Twenty-five years after “The Fridge” helped the Chicago Bears capture their last Super Bowl victory, it took “The Freezer” to deny them another chance at reaching football’s biggest game, and ice the Green Bay Packers’ first NFC championship in thirteen years.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers got the Packers off to a fast start by leading a pair of touchdown drives, but it was Rodgers’ touchdown-saving tackle (after a mistake) and an interception return for a touchdown by nose tackle B.J. Raji, the self-proclaimed “Freezer,” which propelled Green Bay to an historic 21-14 win at Solider Field in Chicago.
It was yet another different method by which the injury-riddled Packers (13-6) found a way to win this season, as hot Green Bay won its fifth straight elimination game to reach Super Bowl XLV after struggling to a mediocre 8-6 start.
With more starters on the injured reserve list than any other NFL team, the Packers have endured a lot this season. Now they have just one last hurdle to overcome, in the biggest game of all.
And, they’ll have the game’s hottest quarterback to take them there.
As if he wasn’t good enough last week, while going 31-for-36 in Green Bay’s divisional round rout in Atlanta, Rodgers picked right up where he left off in that win, going a perfect 4-for-4, for 76 yards, to lead a 7-play, 84-yard scoring drive on the game’s opening possession.
Rodgers (17-30, 244 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT) completed passes of 22 and 26 yards to wide receiver Greg Jennings (8 catches, game-high 130 yards) on the first two plays of the game, before connecting on throws of six and 22 yards. He finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run, untouched, to the left, to give the Packers a 7-0 lead just 4:04 into the game.
While the Bears’ offense sputtered for a total of 109 yards on eight punts and an interception through Chicago’s first nine possessions, the Packers extended their lead on their fourth possession of the game.
A second straight three-and-out for the Bears led to a quick, five-play, 50-yard drive in 2:53, which featured completions of 16 and 15 yards by Rodgers and a four-yard touchdown run by running back James Starks (22 carries, game-high 74 yards) which extended Green Bay’s lead to 14-0, with 11:13 left in the opening half.
The Packers had amassed 187 total yards to that point but managed just 192 yards while punting six times and having two drives stopped on Rodgers interceptions, the rest of the game.
But, that didn’t matter while ineffective Bears’ starting quarterback, Jay Cutler (6-14, 80 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) was unable to move the ball for Chicago before he left the game with a knee injury after the Bears’ first possession of the second half.
Still, Chicago very nearly got back in the game with its defense. Rodgers, looking to increase Green Bay’s lead, was intercepted over the middle at the Bears’ 4 yard-line by linebacker Brian Urlacher (game-high 9 tackles, 1 INT), who was on his way toward a 96-yard touchdown return and the Bears’ first points of the game when Rodgers hustled back, dove, and tripped up Urlacher with his right arm, at the Bears’ 45 yard-line.
Inexperienced backup quarterback Todd Collins relieved the injured Cutler and went 0-for-4 on two Bears’ possessions while nearly throwing two interceptions.
Chicago went to third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie (13-20, 152 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) who was trying to write one of the great NFL stories of all time.
Caleb, in his second year, undrafted out of Colorado State, was born on September 11, 1985 – the year of the Bears’ only Super Bowl championship team. He’s also a Dallas, Texas native who made things interesting in the fourth quarter while trying to bring the Bears back to the Super Bowl, which will be held in Arlington, Texas at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. And, he was attempting to accomplish that while playing for the first time in the 182nd of meeting NFL’s longest rivalry, with just 14 previous NFL pass attempts under his belt.
Following a Green Bay punt, running back Matt Forte (17 carries, team-high 70 yards) gained 26 yards on three rushes and caught an 8-yard pass (Forte had team highs of 10 catches and receiving 90 yards) from Hanie to help Chicago move to the Green Bay 33 yard-line.
Hanie then completed a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Johhny Knox (2 catches, 56 yards) to set up a one-yard touchdown run plunge by running back Chester Taylor (3 carries, 2 yards, 1 TD), to cut the Packers’ lead in half, 14-7, with 12:02 left in the game.
After the teams alternated punts on the next three possessions, Hanie was looking over the middle for Forte, but he didn’t see Raji unusually dropping back in coverage. Raji, the Packers’ 2009 first-round pick got the first interception of his career, returning Hanie’s pass 18 yards for a touchdown, to give Green Bay a 21-7 lead, with 6:04 remaining.
Hanie quickly led the Bears right back, however. He completed four straight passes during a 4-play, 60-yard drive, capping the possession with a 35-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Earl Bennett (3 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD), to cut the Packers’ lead to 21-14, with 4:43 left.
With the crowd back in the game, Green Bay went three-and-out, and Hanie methodically moved the Bears 44 yards on 11 plays, with short passes, to the Packers’ 27 yard-line.
But, on 4th-and-5, Hanie looked deep for Knox and was intercepted by cornerback Sam Shields at the Green Bay 12 yard-line, to end the Bears’ hopes.
On earning his first trip to the Super Bowl, the 27-year-old Rodgers said, “It’s a dream come true, an
But, after following up a strong first half (10-15, 156 yards) with a poor second half (7-15, 88 yards), he admitted, “I didn’t play my best game. You have to give our defense a lot of credit today. The offense sometimes gets too much credit. [Our defense] carried us today.”
By punching their Texas ticket, the Packers have become part of an intriguing and historic Super Bowl with a bit of an ironic twist.
Green Bay, which knocked off the NFC’s top three seeds (Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Chicago), became the NFC’s first six seed to reach a Super Bowl. The Packers will now meet the AFC’s two seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4), who are the only other NFL team to play in a Super Bowl as a six seed (Pittsburgh won Super Bowl XL that year).
Super Bowl XLV will also feature the first Super Bowl match-up between the teams with the most NFL titles (Green Bay – 12) and the most Super Bowl titles (Pittsburgh – 6), and it should set a new attendance record in the elaborate and expansive new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30pm ET on Sunday, February 6th.