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Pack Attack is Back! Without a Big Day from Rodgers, Defense Leads Green Bay Past Chicago, Advance to Super Bowl XLV

The eyes of Texas are smiling upon the Green Bay Packers.  As the Packers won their third straiaght road game in the playoffs, conquering long-time rival Chicago 21-14 in the NFC Championship game. Next stop:  Arlington, Texas, the site of Super Bowl XLV.

For the first time in 13 years, the green and yellow team nicknamed “Titletown” heads back to the biggest show in sports.  Led by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers will be making their fifth appearance in the Super Bowl.  How fitting was it for Rodgers and the Packers given the circumstances?

Rodgers has been the darling at the center of all the playoff attention in Green Bay.  His remarkable play in the playoffs has led to his rapid ascention to the top of the quarterbacking heap in the NFL.  And perhaps no one has replaced a legend quicker than Rodgers has in Lambeau.  Now, admittedly he wasn’t at his best on Sunday afternoon.  Against the Bears, he hasn’t been.  Rodgers threw for 244 yards but was intercepted twice and for the first time in his four playoff starts, he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

With their biggest team effort, it was the Packers’ running game and defense picking up Rodgers’ slack.  Long gone was leading rusher Ryan Grant, who was lost in the first game of the season.  The out-of-nowhere story of RB James Starks continues, as Starks rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown.  In three playoff starts, Starks has 263 yards rushing while bringing stability and a much needed balanced attack to a pass happy offense.  On the day, the Packers rushed for 120 total yards.

This one appeared to be a Green Bay track meet early on.  Again, there was Rodgers leading the Packers on an 80-yard scoring drive to start the game, 7-0.  Before the Bears could settle in, they were down 14-0 thanks to a 4-yard touchdown run by Starks.  But, as much as the offense carried the Packer to an early, comfortable lead, it was the defense that led the rest of the way and allowed Green Bay to play in the first week of February.

The Bears hold the nickname the Monsters of the Midway, but the Packers’ defense turned in a monster effort.  Green Bay forced three interceptions, with DT BJ Raji returning the Bears’ second interception 18 yards for the decisive touchdown.  Raji, along with fellow interior lineman Cullen Jenkins, simply couldn’t be contained the Bears’ offensive line.  Perhaps it’s time to give CB Sam Shields a lot more press.  Deservedly so, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews tend to dominate the story lines regarding the Green Bay defense.  But it was Shields who stole the show on Sunday.  From undrafted to starting cornerback to the Super Bowl, it was Shields’ two picks, the second sealing the win for Green Bay, along with a sack and a forced fumble, that has the Packers on the road to achieve their ultimate goal. 

The 182nd game versus Green Bay will be one to forget for Chicago.  Losing on their home field and watching the Packers celebrate was bad enough.  But the story within the story surrounds Jay Cutler, who was injured sometime around the end of the first half and didn’t not return to the game in the third quarter.  A hero last week with four total touchdowns against Seattle, now a week later and Cutler is viewed as a heel.  The severity of Cutler’s injury is not known.  That won’t be any consolation for Bears fans.  Cutler finished the game with 80 yards on 6-of-14 passing and one interception.

When it was deemed that Cutler wouldn’t be able to finish the game, enter Todd Collins.  Yes, that Todd Collins, former Bills starter.  His day lasted just two series and four incompletions.  Largely ineffective, the Bears faced a surreal, nightmare situation of turning to their third string quarterback, Caleb Hanie.  It’s the playoffs.  You truly never can fathom what’s going to happen.

But as it turns out, Hanie was the most effective of the three, throwing for 153 yards and a touchdown to WR Earl Bennett that pulled the Bears to within 21-14 with under five minutes to play.  Hanie even had the Bears into Packers’ territory at the end of the game, only to throw a game-ending interception to Shields on fourth down.  His first interception was a killer, as he never saw Raji back off the line and drop back into coverage.  He was looking for a dump off to Matt Forte, only to find Raji instead.

It’s hard not to tip your cap to the Bears for remaining resilient throughout the afternoon, specifically after Cutler’s injury.  Sure, this loss will linger for quite some time and there are no moral victories but to turn to your third string quarterback and still have a chance to tie the game at the end says something about Chicago’s tenacity.

But it’s Green Bay who remains on the road to the Super Bowl and Chicago must get off at the next exit.  It wasn’t Rodgers’ finest day.  He wasn’t Superman, but with the way the Packers defense performed he didn’t need to be.  After forcing three interceptions and forcing the Bears to use three different quarterbacks, it was Raji, Shields and the rest of the Cheesehead defenders who performed like monsters.

Deservingly so, Green Bay outlasted their oldest rival to return to the big show. 

Next stop:  Arlington, Texas

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