When the NFL switched over to the divisional week 17 format, this is the precisely type of game they envisioned. The most storied rivalry in NFL history wrote another chapter on Sunday as the Packers and Bears met at Soldier Field for a de facto NFC North championship game. When it was all said and done, Green Bay would emerge with their third straight division title after completing of one of the most improbable fourth quarter drives this season.
The loss drops the Bears to an 8-8 finish and gives them the 14th overall pick in next year’s draft, seven spots higher than the highest the Packers could pick. The Bears will have as much cap space as anyone this offseason, but they’ll also have to try deal with both Jay Cutler and Josh McCown hitting free agency. It’s safe to say that the 2014 Chicago Bears will have quite a few changes made from the 2013 edition.
The Packers move on to the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record, the worst of any qualifier this season. They’ll host the 49ers next Sunday at Lambeau Field in what has become a little bit of a rivalry itself over the past two seasons. The Packers are hoping that the fourth time is a charm, as the last three contests all went to San Francisco.
Packers – Three Performances of Note
The game may have finished with a vintage Aaron Rodgers (-2.4) bomb to Randall Cobb, but it was anything but vintage Rodgers prior to the pass. Even on that game winning drive he missed Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless and threw a less than stellar hitch to Nelson on their second fourth down conversion. For the day Rodgers had 10 throws take a downgrade, his highest total of the season. The most surprising part about his struggles was that he wasn’t forcing passes under pressure. Rodgers faced pressure on a mere seven of his 43 dropbacks and converted those into two sacks, an interception, and one game winning touchdown. It may not have been his best game of the season, but it was just enough to keep the Packers season alive.
Jordy Finishes in Style
There was one guy on Sunday happy to have Aaron Rodgers back than any other. It’s pretty obvious that I’m talking about our second highest graded receiver on the year, Jordy Nelson. Nelson finishes the season with a +24.7 overall grade (second behind Brandon Marshall’s +37.8) after a monstrous +6.1 against the Bears. The crazy part about the game was that Rodgers was downgraded for missing an open Nelson on four separate occasions. For the day the Packers receiver caught 10 of 15 targets for 161 yards, with 61 yards after catch, five broken tackles, and one dropped pass. In nine games with a healthy Rodgers at quarterback, Nelson compiled a total grade of +20.3, which would extrapolate out to a ridiculous +36.1 for the season.
Lost in Space
Marc Trestman had an obvious plan with his running game on Sunday from start to finish. The goal: get the Packers linebackers in space. The sheer amount of designed cutback and pitch plays the Bears ran was staggering. Outside linebackers Nick Perry (-2.5), Mike Neal (-3.1), and Andy Mulumba (-1.7) all failed to set the edge and make plays unblocked down the line of scrimmage repeatedly. Neal appeared to be the biggest target as the Bears would simply leave him unblocked and watch as he hesitantly tackled Matt Forte for gains of 4-5 yards every time.
The outside guys weren’t the only ones struggling to find Forte. A.J. Hawk (-2.5) and Jamari Lattimore (-2.8) were stuck on offensive lineman at the second level for most of the day. They combined for five tackles and three stops, unbelievably low numbers for starting inside linebackers. The read and react ability of both was an extreme sore spot for the defense as it was rare to find either playing downhill. It is no wonder the Bears running backs averaged 5.0 yards per carry while only needing to break three tackles.
Bears – Three Performances of Note
It’s an all too familiar story for the Bears this season. The Bears safeties, the lowest graded duo in the league, give up the big one. Locked up in man coverage on the last play of the game, Chris Conte (-3.1) gambled that a seven man pressure against six blockers and the Bears safety sat down at the sticks expecting the quick throw. The throw didn’t come until Randall Cobb was a good 15 yards past him on a dead sprint streaking to the end zone and the rest is history. It was the last of four splash plays Conte was involved in. The first obviously being the beautiful read and interception in the end zone off of Rodgers. The next came early in the third quarter on James Starks’ big run where Conte whiffed mightily and turned a 20 yard gain into a 41 yard gain. The penultimate one could have been the icing on an NFC North title for the Bears. With 12:11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Conte had a crossing route slip between his hands and somehow lodged into the hands of Andrew Quarless for a 22 yard gain. The Bears were up 28-20 at the time and the Packers would score on the next play.
Wooten Flashes Again
For all the fuss about the Bears defensive tackles woes this season, they very well may have found a capable starter who was just mired in a position crisis all season long. Corey Wootton has not fared well switching back and forth between end and tackle, but that doesn’t mean he was bad at his newfound tackle position. In fact, in the snaps he’s taken at defensive tackle this season, Wootton has an overall grade of +4.7 in 535 snaps compared to a grade of -9.6 in 327 snaps at defensive end. On Sunday playing all but three snaps inside the tackles, he was once again the defenses most disruptive player with three pressures, two stops, and a grade of +1.6. The stats say that Wootton is just a more effective pass rusher inside with a Pass Rushing Productivity three points better inside (6.5, which leads Bears tackles vs 3.5). If I’m Phil Emery and need to upgrade my interior defense next season, I’m starting by re-signing the free agent Wootton.
Couldn’t Have Been Worse
While it is just a one game sample, Eben Britton’s play on Sunday had me scratching my head for a long time after the game. The fifth year right tackle came in after Jordan Mills went down on the third play of the game and Britton allowed just one pressure and finished with a grade of +3.1. Mills is PFF’s third lowest graded tackle this season at -31.1 and has been the main hindrance to an otherwise solid offensive line. Mills has made strides in recent weeks, but he’s allowed the most pressures in the NFL this season (78). In only one game has Mills allowed as few pressures as what Britton did on Sunday. It’s hard to believe that Britton, a former second round pick who had a grade of +3.4 in his only year as a starter in 2009, couldn’t have done better than Mills.
– Not a single offensive lineman in the game graded negatively (although that may say more about the defensive lines). Josh Sitton (+4.2) and Kyle Long (+3.3) graded the highest on their respective teams.
– The Bears missed 10 tackles while the Packers missed 5.
– Zackary Bowman (-5.0) had his worst game as a pro, giving up 98 yards on 10-12 targets.
PFF Game Ball
While Rodgers and Cobb made the splash plays, they wouldn’t have even been in the position to win without the efforts of our game ball recipient, Jordy Nelson.
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