CHICAGO — With one championship under their belt, the Green Bay Packers are already eyeing a few others.
Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on all three touchdowns, Clay Matthews continued his dominance of Jay Cutler with two more sacks and Green Bay clinched its second straight NFC North title with a 21-13 victory over the archrival Chicago Bears on Sunday.
After starting the season 2-3, the Packers are showing signs they might have a run in them like the one that carried them to the Super Bowl title two years ago. They have assured themselves of a home playoff game and, at 10-4, are still in the running for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
“We’re just getting started,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We feel that way as a football team. We feel there’s a lot better football in front of us.”
Chicago, meanwhile, continues to slide. This was the Bears‘ fifth loss in six games, and they’re in danger of missing the playoffs after beginning the season 7-1. Chicago (8-6) lost ground in the race for the last wild-card spot, and fans at Soldier Field showered the team with boos for much of the game.
Cutler had another dismal day against the Packers, throwing an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown. He’s been picked off 17 times by the Packers, including 10 in his last five games. Alshon Jeffery was whistled for three offensive pass interference calls, all late in the second half when the Bears were scratching to get something going.
Marshall had Chicago’s only touchdown, but had just 56 yards receiving. The Bears were held to 67 yards of offense in the second half and finished with 190, their third-lowest of the season. The Packers have now won six straight against their rivals to the south.
“Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs,” said Brandon Marshall, who struggled to compose himself as he spoke before cutting short his post-game interview. “It’s been this way all year. There’s no excuse. We still have two games left. There’s still hope, but at the same time, we need to be held accountable.”
It was Marshall who turned the heat up on what is already the NFL’s oldest — and fiercest — rivalry earlier in the week, saying he’d never disliked a team as much as he did the Packers. Green Bay had held him to 24 yards on two catches in their first meeting back in September, and the NFL’s receptions leader called the rematch “personal,” adding, “But the talk, you have to back it up. We’ll go out there and we’ll do everything we need to do to get a win.”
Marshall did his part early, firing up the Chicago sideline when he sidestepped one tackle and stiff-armed Casey Hayward on his way to the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown that gave Chicago a 7-0 lead. He screamed as he tossed the ball into the stands, and his teammates and the crowd roared in approval. Joe Anderson fueled the frenzy when he body-slammed Randall Cobb on the ensuing kickoff, and the Bearsappeared to be firmly in control.
But overcoming adversity has become second nature to the Packers with the season they’ve had, and this game was no different.
“We don’t try to trash talk,” cornerback Sam Shields said. “When we get on the field we trash talk, but not in the paper. We let our actions show on the field.”
“That was important. That was really important,” Rodgers said of the 14-point swing. “We couldn’t them get up a couple scores and get into what they wanted to do, which it looked like they wanted to run (Matt) Forte a lot. Getting ahead of them kind of took them out of some of that stuff.”
Having already been sacked twice, Rodgers was on the run again on third-and-6 when he spotted Cobb down the right sideline. He threw a dart to Cobb, who hauled it in for a 31-yard gain that put the Packersat the Chicago 35. Three plays later, Rodgers connected with Jones for a 29-yard score that tied the game at 7.