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Bears Fall Short in NFC Championship

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jan 24, 2011 2:00PM

For the past week, the frenzy grew each day as we approached the epic Bears-Packers rematch for the NFC crown and a trip to Super Bowl XLV. From the outset, it didn't appear to be the Bears day. The Bears lost Jay Cutler to injury and, while a bit of magic from their third string quarterback provided a bit of excitement late in the game, the Bears came up short. The Bears seemingly endless good luck this season ran out as they lost 21-14 in the biggest game ever in this storied 182-game rivalry, while the Green Bay Packers move on to the Super Bowl.

After receiving the opening kickoff, quarterback Aaron Rodgers drove his Packers down field to grab a seemingly effortless 7-0 lead, running into the end zone to cap a drive where he connected on all four passes to march 84 yards in four minutes. Taking advantage of excellent field position after the Bears were forced to punt from their end zone, Green Bay added another touchdown early in the second quarter to take a 14-0 lead. Lance Briggs intercepted Rodgers inside of a minute to play in the first half, but Jay Cutler threw an interception on the play in which he apparently injured his knee. The Packers took their two touchdown lead into the break.

While Cutler took the field for the Bears' first turn with the ball in the third quarter, he left the game after a three-and-out possession. Bears fans rode a roller coaster of emotions as Brian Urlacher picked off Rodgers at the Bears' six-yard line and returned the ball to midfield, only to see back-up Todd Collins take the field in Cutler's stead. Collins did nothing in that possession or his next one before being replaced by Caleb Hanie near the end of the third quarter.

Hanie promptly led the Bears 67 yards down field for their first score of the afternoon. A 32-yard completion to Johnny Knox set up Chester Taylor's one-yard touchdown run. With the score 14-7, Bears fans had hope for the first time all afternoon. Backed up deep in his own territory on his third possession, Hanie was intercepted by B.J. Raji, who carried his 338 pounds 18 yards into the end zone. With a 21-7 lead, it looked like the Packers had the game locked up, but Hanie wasn't finished. On the ensuing possession, Hanie directed another scoring drive, hitting Earl Bennett for a 35-yard touchdown strike that cut the Packers lead to seven with nearly five minutes left to play. As they had for the entire second half, the Bears defense shut down the Packer and gave Hanie and the Bears offense another chance with about three minutes to play. After driving the Bears 82 yards down the field, the Bears hopes were officially dashed as Sam Shields picked off a Hanie pass intended for Knox.

Bear fans are now invariably asking "what if?" What if Lovie Smith had let Robbie Gould attempt field goals of 53 and 49 yards instead of punting in the first half? What if Cutler remained in the game? Many believe if he was able to stand and walk, then he should have been on the field with so much on the line. Cutler's second half absence may have forever ruined his relationship with the fans — they were already burning his jersey in the Soldier Field parking lots. On the other hand, he was just 6 of 14 for 80 yards and an interception while on the field. Fans (many who wondered why Todd Collins was still second on the depth chart After his performance earlier in the season) may question whether the Bears might have pulled out the game if Hanie had entered the game sooner. Despite their rough start, the defense came on strong, holding the Packers offense scoreless in the second half. Brian Urlacher had a monster game, recording a sack of Rodgers and a team-high 10 tackles in addition to his interception and return. While the defense kept the Bears in the game, the offense just couldn't overcome its early issues.

Few of us expected the Bars to even get this far. Even those who thought they might make the playoffs didn't believe they were a complete enough team to compete for the Super Bowl. And yet this loss stings, especially since it came at the hands of our biggest rivals. "It's disappointing, it's not the way we wanted to end our season," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "They played better." Now, having won the Halas Trophy, the Green Bay Packers have their shot at the Lombardi.