GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bears enjoyed a very merry Christmas at Lambeau Field in 2005, thumping the rival Packers to clinch the first of back-to-back NFC North championships.
Exactly six years later, they limped out of Green Bay in a far less celebratory mood Sunday night, officially eliminated from playoff contention after suffering a fifth straight loss for the first time in Lovie Smith’s eight seasons as coach.
Although the Bears were down to their third quarterback and third running back, Josh McCown and Kahlil Bell provided a much needed spark on offense. But it wasn’t enough to counter Aaron Rodgers, who threw a career-high five touchdown passes to lead the Packers to a 35-21 victory.
Rodgers, whose TD passes capped drives of 80, 65, 80, 75 and 33 yards, exited midway through the fourth quarter having completed 21 of 29 passes for 283 yards and a 142.7 passer rating.
“If we play like this, that’s what’s going to happen,” said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. “The last five weeks we haven’t played well enough to win, and we’ve lost all five games. I’m not happy about where we’re at; no one on this team is. Our coaches aren’t happy, but it’s what we’ve got.”
Aaron Rodgers' five touchdown passes were too many for the Bears to overcome.
After scoring two touchdowns in their last three games with Caleb Hanie at quarterback, the Bears matched that total Sunday night behind McCown, who looked sharp in his first NFL start since 2007.
McCown completed 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a 76.8 passer rating. He also rushed for 38 yards on eight carries.
With running backs Matt Forte (knee) and Marion Barber (calf) sidelined, Bell rushed for 121 yards on 23 carries and Armando Allen added 40 yards on 11 attempts as the Bears gained 199 yards on the ground.
As an offense, the Bears generated season highs with 441 yards and 24 first downs and converted 6-of-12 third-down opportunities.
“Josh McCown did a heck of a job coming in, just leading our offense, making the throws when he had to,” Smith said. “We got our running game going. That was the plan coming in; we felt like we could do something with the running game. Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen both did a great job.
“The offensive line blocked well for them. Offensively, we did enough things to keep us in the game and have a chance to win the game at the end. Defensively, we just didn’t have it tonight.”
Operating a no-huddle offense on the game’s opening possession, Rodgers completed 8-of-8 passes for 77 yards, capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley. The TD was Finley’s fourth in two games against the Bears this season.
Chicago responded by marching to the Green Bay 31 as Bell rushed for 36 yards on seven carries and caught a 12-yard pass. But Robbie Gould pushed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The Bears then advanced to the Packers’ 22 as McCown completed passes of 20 yards to Roy Williams on third-and-nine and 19 yards to Bell on third-and-eight. The quarterback also alertly recovered a Bell fumble after a short reception.
But McCown made a key mistake when his pass in the right flat intended for fullback Tyler Clutts was intercepted by a leaping Clay Matthews, who returned it two yards to the Green Bay 26.
After the Bears defense forced a third straight three-and-out, Gould’s 35-yard field goal cut the deficit to 7-3 with 1:56 remaining in the second quarter. The kick capped a nine-play, 61-yard drive highlighted by Bell’s 20-yard run and McCown’s 16-yard completion to receiver Dane Sanzenbacher.
The Packers then closed the first half the same way they began it, with Rodgers firing a 2-yard touchdown pass, this time to receiver James Jones, capping a seven-play, 65-yard drive and widening the margin to 14-3 with :16 left in the second quarter.
The Bears climbed back into the game—albeit briefly—by closing to within 14-10 with an unconventional touchdown on the opening possession of the second half.
One play after Earl Bennett was dragged down at the 1 on a 49-yard reception from McCown, Bell fumbled at the line of scrimmage on a sweep to the left. The ball rolled a yard deep into the end zone, where left guard Edwin Williams scooped it up for a TD.
But then it was all Packers. Receiver Jordy Nelson turned safety Major Wright inside out, catching a 55-yard TD pass from Rodgers to give Green Bay a 21-10 lead with 10:02 left in the third quarter.
Rodgers made it 35-10 with TD passes of seven yards to Jones late in the third period and one yard to Nelson early in the fourth. Nelson’s TD came after safety Charlie Peprah had returned a McCown interception that deflected off Bennett’s outstretched hand 21 yards to the Chicago 33.
McCown cut the gap to 35-18 with 7:54 remaining by hitting tight end Kellen Davis with a 1-yard TD pass and then running in the two-point conversion on a quarterback draw. Gould later provided the game’s final points with a 30-yard field goal with 1:11 to play.