CHICAGO (AP) — With one championship under their belt, the Green Bay Packers are already eyeing a few others.
Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on all three touchdowns, Clay Matthews continued his dominance of Jay Cutler with two more sacks and Green Bay clinched its second straight NFC North title with a 21-13 victory over the archrival Chicago Bears on Sunday.
After starting the season 2-3, the Packers are showing signs they might have a run in them like the one that carried them to the Super Bowl title two years ago. They have assured themselves of a home playoff game and, at 10-4, are still in the running for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
“We’re just getting started,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We feel that way as a football team. We feel there’s a lot better football in front of us.”
Chicago, meanwhile, continues to slide. This was the Bears’ fifth loss in six games, and they’re in danger of missing the playoffs after beginning the season 7-1. Chicago (8-6) lost ground in the race for the last wild-card spot, and fans at Soldier Field showered the team with boos for much of the game.
Cutler had another dismal day against the Packers, throwing an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown. He’s been picked off 17 times by the Packers, including 10 in his last five games. Alshon Jeffery was whistled for three offensive pass interference calls, all late in the second half when the Bears were scratching to get something going.
Marshall had Chicago’s only touchdown, but had just 56 yards receiving. The Bears were held to 67 yards of offense in the second half and finished with 190, their third-lowest of the season. The Packers have now won six straight against their rivals to the south.
“Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs,” said Brandon Marshall, who struggled to compose himself as he spoke before cutting short his post-game interview. “It’s been this way all year. There’s no excuse. We still have two games left. There’s still hope, but at the same time, we need to be held accountable.”
It was Marshall who turned the heat up on what is already the NFL’s oldest — and fiercest — rivalry earlier in the week, saying he’d never disliked a team as much as he did the Packers. Green Bay had held him to 24 yards on two catches in their first meeting back in September, and the NFL’s receptions leader called the rematch “personal,” adding, “But the talk, you have to back it up. We’ll go out there and we’ll do everything we need to do to get a win.”
Marshall did his part early, firing up the Chicago sideline when he sidestepped one tackle and stiff-armed Casey Hayward on his way to the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown that gave Chicago a 7-0 lead. He screamed as he tossed the ball into the stands, and his teammates and the crowd roared in approval. Joe Anderson fueled the frenzy when he body-slammed Randall Cobb on the ensuing kickoff, and the Bears appeared to be firmly in control.
But overcoming adversity has become second nature to the Packers with the season they’ve had, and this game was no different.
“We don’t try to trash talk,” cornerback Sam Shields said. “When we get on the field we trash talk, but not in the paper. We let our actions show on the field.”
Over the final 4:19 of the second quarter, the Packers went from a 7-0 deficit to a 14-7 lead thanks to a pair of Rodgers-to-Jones TDs sandwiched around a Hayward pick.
“That was important. That was really important,” Rodgers said of the 14-point swing. “We couldn’t them get up a couple scores and get into what they wanted to do, which it looked like they wanted to run (Matt) Forte a lot. Getting ahead of them kind of took them out of some of that stuff.”
Having already been sacked twice, Rodgers was on the run again on third-and-6 when he spotted Cobb down the right sideline. He threw a dart to Cobb, who hauled it in for a 31-yard gain that put the Packers at the Chicago 35. Three plays later, Rodgers connected with Jones for a 29-yard score that tied the game at 7.
After exchanging punts, Cutler looked for Devin Hester only to find Hayward instead. It was the sixth interception of the season for the rookie, who grabbed the ball at midfield and returned it 24 yards. Five plays later, Rodgers hooked up with Jones again, this time for an 8-yard TD.
The Packers made it 21 unanswered points on the first drive of the second half. In another third-and-long situation, Rodgers threw incomplete to Jermichael Finley. But Green Bay got a second chance when Chris Conte was called for pass interference and, after a delay of game penalty, Rodgers found Jones for a 6-yard score.
It was Jones’ first three-touchdown game and the fourth multiple-TD game of his career.
“You don’t want to lose to your rival year in and year out. It’s not a rival. It’s a domination,” Cutler said. “We’ve got to find a way, but that’s in the past. Arizona’s up next, we’ve just got to focus on that.”
The Bears had chances to get back into it. Green Bay’s Mason Crosby missed two more field goals, and Charles Tillman forced a fumble by Ryan Grant that Nick Roach recovered. Chicago got a big break on the next play when Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett hauled Jeffery down right in front of the end zone — and right in front of an official. The pass interference penalty gave Chicago the ball at the Green Bay 1.
But the Bears could only get a 34-yard field goal by Olindo Mare out of it after Jeffery was called for pass interference, his first of three.
NOTES: Matthews has eight sacks of Cutler in as many games. … The Bears sacked Rodgers three times, with Peppers and Corey Wooton each being credited with 1 1/2. … Despite two more misses by Crosby, his 11th and 12th this year, McCarthy said the Packers will not be looking for a new kicker. “We’re not changing kickers. Write that down right now,” McCarthy said. “He’s our guy.” … Randall Cobb had 150 all-purpose yards, leaving him 10 shy of Ahman Green’s single-season Packers record (2,250 in 2003).