The NFL announced Thursday that Chicago Bears defensive end has been fined $10,000 for his hit on quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the third quarter of the NFC Championship game last Sunday. Peppers was flagged for roughing the passer after the helmet-to-helmet hit, which caused Rodgers to bite his lip.
Rodgers, who has sustained two concussions on the year, was slow to get up but was not injured on the play. Rodgers credits that to, in part, the new helmet he has been wearing since his second concussion suffered in Week 13 against the Detroit Lions.
While he wasn’t hurt on the play, Rodgers’ play seemed to be affected after the hit, although he claims his less than stellar performance had nothing to do with the hit.
What a game.
It probably wasn’t the contest either team pictured going in, but the Packers knocked off the Bears 21-14 Sunday at Soldier Field to advance to Super Bowl XLV. The game featured three Bears’ quarterbacks, two Aaron Rodgers interceptions, an interception returned for a touchdown from a 340-pound nose tackle, and two interceptions from an undrafted free agent rookie.
The Packers will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also hung on to beat the New York Jets 24-19, Feb. 6 in Dallas, Texas. Here are game balls to hand out for the Packers’ NFC Title.
Sam Shields: For all the deserved talk cornerback Tramon Williams received over the last two weeks, it was another undrafted cornerback who came up huge for the Packers Sunday. Shields, a wide receiver-turned-cornerback from Miami, intercepted two passes and also recorded a sack, becoming the first rookie to ever do so in a playoff game. His first interception came late in the first half on the heels of an Aaron Rodgers interception in Chicago territory. Down 14-0, the Bears were looking to gain some momentum and were closing in on field goal range. Quarterback Jay Cutler lofted a pass down the left sideline intended for Johnny Knox, but Shields stayed stride-for-stride with Knox and made a leaping grab for the takeaway.
His second pick came in the final minutes and sealed the game for the Packers. Facing a 4th and 5 from the Packers’ 29-yard line, third string quarterback Caleb Hanie once again looked for Knox, but it was Shields who again jumped in front of his receiver to pick it off. He also added a sack and finished with four tackles. The addition of Shields has allowed the Packers to move Charles Woodson around without giving up too much on the outside, and the Packers’ defense has reaped the benefits. This was a mini-break out party for Shields, who was the Packers’ MVP today.
Greg Jennings: Aaron Rodgers was far from perfect today, missing some easy passes and throwing into traffic when he didn’t need to. However, the passes he did complete, or at least eight of them, were made far easier by the outstanding route-running and hands of Greg Jennings. He finished the game with eight catches for 130 yards and was targeted a team-high 11 times. In a game where field conditions were poor and neither offense was clicking, having a reliable set of hands on crucial plays was a main key to the game.
Jennings got things going early, catching passes on the first two plays of the game for 50 yards to put the Packers’ in great field position. Jennings was also on the receiving end of a few crucial second and third downs late in the game, keeping the Packers in great position to come out with the win. It’s not a stretch to say Jennings has become one of, if not, the best recievers in the league. He can beat teams from anywhere on the field on any kind of route, something that will be key in two weeks against the feared Steelers’ defense.
A 47-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with nine seconds left pushed the Atlanta Falcons past the Packers 20-17 in a matchup of two of the NFC’s best Sunday. The Packers offense failed to convert key plays, the defense missed tackles, and the special teams reverted back to its old ways in the loss, leaving the team empty-handed in what could have been a season-defining game.
With the loss, the Packers (7-4) move a game behind the Chicago Bears for the NFC North lead and are currently on the outside looking in the playoff race. That being said, the Packers still control its destiny in the North and will have plenty of opportunities to make a jump in the standings over the next five weeks.
To see grades for the offense, click here.
As for Sunday, here are a few grades for key players on defense.
B.J. Raji: If Raji gets the credit when the defensive line does well against the run, he has to take the heat when they perform poorly. Michael Turner rushed for a seemingly easy 110 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, in part thanks to a Packers’ defensive line that never created push and allowed holes for him to run through. Raji was credited with just one tackle and really struggled the entire afternoon. GRADE: C
Cullen Jenkins: The Packers weren’t able to create too much of a pass rush as Matt Ryan checked down or threw short on most of his 28 passes, but Jenkins was in his face whenever he didn’t. He recorded his first sack since Week 4 and was actually stout against the run when plays came to his side. He has been a beast since his hand cast came off and is proving why he deserves a big paycheck from Ted Thompson.
The Packers seemed in control of Sunday night’s playoff game in Philadelphia for about 58 minutes before the Eagles made a late surge. Michael Vick was 41 yards away from advancing to a second round matchup with the Bears before Tramon Williams intercepted a pass in the endzone, sealing the 21-16 victory for the Packers.
Here are game balls to hand out for Green Bay’s 21-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Much had been made about Rodgers’ inability to win in the playoffs, despite losing just once in his only opportunity while throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns in that game. However, the mini-monkey is now off his back after Sunday night’s win. Rodgers had himself an excellent day that may have been overshadowed by the Packers’ run game, finishing 18-for-27 for 180 yards and three passing touchdowns. He put up those numbers despite four drops by receivers, including what would have been a 63-yard touchdown pass to James Jones at the end of the first half. Rodgers was great when he needed to be and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over. He could add another chapter to his ever-growing legacy with a win in Atlanta next week, but for now he can celebrate his first of, hopefully, many playoff victories.
Running back James Starks
If it weren’t for Rodgers picking up that first playoff victory that eluded him a season ago, rookie James Starks would have had first honors for game balls. Seemingly out of nowhere, the sixth round draft pick rushed 23 times for 123 yards in the win, bulldozing between the tackles for positive runs to keep Packers’ drives alive. Many expected Rodgers and the Packers to go with a pass-happy attack on offense, but instead they rode the hot hand in Starks to pick up the win. He didn’t find the endzone on any of his carries, but Starks also caught two passes out of the backfield for nine yards and played himself into a bigger role in next week’s game in Atlanta.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews
In preparation for the Packers-Eagles contest Sunday afternoon, I asked Philadelphia Eagles Examiner Gordie Jones five questions about the Eagles. Questions he asked me about the Packers can be found here. Here are his responses.
1. No one denies Michael Vick has had an MVP-worthy season in 2010, but is there any credibility to Andy Reid’s comments that he would consider pulling him if he fails to perform early?
I can’t believe he would ever do that. Kevin Kolb, who began the season as the starter, is a worthy backup. But I can’t envision a scenario (other than injury) under which Reid would pull the plug on the Michael Vick Experience at this point.
2. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems LeSean McCoy can get buried underneath the press and headlines Michael Vick and the Eagles’ high-octane pass attack gets. However, his split stats in wins and losses are extremely telling. Despite Vick’s prowess on the field, is it fair to say McCoy is the engine that makes the Eagles’ offense go?
Being ranked as the top offense in the NFC is no easy task, especially with teams like the Packers, Saints, and Giants involved. But that’s exactly what Michael Vick and the rest of the Eagles’ high-powered offense have done this season, amassing 6,320 yards of offense in 2010. They ranked fifth in total offense through the air and led the NFC on the ground, and with Michael Vick in the lineup a serious argument could be made for them as the top offense in the conference.
The Packers’ defense, which has performed admirably despite handfuls of injuries to key players, will have its hands full trying to shut down Vick and the rest of the offense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have had a full week plus 17 weeks on game film to plan for Vick, something he didn’t have when Vick entered the Week 1 matchup against the Packers.
Here’s a look at the Eagles’ skill position players and how the Packers will have to go about shutting them down.
Quarterback Michael Vick
Anyone who has seen Vick play this season, and by now that should be just about everyone, knows how dynamic and game-changing he can be. One play he will bullet a pass down the field for a 50-yard gain and the next he’ll scramble for 20 more. Just when defenders think they have him in their grasp, he uses his sneaky strength and unparralled agility to escape pressure.
A three or four-man rush will not get the job done against Vick because it allows too much time for his receivers (and defenders) to get downfield, allowing him to find an open man or scramble for big yards. Luckily for the Packers, blitzing has been one of its strong suits in 2010. They led the NFC in sacks and, behind linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and cornerback Charles Woodson, can and will bring pressure from everywhere on the field.
Another added bonus for the Packers is the expected return of defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has missed the last four games with a nagging calf injury. He has tallied seven sacks on the season and will be a key pass rusher on the outside in both pressuring and containing Vick. Keeping Vick inside the hashmarks on passing downs with outside pressure and blitzes will be more effective than rushing up the middle, allowing Vick to move outside the pocket.
Through the air, Vick likes to take chances. His 8.11 yards per attempt ranks second in the NFC, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, so pressuring Vick and not allowing his receivers a chance to get downfield will keep him in check. He struggles with short passes because of his throwing motion and inaccuracy. Expect blitzes early and often to throw Vick’s timing.
Running Back LeSeasn McCoy
Every Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers fan remembers where he or she was on January 11, 2004. The Packers were just one stop away from advancing to the NFC Championship game to take on the Carolina Panthers. All that was standing in their way was a 4th and 26 play. Green Bay’s “Cover 2″ defense left the middle of the field wide open, and when Nick Barnett followed tight end Jeff Thomason instead of staying deep, Donovan McNabb found Freddie Mitchell on a post down the middle for 31 yards. David Akers would later kick a game-tying field goal on that drive as time expired and the Eagles went on to win the game in overtime.
The Packers were able to extract some revenge in their first trip back to Philadelphia since “4th and 26″ with a 27-20 victory in Week 1 of this season, but the memories have far from faded in the minds of Packers fans. Sunday the Packers will travel back to Philadelphia in the first round of the NFL Playoffs in an attempt to fully erase that fateful play, but it will be no easy task.
The Packers won a nail-biter Sunday afternoon in Lambeau Field over the Bears, qualifying them for the 2010 Playoffs. They grabbed the No. 6 seed and will take on the Eagles next Sunday.
But it’s never too early to look forward to next season.
With the completion of the 2010 NFL regular season also came completed schedules for the 2011 season. Here is a breakdown of how schedules are compiled each season as a refresher:
Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
· The four teams from another division within the conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
· The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
· Two intra-conference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
Based on the rotating cycle and second-place finish, The Packers will face the NFC South and AFC West, the New York Giants (second in the NFC East), and the St. Louis Rams (second in the NFC West), along with their NFC North opponents.
The Packers are in the playoffs.
Say it five, 10, or 15 more times. Trust me, it won’t get old.
In a season marred by handfuls of injuries, close losses, and uncertainty, Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers fought past it all to claim the NFC’s final playoff spot by taking down the Chicago Bears 10-3 at Lambeau Field.
The early games on Sunday did little to help the Packers, as the Falcons handled the Panthers to claim the No. 1 seed in the conference. Because of that, the Saints rested most of its starters late in the game and allowed the Buccaneers to secure a victory that moved them to 10-6.
That Buccaneers win took out the scenario that would have allowed the Packers to fall to the Bears and still make the playoffs, so for the second consecutive week the Packers needed a win.
For one half of play, it looked bleak in Green Bay. The offense, despite putting together solid drives, had stalled and failed to put any points on the board while the Bears seemed content to keep the pace slow and run out the clock on the Packers.
But the Packers’ defense and, surprisingly, special teams came up in a big way in the second half, allowing the offense to start with solid field position and put 10 points on the board. That was all the defense needed, shutting Jay Cutler and Bears down by forcing two turnovers to seal the victory and a playoff spot for the Packers.
Here are game balls for the Packers’ regular season finale.