Packers’ patchwork line keeps Bears at bay

So much for the notion that Aaron Rodgers’ health would be at

risk behind the Green Bay Packers’ banged-up offensive line.

With the Packers missing three of their top four tackles because

of injuries and only two offensive line starters playing the same

positions they were in Week 1, the patchwork Packers held the

Chicago Bears’ defense at bay in a 35-21 victory Sunday night.

Rodgers wasn’t sacked and threw five touchdowns, allowing Green

Bay to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and

knock Chicago out of playoff contention.

”I barely got touched out there,” Rodgers said Sunday night.

”That’s always fun.”

Still, Packers coach Mike McCarthy might be tempted to rest

Rodgers for at least some of Sunday’s regular-season finale against

Detroit to keep him out of harm’s way.

”At the end of the day, you’re going to do what’s best for this

team and the individuals on your football team,” McCarthy said

Monday. ”We’re preparing to win this game.”

A significant injury to Rodgers would be catastrophic for the

Packers’ hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions, and there was

plenty of concern about the line’s ability to protect him from

Julius Peppers and the rest of the Bears’ solid defensive

front.

Rodgers had been sacked seven times and taken several other big

hits in the Packers’ previous two games, a victory over Oakland and

a loss at Kansas City.

”When your quarterback’s getting hit and sacked as much as

Aaron the past couple weeks, that’s the last thing you want to have

happen as an offensive lineman,” lineman T.J. Lang said. ”There

wasn’t a whole lot of talking. Everyone understood the urgency

level that we had to have to win those one-on-one battles and keep

(Rodgers) clean because he can make a lot of big plays when he’s

not getting touched.”

Lang switched from left guard to right tackle after the Packers

lost starter Bryan Bulaga to a sprained left knee and backup Derek

Sherrod to a broken right leg against the Chiefs.

Evan Dietrich-Smith stepped in for Lang at left guard. Backup

Marshall Newhouse already had been filling in at left tackle for

Chad Clifton, out since Oct. 9 with hamstring and back

injuries.

That meant center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton were

the only two players in the same spots they were in for the

Packers’ season opener against New Orleans.

It didn’t work particularly well against the Chiefs, Rodgers

couldn’t mount a comeback and the Packers lost their first game of

the season. But the reshuffled line then had a week to practice

together and prepare for the Bears, and things looked much better

Sunday night.

McCarthy helped keep the Bears’ pass rush off-balance early by

using a no-huddle offense and rolling out Rodgers, and the line did

the rest.

”That was a big challenge for the offensive line,” McCarthy

said. ”The offensive line actually is going to receive a game ball

when we come back together Wednesday. I think that tells you how we

felt about their performance as a whole.”

The offense did hit a lull in the first half that allowed the

Bears to stay in the game into the third quarter. Then the Packers

scored on three straight possessions to put away the game.

”It was big that we had a full week to kind of jell together

and practice together as the five we had out there starting,” Lang

said Sunday. ”Definitely big for us today to go out and pitch a

shutout in the sack category. It took a little bit more pride in

protecting Aaron. Obviously, the last couple games, he was getting

hit too much. That was one thing we knew that the Bears had a great

pass-rushing defense and we would have to take a little more pride

in winning your individual battle and keep him clean.”

The Packers did allow a sack of backup quarterback Matt Flynn in

the fourth quarter Sunday night, but not until well after the game

had been decided.

”They played excellent,” Rodgers said. ”I think a lot of

people were questioning even the starters and the way that they’ve

played. We had T.J. at right tackle and we had Evan at left guard

and those guys played great. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit.

They’re the MVPs tonight.”

Of course, getting good play from backups is nothing new for a

Packers team that shook off significant injuries to win the Super

Bowl last year.

”For us to not give up any sacks tonight was a huge thing,”

Sitton said. ”It speaks to the guys that we have. Last year, we

dealt with the whole injury thing all year, and this week, we had

to play a couple guys in different positions upfront and everybody

handled it well. It’s pretty cool.”

McCarthy said Bulaga is ”close” to returning, and said he

wants Clifton to play this week.

”He knows that, and that’s the goal,” McCarthy said. ”But

once again, it is an injury situation, and what he’s gone through

the last nine, 10 weeks, we’ll take it day by day.”

And while it’s not clear when Clifton or Bulaga will return, one

thing is certain: The Packers’ backup linemen don’t particularly

like hearing the term ”patchwork” used to describe their

play.

”I think we played pretty well, our quote-unquote `patchwork’

line,” Newhouse said. ”We have guys who have been in the system

for a while and trust each other, and we had a good week of

preparation, so it worked out well.”