday Night Football. 1:44 left on the clock, and the Bears are trying to run into the end-zone like a bunch of clowns. There’s Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico saying “what do you do? let them run it in, yeah”.

        McCarthy decided to play it safe and force the clock all the way down and have the Bears kick a game winning field goal.

        Here’s what I’m saying. Regardless of how the play went, it’s just nice to see McCarthy actually showing some back bone.

        • FireMMNow

          There is a difference between showing back bone and being reckless. This was a reckless call. Rodgers said it was not an “intelligent call” as well.

          If a team is trying to run out the clock with 2 minutes left and the other team has nine guys in the box you do not throw it deep. Just because a certain play has a chance of working does not mean it should be called. MM and Capers talk about situational football all the time. The situation did not call for a play like that. The bears had 190 yards in the game. It was a pointless playcall.

          • Lucas

            The reckless part was on the receiving end. Do I trust Cobb to make a good throw and a good decision with the ball? Do I trust Jeremy Ross to catch and run w/o fumbling?
            MM trusted Cobb and the play call or it wouldn’t have been called. However, what was he thinking in putting his trust in Ross? That was reckless.

          • Chad Lundberg

            Whenever you do make call a play like that, you have to do when the opponent isn’t expecting it. When should McCarthy have made that call in your opinion then?

            • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

              You make a call like that when you’re in desperation mode. Where the risk is mitigated by the fact you’re possibly going to lose anyway , so why not try to make something happen. When you have the game in the bag, it’s reckless.

              • Chad Lundberg

                I have my reasons for liking the call, but clearly you’ve made up your mind as well. We can do this all day, but it won’t change anything.

                All I can say is that I strongly disagree with you Al, and I’ll leave it at that.

            • FireMMNow

              Haha, this is a nice little logic question. There is another option…never make that call. I would be fine if he never made that call.

              Fans want coaches to “think outside the box” and “take risks”. Teams with good talent and good coaching do not need trick plays. Take the ball and give it to the best player in the NFL and let him do his thing.

              I am okay with fake field goals and fake punts when you are in the opponents territory because the risk is not that big. in the case of a fake punt you are giving the opponent the ball anyway. you may sacrifice twenty five yards but you are not guaranteeing the other team points if the play fails.

              In the case of a fake field goal you are obviously in the opponents territory, so the outcome of a failure is the loss of three points and a slight change in field position.

              But trick plays deep in your own territory very rarely are worth the risk. I did not like the fake punt earlier in the year when Kuhn went up the middle either. It worked and I was happy, but I thought it was a poor call.

              It was a two score game when MM made that call. He knows that the failure of that play in all likelihood will result in the other team getting atleast 3 points and making it a once score game.

              • Chad Lundberg

                I have my reasons for liking the call, but clearly you’ve made up your mind as well. We can do this all day, but it won’t change anything.

                All I can say is that I strongly disagree with you FireMMNow (by the way, what’s your real name anyway, lol), and I’ll leave it at that.

              • Lucas

                I agree that it’s refreshing to see MM do something out of the standard box. I think we can all agree the result was poor. Even MM agrees it wasn’t a good decision.

    • Jason J

      Another reason I did not like that play was that now opponents have seen it and it is useless to the Packers if they really need it to break a close game open in the playoffs.

      On that note, one plus is that opponents will have seen it and have to respect Ross (or whoever they put over there) and have a player or two cover him in case they try it again. Splitting the coverage like this may allow Cobb to break a big return. Come to think of it, if they use Ross as a decoy and Cobb returns one for a TD, I will reconsider my judgement on this play.

  • frozentundra91

    Thought the whole d-line played really well. Mike Neal(as mentioned) as well as Raji and Pickett were absolute forces up front. That goal line stand was awesome. The few times I thought the defense played poorly were on the td to Marshall and the beginning of the opening drive for da Bears. Bloodline and company controlled the game, otherwise. One of the best defensive games of the season.

    That punt return pass…ugh. I think it had to do with some arrogance on the part of MM. To be fair, Ross looked ridiculous and he could have caught the pass. Shouldn’t happen again though.

    Newhouse played up to his usual standards. He’s a reliable backup and probably nothing more. Hopefully Sherrod can recover. Barclay should have gotten a lame call imo. He’s an udfa, I get that, but when he doesn’t get help his pass blocking is pretty bad. A-Rod is the most sacked qb in the nfl and there’s nothing more thats gonna be done this year but TT will hopefully figure something out for next year. Maybe BB, Sherrod, and one more 1-3rd draft pick will be the answer.

    A win is a win and the division dominance continues. Go Pack! And DA BEARS STILL SUCK!

  • Vikings Suck

    I’m not aware that C.J. Wilson is out for the year.

  • http://allpackers.co Nick Perry

    For the life of me I can’t understand how McCarthy can keep Crosby and not at least bring in another kicker when he says all players must be held accountable. This whole season M.M. has made some very odds calls. 3rd and 6 and running Kuhn up the middle about launched me out my window. He can’t pick up one yard so how in the hell is he getting 6! My point is several times we’ve heard M.M. say “I called a bad game”. Yet a week or two later he’s calling another “bad game”. I’m not suggesting that anything happen to M.M. but I would think if he’s not held accountable for things, does he really believe he’s going to be able to sell it to a group of grown men? This thing with Crosby is going to haunt the Packers and to hear M.M. say “I thought he’d snap out of it”, after Crosby pathetic aim knocks the Packers out of the playoffs is not going to be good enough. I would imagine he’d begin to lose his players about 2 seconds after the game. If I worked for him that’s the 1st thing I’d ask because I sure as hell couldn’t respect a thing he said anymore. Common Rodgers, nothing but TD’s!!!

  • philip

    if it ain’t broke, fix it til it is.

  • Mudduckcheesehead

    I don’t see why everyone is hating on Clay’s “Ravishing Rick Rude” dance. I’m with Zach Kruse on this one — I thought it was awesome. What a great way to rub the Bears’ noses in it. On their own field, no less.

    I’d love to see him break it out in the Metrodome in a couple weeks. Give those obnoxious Vikes fans something to stew about after we end their season. Ponder that.

    • Mudduckcheesehead

      Whoops. Meant to say I’m with Adam Czech on that one. Credit where credit’s due.

    • FireMMNow

      Agreed. I did not get the ravishing rick rude reference until Adam brought it up. I love wrestling references. I am not a fan now but the stuff back in the day when i was a kid is hilarious.

      I would love to see pickett break out a bushwacker after a sack.

  • FITZCORE1252

    Wilson is done for the year? I hope that’s a typo.

    GBP 4 LIFE

  • Russell

    According to Jimmy Johnson, when a kicker has lost his confidence, it’s time to bring in a new kicker. He goes on to say that it takes about a year and a half for him to gain his confidence back.
    I have this gut feeling that keeping Crosby is going to bite the Packers in hide.
    I wonder how the rest of the team feels when they line up for a field goal? Probably nervous like the test of Packers Nation.