CHICAGO – The Packers are suddenly in control of their fate in the NFC North.
And suddenly is the operative word.
Seemingly reeling after a 17-point lead slipped away in the fourth quarter, the Packers made the play of their season so far, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit receiver Jordy Nelson deep on a 60-yard bomb, setting up a walk-off field goal.
Kicker Mason Crosby was good from 32 yards out, and the Packers were celebrating a dramatic 30-27 win over the Bears rather than lamenting one that almost got away.
“That was a heck of a football game,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.
With their fourth straight win, the Packers improved to 8-6 and are now just one game behind the 9-5 Lions in the division after Detroit lost to the Giants.
The Packers are playing the Lions in Week 17 at Ford Field and have a head-to-head win over Detroit already from Week 3, so if Green Bay wins its final two games, the Packers will be division champs.
“We just have to worry about ourselves,” Rodgers said. “At 27-10, it looked pretty good there, and we let them get back in it.
“We had to have a play and we made it.”
The chaos of the final sequence actually began on the play before the long pass. Starting guards Lane Taylor and T.J. Lang collided with one another, and both left the game with hip and back injuries, respectively.
Jason Spriggs and Don Barclay came in to substitute on third-and-11 with less than a minute to play, but the pass protection held up fine, and Nelson got behind Bears defensive back Cre’Von LeBlanc, hauling in Rodgers’ rainbow at the Chicago 14-yard line.
Out of timeouts, Rodgers then calmly came down the field, got everyone set at the line of scrimmage, and spiked the ball with 3 seconds left for Crosby.
“We went with a crossing pattern and had the post to Jordy behind it,” McCarthy said. “Jordy was able to get behind the safety. Great, clutch throw. Good protection, particularly on the edges giving Aaron the time.
“I just thought the whole orchestration of that was tremendous discipline and composure, especially to make that play.”
McCarthy first had to make the decision to go for the first down on third-and-11 with his offense doing nothing to that point in the fourth quarter. But Chicago had two timeouts left, so to concede would have meant a sure punt and no guarantee of overtime.
The Packers had gone three-and-out twice as the Bears scored two touchdowns and a field goal to wipe out Green Bay’s 27-10 lead.
On top of that, two catchable deep balls earlier in the game appeared to go through Nelson’s hands on an 11-degree day, but the veteran QB and receiver had put those miscues behind them.
“I told him we’d have to hit one before the end of the game, and sure enough we did,” said Rodgers, who finished 19-of-31 for 252 yards on a bad calf. Nelson tallied seven catches for 124 yards.
“I just tried to put enough air under it for him to run underneath it.”
The game wasn’t headed for such drama after the Packers scored 17 straight points in the third quarter to break free from a 10-10 halftime tie.
Three straight turnovers by the Packers’ defense – a strip-sack by Julius Peppers and two interceptions by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – led to the 17 points.
Running back Ty Mongtomery dodged and darted his way to 162 rushing yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns, and Christine Michael converted the third turnover into a score with a 42-yard TD burst.
Montgomery’s production was off the charts, as he cranked out runs of 61, 36 and 26 yards, proving he’ll be Green Bay’s feature back from here on out.
“He’s definitely classified as a big back,” McCarthy said. “He’s 225 pounds and he’s a beast. He breaks tackles and has that second gear to get going on the second level.”
Green Bay’s defense unraveled in the fourth quarter, though. Top cornerback Damarious Randall was sent to the bench after Chicago’s first TD drive, and Bears QB Matt Barkley got the hot hand after the rough third quarter.
Receivers Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Alshon Jeffery combined for 303 of Barkley’s 362 passing yards, and the Bears got all the way to first-and-goal on the 3 with less than two minutes left and a chance to take the lead.
A holding penalty was a brief reprieve, but the defense still had to stop the Bears twice from the 4, once on a run by Jordan Howard (17 carries, 90 yards, TD) and then on a Micah Hyde pass break-up against Meredith at the goal line.
Chicago opted to kick the field goal, and the Packers had 1:19 left after using all their timeouts on defense.
“Resiliency,” McCarthy said of his defense with the game on the line. “The run defense, the holding penalty, get them to third down. That’s the biggest stop of the day.”
Then came the biggest play of the year, and the banged-up Packers – who added linebacker Joe Thomas (shoulder) to their injury list, while Taylor returned to the game but there was no update provided on Lang – chalked up one heck of a dramatic win with the Vikings (Christmas Eve) and Lions (Jan. 1) on deck.
“This puts us in position to control our own destiny, and that’s all you can ask for at this time of year,” McCarthy said. “Especially going into two more division games, and especially with what we went through earlier.
“We’re getting stronger, our performance and our mentality, but we’ve got to get healthy.”
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