Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 Week 15 - Packers beat Bears to Clinch the 2012 NFC North Title

As a Packer fan and resident of Chicago since 2003, every Packers/Bears game feels like a playoff games, especially the ones played in Chicago.  Thanks to having uncles with Bears season tickets, I have been to nearly every Packers/Bears game in Chicago for the last decade.  Usually I've taken Cheesehead Chick or a buddy but this time I really wanted to go with Papa Cheese.  Luckily schedules worked out so Papa Cheese and I could enjoy the 186th installment of the Packers/Bears rivalry together at Soldier Field.

The Packers beat the Bears 21-13 to narrow the Bears' lead in the series to 92–88–6.  Instead of giving a blow-by-blow game recap of the game, which felt like a bigger blowout than the final score indicated, I decided to employ a gimmick of my favorite national football writer Peter King that he calls "10 Things I Think I Think":

#1) Three touchdown receptions by James Jones helped erase some of the horrible memories of him fumbling away a regular season win at Soldier Field in 2010.  I was dead wrong when I said that James Jones was the 4th most overpaid Packer going in the 2012 season.

#2) Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward's 6th interception completely changed the complexion of the game because it gave the Packers good field position in the waning moments of the first half, which they took advantage of by scoring a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has taken some heat over the years for his horrible body language but his reaction to Hayward's interception might have been an all-time low for Cutler.

#3) There is no doubt that Ryan Grant gives the Packers a fresh set of legs at running back but let's not get too excited about Grant.  There is a reason why Grant was a free agent for most of the season.  That doesn't even factor in Grant's fumble as the Packers were about to put the game out of reach.

#4) The Packers notching their 12th straight division win while clinching their 2nd straight NFC North title with two games left to play still does not mean they should get complacent, especially when a first round bye is within reach if the Packers win out and the 49ers lose one of their last two games.

#5) Head coach Mike McCarthy has made some bold special teams calls this season (think fake field goal against Bears and fake field punt against the Saints) that worked out, but dialing up a trick play with the Packers leaning 21-10 midway through the 4th quarter was downright foolish.  For those that don't know what I am talking about, return man extraordinaire Randall Cobb fielded the punt then threw the ball all the way across the field to Jeremy Ross for Ross's first touch in the NFL.  Some speculated that McCarthy called the fake because Rodgers tweaked his ankle but that presumes that McCarthy's high risk play call would definitely result in a touchdown, which is a stretch.  The smart play is to let Cobb return the kick and have back-up quarterback Graham Harrell play for a series while Rodgers received medial attention.  Thankfully the defense held the Bears to a field goal, otherwise the special teams blunder could have cost the Packers the game.

#6) Wow is it nice to have a healthy Clay Matthews.  Not only is Matthews one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, but you would be hard pressed to find a better rush outside linebacker that defends the run so well.  The only chink in Matthews's armor is that he does not drop into coverage very well.  I support Matthews occasionally spying the quarterback in passing situations but having him drop into coverage seems like a waste.

#7) Although Bears fans hate to agree, it was nice to finally see offensive pass interference called in an NFL game.  I get that three offensive pass interference calls against Alshon Jeffrey feels like too much since refs rarely call offensive pass interference but I applaud the referees for making the right calls.  Plus, if anyone deserves to get a few calls in their favor it is Sam Shields.

#8) Another game, another dreadful performance by placekicker Mason Crosby.  The first miss rivaled Crosby's miss as time expired against the Colts for the worst kick of his career.  The second miss struck the upright to make Crosby 0-2.  I hope I am wrong, but it feels like Crosby is going to have at least once kick with the game on the line in the playoffs, which gives me nightmares.

#9) There is no doubt that the Packers/Bears rivalry is the most historic in the NFL but it has been one sided, both ways, for long periods of time.  Take the current streak for the Packers, they just beat the Bears for the 6th straight time and it was their 8th win in their last 9 tries (only loss was the James Jones fumble game discussed above) to push head coach Mike McCarthy's record against the Bears to 10-5.

#10) Usually Peter King talks about non-football things for #10 so if I am going to borrow his column gimmick, I might as well do it properly.  If you've never been to Chicago, please put it on your bucket list for next summer.  The winters are harsh in the Midwest but the summers make up for it.  Do yourself a favor, come to Chicago the weekend of the Old Town Art Fair.  Besides checking out the art fair, try to catch (no pun intended) a Cubs' game from the bleachers at Wrigley Field, check out a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, tour one of the many museums in and around Grant Park (can't go wrong with the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, or the Field Museum), grab a bite to eat in Greek Town or Little Italy, attend a show at Second City, grab a night cap at the Hancock Tower, and grab brunch at one of the many tasty breakfast spots (I highly recommend Orange, Wishbone, or Yolk) on your way out of town.  I know some of those things sound touristy, but they are all worth it.

I am going to the Packers/Titans game next week at Lambeau so check back for my review of (hopefully) another Packers' win.

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