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Miracle finish delivers NFC North title!

by Mark Daniels

There's not a script writer alive in Hollywood who buy this one.

A quarterback who sat for seven weeks with a cracked collarbone returns for the final regular season game of the year with a division championship at stake and stares down a 4th and 8 play in the final minute, dodges a sack and fires a strike to a wide receiver playing his first game in 10 weeks after suffering a broken leg.   The 48 yard touchdown with :38 to play stands up as the Green Bay Packers stunned the Chicago Bears and 62,708 fans at chilly Solider Field with a 33-28 victory to claim a third straight NFC North title.

We're not kidding, it happened, you can look it up.  Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for the game winning score to cap a wild finale that sends the Pack to the post season for a fifth straight year and they will host the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers overcame a shaky start with two interceptions in Chicago territory to lead the team on an 87 yard drive that needed not one, not two, but three fourth down conversions.    The first was a 4th and 1 where John Kuhn went off right tackle for one and a half yards.   The second had Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson who plucked a low pass off the turf on 4th and 1 at the Packer 44 for a gain of 6.  Three plays later, on 4th and 8, Rodgers eluded an all out blitz when John Kuhn got just enough of Julius Peppers to allow Aaron to step to his left and fire downfield.   Cobb was supposed to run a 10 yard hook route but when he saw safety Chris Conte flat-footed, he took off, cradled the arcing pass at the 15 and took it in.

The Bears had one last shot and nearly pulled it off but Morgan Burnett deflected a pass in the end zone intended for Alshon Jeffrey.  After an incompletion, Sam Shields intercepted Cutler's last play heave and the clock struck zero.

That's when Mike McCarthy tried to sum up one of his most exciting wins as head coach:

Audio:   Mike McCarthy.

Rodgers finished the day 25 of 39 for 318 yards, 2 scores and 2 picks for a passer rating of 85.2 but those numbers paled in comparison to the epic 15 play, 87 yard march for the win:

     Audio:  Aaron Rodgers.

On a gray, drizzly afternoon in the windy city, the NFL's oldest rivals kicked off the winner take all game in 26 degrees with a wind chill of 14.  The Bears struck first on a four yard pass from Cutler to Matt Forte who had a huge day for the home team, 157 total yards from scrimmage.  That capped an 80 yard drive after Rodgers was intercepted in the end zone by Conte which denied Green Bay the early lead.  A second interception came off the hands of Jordy Nelson on a high pass but the defense was able to hold in the second quarter.  Mason Crosby tied a franchise record with a field goal in his 15th straight game to make it 7-3 midway through the second.  On the next Packer series, one of the most bizarre plays happened.  Rodgers had the ball knocked out of his hand by Peppers and it rolled forward several yards.  Jarrett  Boykin tried to pick it up but batted it along the ground.  With everyone milling about, Boykin picked it up at the 15 and was ready to hand it to the official when the Green Bay sideline and Rodgers started yelling at him to run.  He did, into the end zone and the officials signaled touchdown.  The play was reviewed and referee Clete Blakeman said it was indeed a fumble and there was no whistle and Boykin was in his right to take it in for a 10-7 Packers lead.  Crosby would tack on another field goal with :02 left after Tramon Williams forced a Jeffrey fumble and Morgan Burnett picked it up, lateraled to Sam Shields who carried it to the Chicago 28.
Both offenses heated up in the third quarter, trading touchdowns on three straight possessions.  Forte's five yard run put Chicago back in front 14-13 but James Starks ripped off a 41 yard run to set up a 7 yard Rodgers to Cobb touchdown.  Cutler hit Jeffrey for a 67 yard gain behind Shields and in front of a slow to close Burnett and Forte went in on the next snap to make it 21-20 Bears. When Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for a five yard strike early in the 4th, the Packers found themselves down 28-20 but they answered immediately.   Jordy Nelson turned a short pass into a 34 yard gain and Andrew Quarless made a 22 yard catch.   From the six, Eddie Lacy, running on a gimpy ankle, went around the left tackle with a get in the way block from Rodgers to score. Instead of going for two with 11:38 to go, the Packers kicked the point after to make it a one point game.
The Bears moved to midfield but were forced to punt with 6:24 remaining to set up the epic, game winning drive.
The final numbers had Green Bay outgain Chicago 473 to 345, holding the ball for over 35 minutes. Starks finished with 88 yards on the ground, Lacy had 66.  Forte picked up 110 with another 47 on four catches.   Nelson was the top receiver for the Pack with 10 grabs for 161 yards.  Marshall led Chicago with 6 for 74.  Devin Hester proved painful again with two big punt returns and a 39 yard kickoff return.  Both teams turned it over twice and Green Bay was flagged for only one penalty, a personal foul on Victor Aiyewa on the game's opening kickoff.
As it was in January of 2011 when the Packers captured the NFC Championship in Solider Field, the visiting locker room was a very happy place and here's what was heard Sunday:

Audio:  Packers players post game.
The playoffs are now set.  Green Bay will host the 49ers this time and it will be the final game of Wild Card weekend, Sunday afternoon at 3:30 PM.   The post-season will open with Kansas City at Indianapolis, followed by New Orleans at Philadelphia on Saturday.   The AFC matchup on Sunday will have San Diego at Cincinnati.
Seattle and Carolina earned the top seeds and first round byes in the NFC while Denver and New England get the opening weekend off in the AFC.
It was truly a storybook finish to the regular season for Team 93.