CHICAGO -- It very well might have been Aaron Rodgers' finest hour.
Sidelined for eight weeks by a broken collarbone, Rodgers shook off a two-interception first half late Sunday afternoon to take the Green Bay Packers down the field and into the National Football League postseason, beating the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field by making a play only he can make.
Rodgers' 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb against an all-out blitz on fourth and long will stand alongside many others among the greatest plays in the franchise's 93-year history.
"Those two guys making that great, great play will be running on the highlight reel for the rest of my time on this earth," coach Mike McCarthy said.
The 33-28 victory gave the NFC North Division championship to the Packers. As the No. 4 seeding in the NFC playoffs, Green Bay (8-7-1) will meet the No. 5 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at 3:40 p.m. Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"This is the perfect scenario," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "In our house. Get a chance to right a lot of wrongs. We've had three losses in a row to them. What better way to fix it than next week at Lambeau."
About nine hours after the Packers were drubbed by Detroit, 40-10, on Thanksgiving, NFL Network ran a poll in which merely 2 percent predicted that Green Bay would win the division. At the time, the Packers were 5-6-1.
But when Matt Flynn directed one-point victories over Atlanta and Dallas while the Lions were choking, it was the Packers in the end capturing their third straight NFC North crown.
"It's pretty special in my eyes," said Pickett, at 34 the oldest Packer. "We had every reason to quit. We fought through it with Flynn and everybody.
"I'm proud of that. We'll take it."
At 8-7-1, the Packers joined Denver (8-8) of 2011, Seattle (7-9) of 2010, San Diego (8-8) of 2008, Cleveland (8-8) of 1985 and Minnesota (8-7-1) of 1978 among the six teams with the poorest division-winning records in NFL history.
"Where were we?" rookie tackle David Bakhtiari said. "We've just been hurt. Guys have been in the trainer's room. That's where we've been."
Finishing 8-8, the Bears lost their fourth straight to the Packers at Soldier Field, where Green Bay is now 23-19. McCarthy improved to 11-6 against the Bears, and his defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, improved to 8-1 against Jay Cutler.
"We showed that we can play with them," Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall said in a remark that must have made George Halas shudder in his grave. "It came down to the fourth and 10.
"Aaron Rodgers led his team today. They won. We didn't get it done and he made some big plays on fourth down."
The 188th meeting between what longtime Packers publicist Lee Remmel often called "primordial" rivals came down to fourth and 8 with 46 seconds left.
Mel Tucker, the coordinator of a Bears defense that played better Sunday than it had most of the season, decided to go all in with an audacious seven-man blitz.
Across from Cobb, nickel back Isaiah Frey moved inside to pressure through the B gap. Bakhtiari, the tackle to that side, followed his rule and blocked down on Frey, leaving Julius Peppers momentarily against air.
"I looked out with my peripheral vision and saw (Peppers)," said Bakhtiari. "I thought he was sacked."
John Kuhn, the lone setback, was set in front of and to the right of Rodgers. Kuhn, an acknowledged master of deciphering pressure packages, slid briskly in front of Rodgers and hit the 287-pound Peppers in the left hip.
"I tried to cut him the best I could," said Kuhn. "I got enough of him so Aaron was able to get out of the pocket."
Most veteran quarterbacks, notably Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, probably would have been sacked. Not Rodgers, who just managed to elude Peppers' grasp and escape.
From the Green Bay 42, Rodgers launched a bomb that Cobb, who was at least 10 yards behind free safety Chris Conte, hauled in at the 10 before he tumbled into the end zone.
Conte, obviously mismatched athletically by Cobb, had almost no chance to cover him anyway. When Conte played the sticks, expecting the ball to come out about 10 yards downfield given anticipated pressure, Cobb and Green Bay's three other receivers ran vertically and it was over.
"The thinking is, we can sit back in zone and give him the opportunity to make a play, or we can try to make him rush the throw," said first-year coach Marc Trestman, seeking the Bears' first sweep of Green Bay since 2007. "Kuhn just got a piece of 'Pep' and Aaron was able to slip outside."
Trestman, whose specialty is coaching quarterbacks, pointed out the difficulty of Rodgers' scramble and throw.
"It's not easy to go to your left and make a play like that, and he did," added Trestman. "You have to marvel at the fact that he was going to his left and made that kind of throw.
"If you're going to run a quarterback out of the pocket, you want him to go to the opposite of his arm. It's hard for any defender to hold onto coverage that long. It can't be a six-second play.
"Aaron Rodgers made the play that a great player like him can make. He found a way to win the game with a great play."
For long stretches, Tucker found ways to thwart Rodgers. The Bears gave tremendous effort on defense, had a plan and stubbornly adhered to it.
Rodgers was content to throw hitches to Jordy Nelson (10 catches, 161 yards) and James Jones (6-41). Out since suffering a broken leg Sept. 22, Cobb played about 40 percent of the snaps and had two catches.
But the Bears couldn't apply the coup de grace not once but four times on the Packers' 15-play, 87-yard drive to glory.
When the Packers faced fourth and 1 at the Chicago 22, McCarthy sent out the punt team with 4 minutes 41 seconds left. As a measurement was taken, McCarthy reconsidered after talking to Rodgers and guard Josh Sitton and waved the offense back out.
"We ought to be able to get a couple inches to save our season," Kuhn said.
Kuhn converted off right guard, but the Bears quickly forced a third and 3. This time, Rodgers ran for 5.
"I got out, but a guy was covering me, man," said Kuhn. "So Aaron couldn't check down and did a great job making a guy miss."
Then another fourth and 1 came up. This time, Nelson ran a sideline stop route for 6 against Zack Bowman.
"Twelve back there throwing it?" Bakhtiari said of the play, laughing. "We trust him."
And then, with the Bears' defense still showing plenty of fight, three plays gained merely 2 yards.
Tucker went with his zero blitz. Kuhn made an all-time adjustment. Rodgers made an all-time throw.
Cutler, with a 54.8 rating and 17 interceptions against Capers, was outstanding with a 103.8 mark.
"He played good. No doubt," said Pickett. "We were waiting for picks, but we didn't get them."
The Packers' two-headed ground game of Eddie Lacy and James Starks piled up 160 yards and a 4.7-yard average. Matt Forte hurt the Packers' paper-thin defense with 110 and a 5-yard average.
In the end, a franchise quarterback came off two months of inactivity to lead his team into the playoffs for the fifth time in his six seasons as starter.
"Just a great, great team win," beamed McCarthy. "Clearly one of our finer moments in our time in Green Bay."
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