The Bears-Packers NFC Championship was supposed to be this city’s “biggest game ever.” For three quarters, it was looking more like “biggest loser.” Then, third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie replaced Todd Collins, who replaced the injured Jay Cutler, and ignited the Bears in a riveting fourth quarter. But in the end, the Bears came up short, losing 21-14.
After a slip on the turf on the opening kickoff, the Packers found their traction quickly. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on consecutive plays for 21- and 26-yard gains. The Packers quickly pushed it down field and Rodgers ran it in from the 1-yard line for the first score of the game. The Packers drove 84 yards on 7 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Rodgers was 4-for-4 passing for 76 yards on the opening drive.
Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields jumps on the back of nose tackle B.J. Raji after Raji's interception resulted in a fourth quarter touchdown to give the Packers a 21-7 lead in NFC Championship between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers Sunday January 23, 2011 at the Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
The Bears moved the ball on their opening series, the big play coming on a 22-yard pass completion from Jay Cutler to Matt Forte. The Bears drive, however, stalled at the Packers’ 34 when Cutler sailed one over the head of a wide-open Devinn Hester.
The Packers were right back at it gaining large chunks of yardage on their second series, but the Bears’ defense finally stiffened, forcing the Packers to punt from their own 47. The Packers kicked it right down the middle of the field to Devin Hester, but good coverage stopped the electrifying Hester with only a three-yard gain.
After stopping the Packers offense on two consecutive series, the Bears defense went back to their porous ways in the second quarter. The Packers got their running game going, opening up huge holes for James Starks, who capped a 56-yard, 5-play drive with a four-yard TD run to put the Packers ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter.
The Bears came right back and moved the ball into Packers’ territory, but a crucial holding penalty by Chester Taylor on a 13-yard pass play to Rashied Davis put them in a hole. The Bears failed to convert on 3rd-and-12 and opted to punt instead of kicking a 49-yard field goal. When Brad Maynard booted the ballinto the endzone, the Bears came away with a net gain of 11 yards.
The Packers quickly pushed the ball back into Bears territory, with Starks and Rodgers having huge runs. But on a 3rd-and-1, the Bears defense stopped the Packers at the 36, forcing them to punt.
The Bears came up with a lucky turnover just before the half when Lance Briggs literally picked one off the shoe tops of Packers receiver Donald Driver. It look like the Bears had their break. Cutler found Hester across the middle for 17 yards. On the next play, he threw deep to Johnny Knox, but Sam Shields picked it off near the Packers’ goal line and the half ended with Green Bay ahead 14-0.
Cutler injured his knee, possibly on a sack prior to the interception before halftime and had to leave the game in the third quarter. Seldom-used Todd Collins replaced him.
The Packers picked up where they left off in the first half, moving the ball downfield. Just when it looked like Rodgers might punch in another touchdown, Brian Urlacher picked off the Packers quarterback and returned it to midfield where Rodgers made a TD-saving tackle.
After Collins failed to move the Bears on two series, he was replaced by Caleb Hanie. Because the bears used their third quarterback, that meant neither Cutler nor Collins could return.
Hanie sparked the Bears offense as the fourth quarter started. He completed a 32-yard pass to Knox who went out of bounds at the 1. Then Chester Taylor ran it in to close the gap to 14-7.
The Bears defense held the Psackers on their next series and got the ball back.
Just as Hanie seemed to be getting comfortable, he threw a pass deep in Bears’ territory intended for Matt Forte, but 348-pound lineman B.J. Raji intercepted and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to put the Packers up 21-7.
Hanie came right back, though, and led the Bears on a 4-play, 60 yard touchdown drive to make it 21-14. Hanie hit Earl Bennett for 35 yards on the scoring pass with just over 4 minutes to play.
The Bears held the Packers on three downs and got the ball back with about 3 minutes to go.
They methodically moved the ball into Packers’ territory. Facing a fourth-and-1 and the end of their season, they converted with Taylor getting four yards. But faced with another fourth down, Hanie tried to hit Knox across the middle, but Shields made his second pick near the 10-yard line to end it. The Packers ran out the clock.