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Monday, Dec. 30, 2013

Playoff Bound: Returning Rodgers and Cobb Drive Packers Comeback

Looking Pack: Week 17

aaron rodgers green bay packers chicago bears 2013
Jim Biever / Packers.com
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For the third straight season the Green Bay Packers are the NFC North Champions. That notion didn’t seem unlikely when the 5-2 Packers hosted its frequent contemporary victim in the Chicago Bears in week nine. However, a Shea McClellin hit and a broken collarbone cast doubt on what seemed to be a foreseen conclusion. The Packers were sent into a downward spiral. To so much as render the final week meaningful for Green Bay required duel collapses from a pair of division rivals, as well as two epic come from behind wins (and a tie) on the semi-capable arm of a quarterback playing for his fourth team of the past calendar year.

With the division on the line and the postseason hanging in the balance, Aaron Rodgers (complete with vulnerable clavicle) and Randall Cobb (coming back from a broken leg) returned for an all-in border battle with playoff implications. The pair proved instrumental in putting the Pack over the top for a dramatic 33-28 victory, which required three fourth down conversions on the final drive.

Rodgers’ return seemed to be going well during Green Bay’s near-eight-minute, 75-yard opening drive, until the franchise player threw a costly red zone interception (just his fourth ever) into the hands of Chicago safety Chris Conte. Jay Cutler and company made good on the rare A-Rod miscue with a 37-yard connection to Brandon Marshall, which set up a four-yard touchdown pass to Matt Forte to put the Bears up 7-0 in the first quarter.

The return of Rodgers took an even less statistically flattering turn when the former MVP’s pass ricocheted off Jordy Nelson’s hands and into those of Chicago corner Tim Jennings. But the Packers offense would settle in after that, as Mason Crosby would nail a 33-yard field goal—set up by a McClellin personal foul on Rodgers, oddly enough—to put the Packers on the board. A bizarre play would put the Packers up, when a heads-up fumble recovery by Jarrett Boykin was toted to the end zone uncontested to give the Packers a 10-7 advantage. An Alshon Jeffery fumble on the subsequent drive would set up another Crosby field goal to put the Pack up 13-7 at the half.

The Bears would roar early in the second half, with a pair of Forte touchdowns (part of the Pro Bowler’s three TD, 157 total yard afternoon). Between those scores, though, Rodgers found Cobb for a seven-yard TD. Yet Cutler would victimize Green Bay’s awful secondary for another touchdown pass—this one to Brandon Marshall—to put the Bears up 28-20 early in the fourth quarter.

The last seven weeks, that might’ve been enough to call it a game, but not this week. First, Rodgers would connect with Nelson and Andrew Quarless to set up an Eddie Lacy touchdown run. Then (after an uncharacteristic defensive stand), the captain would lead the Packers on a drive for the ages. With six minutes and the length of the field to go, Green Bay would convert three fourth downs—including a 48-yard bomb to Randall Cobb to put the Pack up 33-28. Sam Shields would thwart a Cutler bomb with a timely interception to end the game, claim the division and nullify a crazy two months of Packers shakiness.

It’s a new season. The Green Bay Packers are not only participants in the new campaign; the team is restocked with its biggest offensive weapons and poised to extend this unlikely storyline a few more weeks.

Player Of The Game (Offense) – Jordy Nelson

Aside from his clutch fourth down reception to keep the game-winning drive alive, Nelson added nine additional receptions, totaling 161 yards (more than half Green Bay’s 318 overall receiving yards). Cobb’s two receptions (for 55 yards) both resulted in touchdowns, but Nelson’s sure-handedness helped open up the run game and incite attention to allow Rodgers to find six other receivers—including Cobb’s deathblow.

Player Of The Game (Defense/Special Teams) – Mason Crosby

Tramon Williams forced a fumble, but surrendered big plays and missed key tackles. Shields sealed the game with a pick, but was twice toasted by Jeffery. Even Micah Hyde fumbled. Thus, the requisite honors go to Crosby, who nailed both of his chip-shot attempts.

Up next: Hosting San Francisco 49ers at 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5

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