When the clock ticked down on its final seconds and Matt Flynn couldn’t convert an end zone pass to Jarrett Boykin, it seemed like the Packers’ chance of winning the NFC North was over.
Enter the Chicago Bears, its poor defense and Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, and Green Bay now has one more shot.
It wasn’t a pretty road to the playoffs, and it’s kind of surprising the Packers made it this far. But fact is fact, and Green Bay will head to Chicago Sunday to fight in the league’s oldest rivalry with an opportunity to take home a division title.
How did Green Bay, who has won their division or earned a Wild Card spot every year since 2009, squeeze out a run-of-the-mill 7-7-1 record this season?
The Packers started the year with a solid 5-2 record with All-Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The team was poised to win the NFC North yet again.
But Rodgers suffered a Bears sack that shattered his collarbone during week nine, and the team started to crumble. The following games were disastrous as Green Bay’s QB identity crisis continued with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien. The Packers lost games, by two TDs in both, against the Eagles and New York Giants, subjecting fans to more disappointment.
With the new NFL rules this season, Green Bay managed to tie at home against the last place Vikings, a game the Packers could have easily won. Tolzien started, but was yanked late to give Matt Flynn a chance. Flynn brought the Packers back from a 23-7 deficit, and landed the job as starter on Thanksgiving Day against the Lions. The 40-10 pounding from Detroit proved that Flynn couldn’t save every game, and the morale around the Packers was low, to say the least.
However, the past three games, including the loss to Pittsburgh Dec. 22, have shown promising signs of hope for Green Bay with Flynn as the leader. The Pack didn’t let the Falcons out of their grasp and achieved a one-point victory over Atlanta week 14. With Green Bay on the road in Dallas the following week, Flynn played in a similar situation to the Vikings game, by overcoming a 24-3 first half discrepancy and beating the Cowboys by one point yet again.
Green Bay stayed close to the Steelers during the most recent game, and although they lost, the matchup displayed the Packers’ potential. Plus, all of the NFC North games Dec. 22 proved two points. One of which is that the division has been ugly all season. The Vikings were down and out early. Detroit, with weapons in Stafford, Johnson, Bush and Suh, and the Bears, with a healthy Jay Cutler and monstrous wide receivers, both failed to capture wins during week 16, forcing a title game between the Packers and Bears Sunday. Only the NFC East’s top teams are similar to the North’s poor records.
The other outcome from all these NFC North matchups is that Green Bay has a chance to take the title. Detroit’s OT loss took out the Lions, and the Bears’ embarrassing performance in Philadelphia questions Cutler’s ability and the defense as a whole.
With dependable players in AJ Hawk, Jordy Nelson and James Starks, the Packers can put up a fighting chance against the Bears. Eddie Lacy went down late in the game against the Steelers, but if he can get healthy before Sunday, the Bears will have a tough time stopping the run. And because of the injuries on both sides of the ball, new players have stepped up and do their jobs well; just look at Jarrett Boykin and Micah Hyde.
Despite the flailing NFC North, the new heroes and the Packers’ ups and downs, the big question remains if Rodgers can come back and face the team that knocked him out in the first place. Because he’s the face of the franchise, Coach Mike McCarthy has been hesitant to start Rodgers, especially if he isn’t at full health.
Rodgers has sat out for seven games and he’s anxious to play. Perhaps he will have the opportunity to do that on Sunday against the Bears, and show there is at least one team in the NFC North who deserves the title of champions.
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