The Green Bay Packers clinched the # 1 NFC seed and home field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs on Sunday with a 35 – 21 victory over the Chicago Bears. The win runs the Packers’ season record to 14 – 1, something never achieved heretofore by a Packer team, and gives Cheeseheads a very nice Christmas present indeed.
Aaron Rodgers has had an incredible season and he almost single-handedly imposed his will upon the outcome of this game. Rodgers threw a club record-tying five touchdown passes on the day, a pair each to James Jones and Jordy Nelson. Rodgers’ performance came behind a patched-up offensive line that provided sound pass protection against a formidable Chicago defensive front. Watching Rodgers perform at the level he did Sunday at Lambeau was like watching a skilled maestro conduct a magnificent orchestra.
On the other hand, Cheeseheads cannot take much delight over the play of the Packer defense. For much of the game the reserve offensive players that the Bears trotted out Sunday ran roughshod over the Packer defense. The Packers were able to come up with a pair of interceptions which kept the Bears’ score down, but the ease at which the Bears were able to move the ball is of concern. The newbie Bear running backs racked up almost 200 yards rushing. Ryan Pickett was missing due to injury and I didn’t see anyone along the Packer defensive line playing quality football.
But back to Aaron Rodgers’ neighborhood…. this guy’s 2011 performance elevates him to a level on par with the very best quarterbacks ever to play professional football. Rodgers’ five touchdown passes bring his season total to 45. He has thrown only 6 interceptions and some of those weren’t his fault. That ratio is in the stratosphere, in proximity of the greatest years of Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, and Tom Brady. Cheeseheads have witnessed great quarterbacks in green and gold. Bart Starr, Lynn Dickey and Benedict #4 all had great careers in Titletown, but we have never seen a performance like this.
Whether or not Rodgers will be able to maintain his magic to cover the deficiencies of the Packer defense as we approach the playoffs will be the question. It is probably too late to expect much more from our defensive group as the problems we saw against the Bears have been evident all season long. It is quite amazing that the Packer defense has surrendered more yards of offense than any other team in the NFL (except 1) and still have a 14 – 1 record.
On a positive note, the Packers committed no penalties and no turnovers against the Bears. The special teams also played well. Next week hopefully Ryan Pickett will return to active duty and give the defense a boost.
The much-improved Detroit Lions visit Lambeau next week to close out the regular season. The Lions are playoff bound for the first time in many years and are full of steam after a convincing win over the San Diego Chargers last week. It is possible the Packers may face the Lions again in the playoffs, so how Mike McCarthy plays his hand in the season finale will be interesting. I would not be surprised to see Rodgers, Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews III and a few others “rested” in this game to guard against injuries.