Packers beat Bears 35-21, wrap up No. 1 seed

Now that the Green Bay Packers have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in

the NFC, Mike McCarthy is free to rest some of his starters in the

regular-season finale.

And while McCarthy’s natural inclination might be playing to win

– especially with the NFC North rival Detroit Lions coming to

Lambeau Field on New Year’s Day – the coach acknowledged after the

Packers’ 35-21 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night that

his team’s injury situation might dictate his strategy.

”We’ll look at all of our options,” McCarthy said. ”But I’m

not going to stand here and tell you we want to give away

opportunities to win the game. We’re going to play to win the game

next week. I’m not real excited about a division opponent coming in

here and think we’re not going to do everything we can to get to

15-1. But health is an issue for us. I think that’s stating the

obvious.”

Aaron Rodgers threw five touchdown passes in a game for the

first time in his NFL career, breaking a close game wide open by

leading three quick scoring drives in the second half.

The Packers (14-1) nailed down the No. 1 seed in the NFC and

claimed another round of bragging rights in the storied rivalry by

eliminating the Bears (7-8) from the playoff chase. Chicago’s loss

also put the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.

Rodgers threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson,

another two to James Jones, and found tight end Jermichael Finley

for a score. Rodgers was 21 of 29 for 283 yards and no

interceptions when backup Matt Flynn took over with 7:54 left in

the game.

Rodgers has 45 touchdown passes this season – only shy of Tom

Brady’s single-season record set in 2007.

But when asked about the possibility of breaking Brady’s record,

Rodgers made it sound as if he didn’t expect to see much of the

field next Sunday.

”I think that’s probably safe,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said he expected McCarthy to weigh the pros and cons of

playing to win.

”There’s something to be said about finishing the season

well,” Rodgers said. ”The Bears tried to keep us out of the

playoffs last year in the last game of the year and it would be

nice to finish out the season the way we started it, with a strong

showing in a home game. That being said, I think you have to take

into account the health of your football team. We have some guys

banged up. We’ll see what Mike says this week. But until we hear

differently, we’ll prepare as if we’re going to play.”

Rodgers might not get a shot at Brady’s touchdown record, but he

did break a franchise record Sunday. With 4,643 yards passing, he

surpassed Lynn Dickey’s single-season total of 4,458 set in

1983.

”It’s obviously an award that’s bigger than an individual

award,” Rodgers said. ”It takes obviously the offensive line

pass-blocking for you and your guys getting open and delivering a

catchable ball and then making plays. We’ve got a great group of

guys to work with. This is a record we all share.”

Rodgers’ offensive feats came behind a patchwork offensive line,

as the Packers were without three of their top four tackles.

Chad Clifton returned to practice this week after sitting out

since October because of hamstring and back injuries, but isn’t

ready to play. Bryan Bulaga was inactive Sunday because of a left

knee sprain, and backup Derek Sherrod is out for the season with a

broken right leg.

But the line played well, and Rodgers wasn’t sacked.

”We felt that was going to be a huge challenge for us up front,

dealing with their defensive line,” McCarthy said. ”I can’t say

enough about our offensive line.”

Green Bay also was missing wide receiver Greg Jennings, because

of a sprained left knee, and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett because

of a concussion.

With so many players banged up, will the Packers be cautious

with starters in the finale?

”I enjoy playing this game, but at the same time, we have to be

smart,” Clay Matthews said. ”We like winning around here. It’ll

be interesting to see where we go. Like I said, we have to be

smart.”

Missing the playoffs is a disappointing end to what was once a

promising season for Chicago.

The Bears have lost five straight games since losing quarterback

Jay Cutler to a broken right thumb in a Nov. 20 victory over San

Diego.

And they had a chance Sunday, trailing by only four early in the

third quarter before Rodgers found his rhythm. Third-string running

back Kahlil Bell rushed for 121 yards with Marion Barber and Matt

Forte sidelined by injuries.

”When you play the Super Bowl champions, you have to be on top

of your game,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ”Offensively, we did

enough things to keep us in the game and have a chance to win the

game at the end. But defensively we just didn’t have it.”

The Bears started Josh McCown on Sunday after backup Caleb Hanie

struggled to fill in for Cutler. McCown’s most recent start came

with the Oakland Raiders in 2007, and he was out of the NFL last

season.

”It’s a tough assignment, but you’ve got to find a way to pull

it off,” McCown said.