Technically, the Bears lost 30-27 on Sunday to Green Bay because of a 32-yard field goal as time expired by Packers placekicker Mason Crosby. But while that was the play that sealed the deal, it was what happened two snaps prior that actually determined the outcome of the game. Just seconds before Crosby's kick, a 60-yard heave from the right hand of Aaron Rodgers into the waiting arms of wide receiver Jordy Nelson changed the entire storyline of the contest. The momentum-swinging play was a result of a terrific execution by a pair of elite players, as well as some breakdowns by Chicago defenders who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Up until the final two game-deciding plays, the Bears had dominated the fourth quarter. The Chicago defense had been flying to the ball, limiting the Packers to no first downs and just five total yards on their first two drives of the quarter. On offense, the Bears scored 17 consecutive fourth-quarter points, turning a 27-10 deficit at the end of the third into a tie game when Rodgers and company got the ball back at their own 27-yard line with 1:19 remaining in regulation.
Heading back on to the field with an excited but frigid Soldier Field crowd behind them, the Chicago defense knew what to expect.
Bears safety Adrian Amos (38), linebacker John Timu (53), linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) and cornerback Cre'von LeBlanc (22) tackle Packers running back Ty Montgomery (88).
"Having played those guys for a while and knowing the type of quarterback Aaron Rodgers is, I kind of had a feeling that they didn't want to go to overtime," veteran cornerback Tracy Porter said. "They were trying to win the game. So, they were going to try and take a shot at some point.
"I kind of told the guys to keep their antennas up. I said that even though this is a tie game and under a minute left, I felt like (Rodgers) wasn't looking to go into overtime. He was looking to win the game and go home."
Chicago's defense started the drive continuing its standout play from earlier in the game. On first down, Rodgers misfired on a throw to tight end Jared Cook. The next play, the quarterback threw short to running back Ty Montgomery, who was immediately crushed by linebacker Nik Kwiatkoski for a loss of a yard. That made it third-and-11 from the Packers' 26. An injury momentarily stopped the game, but when play resumed, the clock resumed winding down. Rodgers made some adjustments at the line, taking 15 seconds off the clock before calling for the third down snap with 31 seconds left to play.
Green Bay set up for the third down play with four receivers – two directly to Rodgers' right, one to the left and the fourth wide left, outside the numbers. The Bears countered in quarters coverage, which divides the entire field into fourths, with one defender responsible for each section. As Rodgers took the snap, defensive end Akiem Hicks immediately pressured him from his right, so the quarterback back-peddled a bit to move to his left.
At the same time Rodgers was moving, Nelson, the receiver who had lined up to the far left of the formation, put his hand in the air to notify the QB he was open. Nelson had eluded the coverage of cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc with an out-and-up move, faking first as if he were running towards the sideline to the receiver's left, only to cut back towards the middle of the field on a post route. Rodgers launched the ball 61 yards in the air, dropping it perfectly in his receiver's hands, just steps from LeBlanc.
"In that coverage, a corner is kind of on his own, I have to be on top of his shoulders," LeBlanc said. "Once I turned, he was running away from my leverage, so it was just a great ball and great throw."
Rodgers figured he'd have a chance to get the ball to Nelson after seeing how the Bears defense positioned itself. Receiver Davante Adams, who started the play lined up to the right of the formation, ran a crossing route over the middle of the field near the first-down line. Chicago safety Deon Bush, the player at the top of the defensive formation, squared his shoulders and charged Adams, looking to take that option away for the Green Bay offense. Once Bush committed to Adams, Rodgers knew that all Nelson had to do was beat LeBlanc and he'd have the middle of the field to himself.
LeBlanc said that he wasn't expecting Bush to be there for help over the top, instead saying it was his responsibility to prevent Nelson from getting open. In the quarters defense, a lot of pressure is on cornerbacks to prevent receivers from getting behind them.
"I should have had better technique, should have stayed on top and challenged the receiver more," the cornerback said. "I have to be cognizant of the deep throw. It was third-and-11, so that's on me to be on top and challenge him better."
The long throw to Nelson gave the Packers the ball on the Chicago 14-yard line. After a quick spike to stop the clock, Green Bay brought out its field goal team. Crosby drilled the kick to give the Packers the win. The Bears dropped to 3-11 on the year with the loss, a season full of tough defeats and important lessons that go with it.
"When you lose, we have to look at how we can make better plays," safety Adrian Amos said. "If we had made one or two more plays, that could have won us the game."