Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2010 NFC Championship Game Review of Packers/Bears

The Green Bay Packers met the Chicago Bears for the 182nd time on Sunday, January 23, 2011 but that was only their second post-season meeting all-time. The first post-season meeting between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears came on December 14, 1941 at Wrigley Field. The Bears won round one but the Packers won round two beating the Bears 21-14 for the right to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in the Jerry Dome in North Texas.

The Green Bay Packers became the 10th different NFC Champion in the last 10 years*. With only 16 teams in the entire NFC that leaves only six other NFC teams that have not won the NFC Championship in the last 10 years**. Of those six NFC teams only the Detroit Lions, thanks in large part to Matt Millen, have not won at least one playoff game since 2000. The NFL thrives on parity and the NFC sure does its part to send new teams to the Super Bowl year in and year out.

At kickoff it was downright balmy in the north end zone where Cheesehead Chick and I took in the game thanks to my very generous Uncle Phil and Uncle Tony. Once the sun went down between the 3rd and 4th quarter it got cold but it was actually really pleasant weather-wise for the first three quarters. Here are the "nuggets of information" that I gleaned from the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 deemed "Epic Showdown" by the souvenir cup:

Greg Jennings:
Starting with the first drive, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Greg Jennings were in sync. Rodgers found Jennings on consecutive plays to pick up 22 and 26 yards respectively. That helped Jennings on his way to amassing 8 catches for 130 yards. It took Rodgers almost two months to get on the same page with Jennings but as the NFC Championship showed, they are clicking on all cylinders now.

Jay Cutler's knee:
Just about everyone and their mother weighed in on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's knee by now. In fact, there has been so much coverage that it went from NFL players being critical of Cutler to a backlash against those players for speaking out against Cutler. Right after the game the entire Chicago Bears organization from middle linebacker Brain Urlacher to head coach Lovie Smith and everyone in between backed Cutler. That lead to a reverse backlash that made the NFL players that spoke out against Cutler look foolish.

What was lost in the shuffle is that Cutler played much worse (6 for 14, 80 passing yards, and 1 interception) than the Bears’ 3rd-string quarterback Caleb Hanie (13 for 20, 163 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions). Cutler will most likely be the Bears quarterback for the next decade and his post-season performance will define how he is perceived in Chicago. If Cutler wants, he could have the city of Chicago eating out of his hand but that is not how he chooses to play it. Now Cutler's play on the field will have to improve in the playoffs or he will be remember for his knee as opposed to being the most physically gifted quarterback in Chicago Bears history.

Tim Masthay:
After not even having to punt last week against the Atlanta Falcons, Packers punter Tim Masthay helped take the heat off embattled special teams coach Shawn Slocum. Of Masthay's 8 punts, all of them landed inside the Bears' 20-yard line***. The Bears only had 48 punt return yards and 22 of them went to Earl Bennett on one return. Devin Hester (possibly the best punt return man in NFL) was limited to three punt returns for 16 yards. Masthay's stat line for the day, 8 punts for an average of 41.8 (34.5 net) yards with five punts pinning the Bears inside their own 20-yard line.

B.J. Raji's Interception:
Packers’ defensive tackle B.J. Raji being left off the Pro Bowl team is moot since he would be unable to participate. Raji’s performance against the Bears shows exactly why he deserved to be invited to the Pro Bowl though. Although Raji only recorded one tackle in the game, he was consistently double-teamed. Those double-teams opened up lanes for other defenders to make plays. All of that is window dressing to Raji's interception that he returned for a touchdown. The pick-six came with 6 minutes left in the game to put the Packers up 21-7. That play helped the Packers punch their Super Bowl ticket.

The Packers drafted Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Although Matthews gets more praise because of the sack numbers he puts up, with out Raji occupying blockers, there is no way Matthews has any where close to the same production. Raji is one of the best up and coming defensive linemen in the NFL. I'll take it one step further; the NFC North might have the two best defensive tackles in the entire NFL over the next decade in B.J. Raji and Detroit's Ndamukong Suh.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz's play calling:
Of the 64 offensive plays Martz called, the worst was the 3rd and 3 play call from the Packers' 27-yard line with 1:15 remaining in the game. Coming out of a timeout, Martz called an end around to wide receiver Earl Bennett. Packers’ middle linebacker Desmond Bishop tackled Earl Bennett for a two-yard loss on the play setting up a 4th and 5 from the Packers' 29-yard line with 47 second remaining. Martz had extra time to think about the play call and that's what he dialed up? Bennett is possibly the slowest wide receiver on the Bears' entire roster. Even if the play were dialed up for wide receiver Devin Hester it would be a questionable play call.

The only positive thing Martz did all day was that he kept running back Matt Forte heavily involved in the game. For the day Forte amassed 160 yards (70 rushing and 90 receiving) on 27 touches. After Forte the rest of the offensive superstars were non-existent: Johnny Knox had 2 catches for 56 yards, Devin Hester had no catches, and Greg Olsen had 3 catches for 30 yards. The Bears played half the game with a backup quarterback but that still does not excuse Martz from failing to get Devin Hester a single touch from the line of scrimmage in the NFC Championship game.

Sam Shields:
Packers rookie undrafted cornerback Sam Shields came up with three huge plays on the day:
#1) Strip-fumble sack of Cutler that was recovered by Forte.
#2) Interception of Cutler at the end of the first half at the Packers' 3-yard line to keep the Packers up 14-0 going into halftime.
#3) Interception of Haine with 37 seconds left in the game at the Packers' 12-yard line to seal the victory.

Here is my only complaint about Shields. Much like cornerback Tramon Williams against the Eagles two weeks ago, why did Shields try and return the interception? Shields picked the ball off with 37 seconds remaining in the game so the only way the Packers could lose the game at that point was if Shields fumbled the interception. It looked like Shields was trying for a pick-six. Sam Shields is one of the fastest players in the NFL but he has to be more aware of the game situation. Especially after Williams made the same mistake a few weeks ago, Shields should have learned and simply went down. Just to end on a positive note, Shields became only the 4th player in NFL Playoff history to intercept two passes and force a fumble in the same game.

Rodgers tackling Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher:
On 3rd and goal, eating the ball is much better option than throwing an interception. If the score were 17-0, the Packers essentially would have iced the game. Instead Rodgers gave the Bears life again. After throwing the Favre-like interception, at least Rodgers tackled middle linebacker Brian Urlacher at the Bears' 45-yard line to save a touchdown.

Bears Defense:
As Peter King pointed out in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, the Chicago Bears defense only allowed 14 points in 13 offensive drives in the NFC Championship Game. Furthermore, excluding kneel downs, the Packers offense only scored 41 points (5 touchdowns) on 34 possessions in the three meetings this season. For the day, the Packers were 1 for 8 on 3rd down. It was the tale of two halves. After surrendering 252 yards in the first half, the Bears only gave up 104 yards in the second half. Long story short, it was a typical Bears performance...great defense backed up by a horrible offensive performance.

What does this all mean?
The NFC is sending their second 10-win team to the Super Bowl since 2007****. Packer fans remember that the Giants beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay to head to the Super Bowl. I attended that frigid game in person at Lambeau Field with my buddy Fernando. Seeing the Packers’ victory in person with Cheesehead Chick over the Bears at Soldier Field helped erase the loss to the Giants. It was sweet once the game was over but downright nerve racking being a fan of the road team in the NFC Championship Game. Kudos to Bears fans though, most were cordial and quite complimentary once the game finished.

The Packers joined three other NFL teams that have won three consecutive road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl:
- 2007 New York Giants - Won the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots
- 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers - Won the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks
- 1985 New England Patriots - Lost the Super Bowl to the Chicago Bears

Finally, the 2010 Green Bay Packers became the first team since the AFL/NFL merger to never trail by more than 7 points through the NFC Championship Game. If you have read this far, you clearly have enough time to watch's highlights of the NFC Championship Game.

Check back for more coverage of Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

* – St. Louis Rams in 2001, Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, Carolina Panthers in 2003, Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, Seattle Seahawks in 2005, Chicago Bears in 2006, New York Giants in 2007, Arizona Cardinals in 2008, and New Orleans Saints in 2009.
** – Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins.
*** – Bears' 13-yard line, Bears' 3-yard line, Bears' 11-yard line, Bears' 16-yard line, Bears' 11-yard line, Bears' end zone, Bears' 10-yard line, and Bears' 18-yard line.
**** – The NFC also sent a 9-win Arizona Cardinals team in 2008.

1 comment:

  1. And lastly there are last periods champions, the Baltimore Parrots. Currently at 8-6 and stream nfl games competitive with Nevada for that last recognize in this years 2017 playoffs, the Parrots are another group on a hot capability looking to be a aspect of the party.