The spectacular road show marched on for the Green Bay Packers as they hung on to defeat the Chicago Bears 21–14 in the NFC championship game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
After nabbing their final road win of the postseason, the Packers will now be traveling to Arlington, Texas for Super Bowl XLV where they will try to win a fourth Lombardi trophy.
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the hot hand for the Packers in the postseason, in this game it was the defense that forced three turnovers, led by cornerback Sam Shields who had two interceptions—including a critical pick that came with seconds left in the game.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Rodgers in an on-field interview with FOX after the game. “You gotta give credit to our defense, I didn’t play my best game.”
The Packers clung for dear life in a game that was characterized by hard hits and nerve-wracking tension in a typical divisional grudge match.
Under ice-cold conditions, the home crowd at Soldier Field stood in frozen disbelief for the entire first-half as their Bears could do little to muster any kind of meaningful offense against Green Bay’s defense. The Bears were forced to punt nine times out of 14 possessions and converted only 1-of-13 conversions on third downs.
To their credit, the Bears defense played an excellent game as well, but in the end the three scores were too much for Chicago to overcome.
“We had a little bit of everything today,” said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “I can’t say enough about these players. They’re a great defense, and we were definitely up for the challenge.”
The Packers are trying to pull off what the New York Giants did in 2008 when they won three road games before winning the Super Bowl.
“We know about the Giants [winning three road games to go the Super Bowl], we got this thing going,” said McCarthy.
Aaron Rodgers wasn't spectacular but did enough to guide the Packers on two scoring drives and converted 17-of-30 passes for 244 total yards.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler had a much less effective performance throwing for only 80 total yards. Cutler was relieved in the second half by backup Todd Collins and then Caleb Hanie after leaving the game with a knee injury.
Hanie had decent numbers considering the magnitude of the occasion and his lack of experience, completing 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
Rodgers led the Packers on a scoring drive on their opening possession in the first quarter, going on a seven-play, 84-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by the Green Bay quarterback at 10:50 in the first quarter.
After forcing the Bears to punt on all three of their first quarter possessions, the Packers opened the second quarter with another scoring drive that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown at 11:13 by running back James Starks.
Again, just as they had in the first quarter the Bears struggled on offense in the second, punting twice and turning the ball over to the Packers' Shields who helped his team keep the Bears to zero first-half points after picking off Jay Cutler with eight seconds left in the quarter.
Things changed for Chicago in the second half.
The Bears finally got on the scoreboard at 12:02 in the fourth quarter after Hanie led them on an 8-play drive for 67 yards that was capped off by a 1-yard Chester Taylor touchdown run cutting the score to 14–7.
But Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji quieted the crowded at 6:04 by picking off Hanie and returning it 18 yards for the touchdown.
“I’m only in my second year and I’m going to the Super Bowl. I feel blessed,” Raji told FOX’s Terry Bradshaw in the locker room.
On the very next drive, the Bears came roaring back as Hanie led them on an 81-second, 4-play scoring drive and completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to receiver Earl Bennett at 4:43.
But the Bears would get no closer.
With less than a minute in the game and Hanie driving them down the field in an attempt to tie the score, Shields made the play of the game picking him off in the Packers red zone and returning the ball to mid field.