It wasn’t pretty at times. In fact, it was downright enraging at certain junctures, but the Green Bay Packers went into Soldier Field yesterday and emerged as the 1-seed in the NFC following a 35-16 victory over the Chicago Bears. Sit back and kick your feet up this weekend, because while the other six playoff teams in the NFC will be playing, your Packers will be on a bye.
While we don’t know the exact, precise blueprint for beating Chicago, there were some very clear indicators throughout the game as to what they thought was the path to success, and it worked at times.
The time of possession discrepancy and watching it unravel throughout the game fried my eyeballs. The Bears had three fairly long drives where outside of one deep pass to Darnell Mooney for 53 yards, everything was dink and dunk or short, yet contained positive runs by David Montgomery. Cole Kmet had seven receptions but for only 41 yards. Everything to him was underneath near the line of scrimmage. Montgomery acted as a safety valve and had nine catches for 63 yards. While I’m unsure if the Bears were intentionally playing conservative with Mitchell Trubisky or not, they did not take many chance down the field.
On the opening drive, the Bears went 60 yards for a touchdown and took 7:29 off the clock, but it took 14 plays. It was your sort of “death by a thousand cuts” drive where Chicago wasn’t doing anything flashy at all, but it worked. On their first two possessions of the second half they went 87 yards in 6:50 and put up three points on a field goal and, much to the displeasure of these eyes, they somehow took eight minutes off the clock on the following drive while only moving 51 yards downfield on 15 plays. It ended in a turnover on downs. Chicago kept Aaron Rodgers and the offense on the sidelines much of the afternoon, but when you can’t finish those long drives with touchdowns, more times than not this year’s version of the Packers offense will make it haunt you.
The Bears very clearly wanted to neutralize Davante Adams as much as possible, and did so pretty successfully. It feels safe to say Adams won’t ever be completely shut down in a game, he’s become that elite, but holding him to six catches for only 46 yards was a win for the Bears. Many were curious what the Packers’ offense would do and what it would look like come playoff time if a defense put the majority of their focus on slowing Adams. Many have tried, many have failed. The Bears found a somewhat solid recipe that worked.
What makes Adams so difficult and so damn good is that his route tree covers everything and he can line up just about anywhere. He’s as comfortable and effective on the outside as he is in the slot. That’s what makes life hell for a defensive coordinator trying to slow him down. But the Packers needed others yesterday. Can I interest you in some Dominique Dafney? Yes, he only had one catch on one target but it went for a 13-yard touchdown, and I can’t imagine many people thought they’d check off Dafney having a touchdown.
How about Marquez Valdes-Scantling? Yes, he had the crippling drop in the third quarter that would’ve put Green Bay up 28-16 on a rainbow ball of a toss by Rodgers, but he did still have 72-yard touchdown earlier in the game. Hey Chicago, maybe don’t put a middle linebacker on Green Bay’s fastest receiver with no deep safety help. That touchdown was about as easy as they come. The Bears slowed Adams, but Green Bay was able to adjust and find other means for success, something that makes them that much more dangerous. You want to put all that focus on Adams? Fine. Rodgers will find Robert Tonyan in the endzone, Aaron Jones on swing routes and more.
It was strange watching certain elements of this contest play out where the Bears were handling categories that Green Bay is accustomed to dominating. Time of possession for one, but Chicago also only had one penalty while the Packers had four, and two of them (Adams block in the back, Jamaal Williams false start) were super uncharacteristic. Add in the fumbled punt by Tavon Austin that set the Bears up right at the Packers 20-yard line, and it was puzzling at certain points how the Packers ever led by 19.
Chicago executed in most areas they wanted to, and still lost by 19. The Packers are just that much better than the Bears this year. I know that sounds arrogant. I’m comfortable with it. Accept it, Bears fans. Your team did most of what it set out to do yesterday and still lost by 19 points.
And now… now is buckle up time. The NFC goes through 1265 Lombardi Avenue. I’ve said it in past blogs; I’ll say it again: Rodgers has played in FOUR NFC Championships throughout his career. None have been played at Lambeau Field. The Packers have an opportunity to flip it this season.