CHICAGO—The quiver in his voice made the words unnecessary.
“What a great football game. What a battle that was today,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said moments after his team had rallied for a 33-28 win over the Bears at Soldier Field, claiming the NFC North title and a playoff date with the 49ers next weekend at Lambeau Field.
“One of our finer moments,” McCarthy said, a “champions” hat on his head and his red challenge flag still in his right hip pocket.
McCarthy was able to speak with such pride and joy because he is the coach of arguably the best quarterback in the game. Aaron Rodgers defied logic by coming off seven weeks of inactivity and, with the season on the line, marching his offense 87 yards to the game-winning touchdown, which was a 48-yard completion to Randall Cobb on a fourth-down play about which McCarthy said:
“It was kind of a check-route call. Aaron and Randall made a phenomenal play. That’s two guys making a great play that’ll be running on the highlights during my time on Earth.”
The Bears attacked Rodgers with a pressure game plan the Packers weren’t expecting. There was another hero on the game-winning play, in addition to Rodgers and Cobb.
“It was definitely John Kuhn,” Rodgers said of the Packers fullback, who saw that Julius Peppers was about to come unblocked. Kuhn made a protection call, but “I don’t think the left tackle heard the check. John Kuhn is a big-time football player,” Rodgers added.
Kuhn cut-blocked Peppers, which allowed Rodgers to roll to his left and find Cobb. When Rodgers let the pass fly, Cobb was more than 10 yards in the clear.
“As soon as I came off the ball, I saw the safety was flat-footed, so I just threw my hand up. I knew there was going to be nobody where I was going to run the route to,” Cobb said.
Cobb was also in his comeback game. He hadn’t played since sustaining a leg injury on Oct. 13. He caught two passes on Sunday; both of them were for touchdowns.
Rodgers completed 25 of 39 passes for 318 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating. If he appeared a little rusty in the first half, he got back his old shine when it counted the most, making big plays at crunch-time moments. In addition to the fourth-and-8 touchdown pass to Cobb, Rodgers had previously completed a fourth-and-1 pass to Jordy Nelson.
“Aaron played great. They challenged us schematically,” McCarthy said of Bears Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker’s plan to blitz Rodgers, who showed a reluctance early in the game to scramble out of the pocket.
“We saw more pressure than they’ve shown in eight weeks. Mel Tucker was calling a different game than they had shown us. He came after us,” McCarthy added.
Rodgers made the Bears pay for their aggressiveness, and James Starks rushed for 88 yards and Eddie Lacy added 66 on a weak ankle, and the Packers dominated time of possession by more than 10 minutes. The Bears, however, held a 1-point lead when the Packers took possession of the ball with 6:24 to play and needing to move into range for a Mason Crosby field goal attempt.
“Aaron got it done down the stretch,” McCarthy said.
The same could be said of the Packers team that was forced to win critical games in December just to stay in playoff contention.
Where did this win rank all-time for Rodgers?
“Right near the top,” he said.
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