Packers earn trip to Super Bowl
BY SEAN JENSEN
The Green Bay Packers celebrate as Sam Shields (37) intercepts the ball in the final seconds of the NFC Championship at Soldier Field, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
With the Halas Trophy at stake, for the right to play for the Lombardi Trophy, the Packers ultimately paid more homage to their icon than the Bears did on Sunday.
In only the second postseason match up of this rivalry, which dates back to 1921, the Packers defeated the Bears 21-14 at Soldier Field to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
The Bears won the coin toss, but they deferred to the second half, hoping that their defense would set the tone. But, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers continued his hot play, completing his first two passes for 48 yards – what it took his counterpart, Jay Cutler, to eclipse in the second quarter.
The Packers needed just seven plays in four minutes to move 84 yards for a 7-0 lead, capped by Rodgers’ one-yard diving score on a naked bootleg. Meanwhile, the Bears offense generated just 35 yards in the entire quarter, and picking up just one first down.
After falling behind 14-0, the Bears had some hope in the final minute of the first half, when linebacker Lance Briggs intercepted a ball that bounced off of Packers receiver Donald Driver’s shoe.
But Cutler threw an interception two plays later to Packers cornerback Sam Shields, when he attempted a deep pass on the left sideline to receiver Johnny Knox.
After a three-and-out series to open the second half, Cutler was announced as questionable to return with a knee injury, and backup quarterback Todd Collins trotted out for two forgettable series before third-stringer Caleb Hanie – at the start of the fourth quarter – gave his team some much-needed momentum.
Hanie completed a 32-yard pass to Knox, who got a sliver of space from cornerback Tramon Williams, and got the ball to the 1, where running back Chester Taylor scored from.
Collins, who threw four interceptions in his only start of the season, couldn’t complete a single pass on four attempts Sunday, before the coaches moved on to Hanie.
And the young Hanie made the game interesting, leading the previously stagnant Bears offense to two touchdowns. But Hanie also made two costly mistakes, throwing an interception to defensive tackle B.J. Raji, that was returned 15 yards for a touchdown, and throwing another in the final minute to cornerback Sam Shields.
In the first half, though, Bears coach Lovie Smith twice punted the ball from Packers’ territory. One was understandable; 53 yards into the wind. But he also passed on a 49-yard attempt with the wind before halftime. In pregame warm ups, kicker Robbie Gould was making kicks from 51 yards out.
Rodgers was 17 of 30 for 244 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Hanie was 13 of 20 for 153 yards with one touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bears running back Matt Forte finished with 70 yards on 17 carries, and 10 catches for 90 yards. Devin Hester was held without a catch for the second consecutive game against the Packers.