CHICAGO (AP) — Aaron Rodgers missed about half the season. Now, he can make up for lost time.
Rodgers returned from a broken collarbone and fired a 48-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb in the final minute Sunday to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears and the NFC North championship.
“There were a lot of opportunities for us to give up, and we just kept believing in each other,” Rodgers said. “I’m proud of our guys.”
Back after missing seven games with a broken left collarbone, Rodgers found a wide-open Cobb on fourth-and-8 to wipe out a one-point deficit with 38 seconds left.
Green Bay will host San Francisco next weekend in the wild-card round.
The Bears had one final drive, but Jay Cutler’s deep pass to Alshon Jeffery was intercepted by Sam Shields on the final play.
That gave the Packers (8-7-1) their third straight division title and fifth postseason appearance in a row. It also kept the Bears (8-8) out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
Things weren’t looking great for the Packers after Chicago’s Brandon Marshall spun away from Tramon Williams in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 28-20. But Green Bay answered with a touchdown drive.
Eddie Lacy ran in from the 6 after a 22-yard pass from Rodgers to Andrew Quarless went through safety Chris Conte’s hands, making it a one-point game.
Then, on the winning drive, Green Bay converted twice on fourth-and-1 before Rodgers eluded pressure and unleashed that winning pass to Cobb.
A block by John Kuhn on Julius Peppers helped Rodgers roll to the edge and find Cobb by himself down the field.
“We had a blitz on,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We lost an edge. Aaron was able to get outside. Once he got outside, things happen. When you’ve got a zero blitz on, things can happen. And we just lost coverage with our eyes in the backfield.”
Here are five things we learned from this game:
RODGERS READY: Rodgers got off to a shaky start. Then, he got payback against the team that nearly ended his season.
He was intercepted on the Packers’ first two possessions but threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns in his first appearance since he was injured in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 4. That had to at least send a chill through San Francisco and anyone else Green Bay might face in the postseason.
WHERE’S THE ‘D?’: If there’s one area that could prevent the Packers from making a run, it would be the defense — particularly with Clay Matthews sidelined by broken thumb.
Among the worst in the league coming in, that group gave up 345 yards but couldn’t stop Chicago in the second half. The Packers gave up 21 points over the final two quarters and registered just one sack against Cutler in the game.
CUT-TING IT: Yes, the Bears’ first season under Trestman ended the way five of the previous six did under Lovie Smith — with Chicago out of the playoffs. They can’t blame that on their quarterback, though.
With an expiring contract and questions about his ability in big games, Cutler came through with a solid performance, throwing for 226 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He is now 1-9 against Green Bay, including a conference final and a loss with Denver in 2007.
UNCERTAIN FUTURES: The Bears could have a decidedly different look next season, with many players having expiring contracts besides Cutler. That list includes Devin Hester, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, among others.
Hester would like to come back. Whether he will is a different story.
“I’ve done a lot of things around here,” he said. “It’s my eighth year. I just feel like I’d (like) the honor of trying to retire as a Bear. At the same time, this is a business. It’s up to the guys upstairs whether or not I’m worthy of staying around.”
Cutler also said he would like to return, and Marshall guaranteed he would.
“You’d love to,” Cutler said. “You can’t predict the future, though. I’m not really going to get into what’s going to happen. It always works out how it’s supposed to.”
ON THE RUN: While Rodgers’ return is a huge lift for the Packers, Lacy’s ankle injury remains a concern. He aggravated it in the third quarter and finished with 66 yards.
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