Packers dig deep late to clinch the NFC North

The Packers accumulated 473 yards of total offense.

Dennis Wierzbicki/Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

The hour-long flight from Chicago to Green Bay didn’t slow down the Packers’ celebration after winning the NFC North.

What began in the visiting locker room at Soldier Field lasted beyond the moment the team plane reached the tarmac in Green Bay.

“They gave out the hats and everybody had their hat on … it was a good time,” Packers tight end Andrew Quarless told Sunday night. I didn’t wear [mine] really. It’s my third time. I don’t want to say I’m getting used to it, but I got a few of those hats. I usually give them to my family though. That’s what I do. I’ll give it to my grandfather or my father so they can represent.”

The Packers, who clinched their third consecutive division crown with their thrilling 33-28 win over the Bears on Sunday, had to find a way to overcome an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who missed the last seven games with a broken collarbone, had to find a way to cash in on the Packers’ final drives. No problem.

“Starting this week of preparation, [Rodgers] was pretty locked in,” Quarless said. “He was looking pretty good. I would think that there would be a little bit of rust because he hadn’t played for however many weeks.

“But he’s only going to get better, and I think he’s back in his groove so that’s a good thing.”

Quarless hauled in a 22-yard pass, which sailed through the hands of Bears safety Chris Conte, on the Packers’ first possession of the fourth quarter. That play set up a six-yard scoring scamper by rookie running back Eddie Lacy.

Green Bay’s 1-2 backfield duo of Lacy and James Starks combined for 154 rushing yards, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. That balance gave head coach Mike McCarthy’s team an opportunity to extend drives and keep defenses honest against Rodgers and the passing game.

With a little more than six minutes remaining in the game and trailing by a point, the Packers quarterback was called upon again. Rodgers scripted a 15-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 48-yard touchdown strike to Randall Cobb, who was activated from the short-term injured reserve list this week.

Just three plays into that drive, the Packers faced a critical fourth-and-1.

Deep in their own territory, McCarthy rolled out the punt team. Immediately, that idea was met with angst from the players on offense.

“I know A-Rod went over there and was like, ‘Man, we have to go for this. We can’t punt,’” Quarless said. “We gave it to [John] Kuhn and he was able to get us that first down.’”

Rodgers, who was primarily working out of the shotgun, was able to use the no-huddle offense to keep the Bears off balance. Short passing plays and a small dose of Lacy added up to a fourth-and-8 at the Bears’ 48-yard line with the game at stake.

The Bears lost their coverage and Rodgers was able to connect with Cobb.

Chicago was given an opportunity to go ahead, but with little time to play, Cutler was picked off on a desperation pass intended for Alshon Jeffery.

Green Bay now turns its sights to the postseason where it will host San Francisco next Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET on FOX.

After losing the last three times they played 49ers, including in last season’s playoffs, Quarless noted that memories of a Week 1 loss lingered with the team during the season.

“We have to look at that film and see what worked and what didn’t work. That will be the approach. That first game when they beat us the chatter around the locker room was we’re going to see these guys again. That was the chatter after that first game. We knew. And it’s crazy that it happened the way it did.

“It all starts with my guy [NaVorro Bowman]. We went to school together so that’s a guy that I’m familiar with but he’s definitely the key in the middle of that defense.”

A defense that Quarless and the rest of the Packers offense must find a way to exploit, or their postseason excursion will end early.

Andrew Quarless was contacted via Mayfield Sports Marketing.