With the Packers trailing 3-0 at halftime, the Bears appeared to be in prime position to add to their lead after cornerback Charles Tillman picked off quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the offense’s first play of the second half. Tillman made a diving grab in front of wide receiver Greg Jennings at the Chicago 43 before getting up to return the interception all the way to the Green Bay 15.
“Sometimes it can take the wind out of your sails when the offense gives the ball to the other team and you’ve got to go out and play defense, but we kind of look forward to it,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “When we run out there, we always say, ‘This is what we do.’
“It doesn’t matter what situation we are put in, we’ve got to get the ball back for the offense and create field position. That’s the mindset we have when we go out there, whether we’re backed up or whatever. We kind of look forward to those adverse situations, so we just tried to make the best of it and make something happen.”
On first down, linebacker Clay Matthews brought down running back Matt Forté on a run off right end for no gain, and guard Roberto Garza was flagged for a holding penalty to push the Bears back to the 25. On the next play, linebacker A.J. Hawk and cornerback Charles Woodson made a nice play to push Forté out of bounds for no gain on a swing pass, and then linebacker Erik Walden chased down Cutler from behind as he scrambled on second down for a 1-yard pickup that set up third-and-19.
Working out of the shotgun, Cutler stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure from defensive end Jarius Wynn on the right side, and lofted a pass for wide receiver Johnny Knox near the left side of the end zone. Peprah was there to make a leaping interception in front of Knox as a prime scoring opportunity for the Bears slipped away.
“I think he got pressured and started moving a little bit in the pocket it looked like to me,” Peprah said. “He just kind of threw it up and made an easy play for me to make a play on the ball.
“We were in Cover-2 so I just tried to stay deep and I kind of kept him in my vision. I kind of kept him in the corner to make it a harder throw and thankfully he threw it to me.”
Although the Packers turned the ball over a franchise-record low 16 times last season, opposing offenses were able to turn those giveaways into 70 points, an average of 4.38 points allowed per giveaway that was the highest in the league.
It was a different story for the Green Bay defense in 2010, with Tillman’s interception marking the Packers’ 22nd and final giveaway of the season. Off those 22 turnovers, Green Bay’s allowed just three touchdowns, the fewest given up by Green Bay since the statistic began being recorded by STATS in 1995. Opponents scored a total of just 39 points off the 22 takeaways, an average of 1.77 points that was the best mark by Green Bay since 2000 (1.70).
Peprah’s interception wasn’t the only time the defense prevented the Bears offense from generating anything from solid field position. Later in the third quarter with the score tied at 3, Chicago took over at midfield after safety Danieal Manning posted a 28-yard return of a short Mason Crosby kickoff. But defensive Howard Green brought Cutler down for a 9-yard loss on first down and Walden posted his second sack of the day on third down to force a Bears punt.
“I think we just buckle down and know that we can’t let them in,” Peprah said. “That’s the one thing we try to focus on, is have the No. 1 scoring defense. If they come down there at most we have to let them have three. Someone just has to make a big play when the time comes and we did it today.”
Green Bay limited the Bears to just a 30-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the second quarter, the third game this season that the Packers kept their opponent out of the end zone. With the three-point outing, the Packers finished No. 2 in the league in scoring defense at 15.0 points per game (Pittsburgh 14.5), the best mark by a Green Bay defense since the 1996 Super Bowl champion team led the league at 13.1.
“We have been playing well on defense, and we felt no matter what the circumstances were, with them getting that turnover, that we would hold up defensively,” Woodson said. “To come out of that without giving them any points was huge. We just had to keep on playing. We knew that the offense eventually would come around and at least get a score. They did that and we were able to hold onto it.”
To do that the defense had to come up with one final stand to protect Green Bay’s 10-3 lead in the closing seconds. Cutler led Chicago’s offense from its own 2-yard line to the Packers’ 32 behind three of Chicago’s five third-down conversions (5-of-16 on the day). On second-and-10 with 20 seconds remaining, Cutler’s throw sailed over the head of wide receiver Devin Hester, and safety Nick Collins was there to make the pick at the 11-yard line to clinch the victory and a berth in the postseason.
“I just saw the ball coming my way,” Collins said. “We were in half-field. I was in my half of the field and they did an all-go special, so I was just able to read Cutler and jump in front and make a nice pick.”
For a defense that has allowed just 20 points combined in a playoff-type atmosphere over the past two weeks as the Packers faced elimination, the task now is to carry that over into the Wild Card game at Philadelphia next Sunday.
“It shows that we’ve got a shot, and now we’re in the playoffs,” Woodson said. “The intensity that we played with today, we’ve got to keep playing with that intensity throughout. We can’t have a repeat of what happened last year.
“This playoff game we’ve got to come out and play with the same fire we played with today, and good things will happen.”