Packers blast Bears to clinch No. 1 seed, get bye

  • Covered Packers for Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1997-2013
  • Two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association

Aaron Rodgers might finally get his wish: an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.

All the Green Bay Packers have to do is win one more game and that becomes a reality.

Rodgers ensured that in Sunday’s regular-season finale thanks in part to a perfect first half on the way to a 35-16 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

It gave the Packers (13-3) the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. With that comes a first-round bye — the only one in the conference thanks to the expanded playoff field — and home games between now and the Super Bowl. While the other six NFC playoff teams play next weekend, the Packers are off until the divisional round on either Jan 16 or 17.

Rodgers has played in four NFC Championship Games, winning just one — 10 years ago at Soldier Field. After last year’s NFC title game loss at the 49ers, the Packers’ third straight loss in the conference title game after the 2014 conference championship game at Seattle and the 2016 game at Atlanta, Rodgers spoke longingly about wanting one at Lambeau.

“I’ve said this before: We’ve got to get one of these at home,” Rodgers said after the 37-20 loss to the 49ers last January. “It’s a different ballgame. It’s different playing in 20-degree weather and snow. Cold and wind is a different type of game than playing here.”

The Week 16 game against the Titans showed that. The Packers blew out Tennessee 40-14 on a snow-covered field and they excelled on a 32-degree afternoon in Chicago on Sunday.

The Packers last had the No. 1 seed after their 15-1 regular season in 2011, but they lost to the Giants 37-20 in an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The Packers ran 21 plays in the first half and scored 21 points. Rodgers completed his first 11 passes, including 10-for-10 for 155 yards and three touchdowns, including a 72-yarder to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the second quarter. It should have been his first 12 and with four touchdowns, but Valdes-Scantling dropped a 53-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.

After a slow start to the second half, the Packers sealed things when Aaron Jones scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 3:47 left. On that same drive, Davante Adams broke Sterling Sharpe’s franchise record for single-season receptions (112). On the very next drive, he matched Sharpe’s single-season franchise record for touchdowns, too, with his 18th. That also tied for the third most in a season in NFL history. Only Randy Moss (23 in 2007) and Jerry Rice (22 in 1987) caught more. And Adams missed two full games — and half of another — because of an early-season hamstring injury.

The touchdown to Adams was Rodgers’ fourth of the game, giving him a career-best and franchise-record 48 touchdown passes for the season (and only five interceptions), wrapping up his case for a third MVP.

The win at Chicago came just three days after the Packers lost All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to a season-ending knee injury. Billy Turner moved from the right side to replace Bakhtiari and Rick Wagner came in at right tackle. Rodgers was sacked just once.

What’s more, the Packers feel better about their defense, which got run over by the 49ers in the championship game last season.

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