By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin
~GREEN BAY – Charles Woodson plans on returning – to the field this season, and to the Green Bay Packers in 2013.
While the veteran safety has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans – leaving him only the Dec. 30 regular-season finale at Minnesota as a chance to play before the postseason – he steadfastly maintained Friday that he will play again this season. If it ends up taking until the playoffs, so be it, he said.
Woodson, who suffered a broken collarbone Oct. 21 at St. Louis, will be sitting out his eighth straight game on Sunday.
“I feel good,” said Woodson, who took part on a limited basis in practice all week. “I don’t feel like I have to play in (the regular-season finale), but it’d be great to just get out there and play football. Next week will kind of take care of itself and we’ll see if I can get out there and run around a little bit.”
Asked if he thought he could play like himself if he didn’t return until the playoffs, Woodson chuckled and replied, “What do you think? Whenever the time comes, I know how to play football. That’s one thing you don’t (forget). Just because you have time off, doesn’t mean you forget how to play the game. I know how to play the game. I know the defense, and so when that time comes, I’ll be ready.
“I don’t think there’s any ideal situation. You just want to give in a game. It’s been way too long, watching too much football from the sidelines. Even though they’re great seats, I’d rather be playing.
“It’s been frustrating since it happened. I don’t think it’s been any more frustrating. Just not being able to play in football games and preparing and get ready to go out there and play at home, that’s hard for any player, especially me, I’ve been doing it for so long. You almost expect to be able to go out and play ball regardless of what the injury is. It just so happens with this type of injury you can’t just go out and play, so I think that’s just probably the most frustrating part of it. I look forward to getting back out there on the field.”
Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Woodson said he fully expects to return next season, as he has two years remaining on the five-year, $55 million extension he signed in September 2010. The deal included $21 million in advances and bonuses. Woodson’s 2013 and 2014 base salaries are each $6.5 million, and he is scheduled to receive $2.5 million roster bonuses in the spring of each year as well.
Asked if he’ll play in 2013, Woodson replied, “Oh, absolutely.” Asked if he expected it to be in Green Bay, he answered, “Until somebody tells me I’m not, this is where I plan on playing.”
It’s certainly conceivable that the Packers would, at the very least, approach him about a pay cut or contract restructuring, but Woodson said there hasn’t been any discussion of that yet.
“I haven’t had that conversation. If that conversation comes around, it comes around,” he said. “But as far as I know is, anything that I expect is that I’ll be a Green Bay Packer. That’s all I have to say about that.”
Nevertheless, Woodson has been impressed with the way safeties M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian have filled in for him at safety and how rookie cornerback Casey Hayward has taken over covering slot receivers in sub packages.
“They have been playing well. Looking at the whole team really, especially of course the defense and defensive backs,” Woodson said. “These guys are young players, they’ve been asked to do a lot. With the nickel and the dime and the safety position, you have those guys who have to come in and do what I’ve done for a long time. Those guys have come in and filled in well, and they’ve helped lead this team to a lot of wins and get us into the playoffs.
“This team has throughout this season found ways to win and we’ve found ourselves in the playoffs. I’m just thankful that when I do come back, I’ll have a chance to play in the playoffs.”
Woodson admitted that his collarbone will be on his mind as he gets ready to play in a game – whenever that might be – but said he thought those concerns would dissipate once the game started. He also pointed out that both times he broke his collarbone – he did so in Super Bowl XLV as well – he did it by hitting the ground, not an opposing player.
“Probably before the game, but I think when you get into the game, I think all of those thoughts kind of flee your mind and you get ready to play the game,” Woodson said. “I’ll think about it for sure before I get out there on the field, but once I get out there on the field, then it’s time to play football.”
Full story here
By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin
~Coach Mike McCarthy knew it during the week: Having star outside linebacker Clay Matthews back had altered the entire vibe of the Green Bay Packers defense. It stood to reason that he’d have the same effect on game day.
And boy, did he.
“You could see it in practice. When Clay Matthews is on the field, we’re a different defense. He’s an impact player. He made an impact today,” McCarthy said after Matthews had two sacks, six tackles (four for losses) and a pass deflection in Sunday’s 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. “He’s clearly one of the best defensive players in the league. I think that says it all.”
Matthews’ play certainly said plenty in his return from the hamstring injury he suffered on Nov. 4 against Arizona, costing him the past four games. He got to work immediately, teaming with defensive end Mike Daniels to stuff Matt Forte – after the Bears back had started the game running right through the Green Bay defense – for no gain on a second-and-1 at Green Bay’s 31-yard line. A false start followed by an incompletion forced the Bears to punt.
Both of Matthews’ sacks on quarterback Jay Cutler came on nifty inside stunts that seemed to catch the Bears by surprise. The first was for a 7-yard loss on a third-down play to open the second quarter and force a punt; the second was early in the fourth quarter and resulted in another 7-yard loss on a second-and-17 play.
“You could tell with how they were blocking in the game and some of the defenses we were calling that we could take advantage of some matchups,” said Matthews, who had 3.5 sacks in the Packers’ Sept. 13 victory over Chicago and now has 11 sacks on the season. “So we ran some other games out there, some one-on-ones, but ultimately I have a pretty good change of direction and quickness, and it’s hard for those big guys.”
While Matthews was frustrated by the time he missed, he admitted that it might turn out to be a blessing.
“There absolutely is some benefit to it,” Matthews said. “You never want to just miss four games in the middle of the season and try to come back, but fortunately we’ve had some success. I can tell there’s still room for my game to improve. Fresh legs, no doubt about it. Hopefully (I can) come back and remain healthy for the rest of the season. I felt good out there, and hopefully that’s the case the rest of the year.”
Asked what he has to do to stay in the lineup, Matthews admitted that he might’ve pushed it a bit more than he should’ve. Although Matthews was supposed to only see part-time action, he came out of the game for only a handful of snaps.
“We need to continue to be smart. You can’t just say you had one game that you made it out safe, let’s take the reins off and let him go at it again,” Matthews said. “As you can see, I took a few plays off – not many. I think they wanted a little bit more but I wouldn’t let them.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting too fatigued, so I was going to continue to be out there. Perhaps (on) longer drives, plays where I’m running a little more, I may have to take a few plays off to keep the body fresh.
“We’ll continue to do that, keep an eye on my physical status throughout the week, but that’s kind of the way it goes. That’s kind of been my problem throughout the years. Hey, if I can come out and have games like this, then it’s a good problem to have.”
By Sarah Barshop, ESPN Wisconsin
~Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows how good James Jones can be. Jones has become one of his “go-to” receivers this season and there’s not much else the wide receiver could do to surprise Rodgers.
Except maybe drop a pass.
“If he drops a ball, that surprises me, which doesn’t happen a whole lot,” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “He’s been very consistent for us.”
Jones, who connected with Rodgers for three touchdowns in the Packers’ 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears, has 46 receptions for 562 yards this season, and hadn’t dropped a pass until Dec. 9 against Detroit.
Entering this season, Jones had the second-highest drop rate (14.39 percent) in the NFL from 2009-’11, according to Profootballfocus.com. Rodgers attributes the change to the work that the wide receiver puts into every week of practice and game preparation.
“I think his attitude has been great, he’s been dialed in every week, his preparation has been very good, (and) he practices the right way,” Rodgers said. “He’s just been making plays. He gets a lot of opportunities.”
Unlike in years past, Jones has taken advantage of those opportunities this season.
“Every day I come out, I’m just trying to get better, trying to improve,” Jones said. “It’s a long year, you’re going to make some mistakes, but every day you come out in practice and just try to get better and just trying to make the most of my opportunities.”
Most of Jones’ chances this season have come in the red zone. Despite having fewer receiving yards than one would expect a wide receiver with 12 touchdowns to have, Jones and Rodgers have take advantage of their chemistry at critical times. As a comparison, A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals has 11 touchdowns this season – second to Jones in the NFL – and has amassed 1208 receiving yards.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Jones’ ability to make the “big catch” is a large part of his success.
“He just catches touchdowns,” McCarthy said. “That’s a nice job responsibility to have. It’s just the way it falls sometimes. James is having an excellent year. I can’t say enough about him. The ability to make the big catch, just the back-shoulder fade there, he’s playing very well.”
Added Rodgers: “His three touchdowns today, he catches a fade down the sideline with a very good release, he catches an underneath route where he caught a high, difficult pass and was able to get into the end zone. He catches a back-shoulder fade on one of the top corners in the league. Got to give him a ton of credit, those are big-time plays and he’s a go-to guy.”
That back-shoulder catch was Jones’ third touchdown of the day. Though the shortest in yardage, it was the most difficult. After Rodgers threw an incomplete pass to tight end Jermichael Finley, Bears’ safety Chris Conte bailed Green Bay out with a pass interference penalty. Following a delay of game penalty on the Packers, Rodgers threw a difficult pass to Jones’ back-shoulder for a 6-yard touchdown.
“It’s a tough play to defend, and it’s a tough ball to throw, too, as well, because just reading off the defender, if he would’ve stuck his hand back, he probably would’ve hit the ball,” Jones said. “It was one of those plays we were able to connect on the back shoulder. He played it well, he didn’t want me to get over the top of him, and we were able to connect on a back-shoulder ball.”
Despite Jones’ individual success this season, he knows the offense can’t just run through him and Rodgers.
“We needed everybody,” Jones said. “Offense doesn’t move with one person. Offense moves with everybody, starting with No. 12 (Rodgers). But we needed everybody to make plays. Randall caught a bunch of crucial third-down catches, Jermichael (Finley) came up big, Greg (Jennings) made some plays. It was a team win.”
And the success the Packers have had playing as a team, Jones said, is the reason the team is 10-4 after a 2-3 start, and the reason the Packers are NFC North Champions.
“That’s what we came out here for, to get a win, to go home division champs and continue to just continue to grow as a team and get better as a team,” Jones said.
“We know this was not our ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, so we have a lot of work to do.”
Full story here
By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel
~The play was pure improvisation. No Cover-2 brainstorming. No cat-and-mouse game with a coach. This was the Aaron Rodgers that terrified the Chicago Bears leading up to this game.
In the third quarter, Rodgers stepped up and was nearly swallowed by a Bermuda Triangle of defenders. He spotted Julius Peppers, spun to roll left, stared down Peppers again, redirected right a few yards and – with three players barreling in – drilled a 27-yard completion to Randall Cobb.
When Bears cornerback D.J. Moore said “all hell breaks loose” if Rodgers buys himself time, this is what he’s talking about.
Through back-to-back wins at Lambeau Field, Rodgers stayed patient. He worked underneath.
In Green Bay’s 21-13 win Sunday at Soldier Field, there were no restrictions, no hesitation. Rodgers often resembled the free-rein quarterback from that 31-of-36 thrashing of the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs two years ago.
He pulled the trigger in tighter windows. He looked deep. When he kept plays alive, he made the Bears pay.
Playoffs closing in fast, this was the kind of game that reminds teammates they have a little something extra at the quarterback position.
“I don’t know if you can really put it into words with what kind of player he is,” running back Alex Green said. “He can do things that other guys can’t do. He can make plays with his feet, obviously with his arm. He’s got something special.”
Rodgers is fine with winning ugly. It’s acceptable. The Packers ran the ball more they passed it in wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. For much of this season, defenses have pulled seven players back into coverage, daring Green Bay to run. And, for the most part, Rodgers has taken what’s given.
In Chicago, Rodgers was creative, bold.
There was a 29-yarder down the middle to Cobb threaded through the heart of Chicago’s Cover-2 defense. There was a 31-yard throw to tight end Jermichael Finley between a linebacker and a safety.
And on the run – players darting all over the field – Rodgers played in peace.
When the Bears blitzed a pair of defenders up the gut that flushed Rodgers right, he patted the ball twice, waited for Cobb to get to the sideline and rifled the ball 40 yards through the air, on the run, to a spot only Cobb could catch it. Moore and safety Major Wright closed the passing window fast. But Rodgers trusted his accuracy and Cobb. Three plays later, he hit James Jones on one of three touchdowns to tie the game early.
“Personally, I was thinking about moving around a little bit more,” Rodgers said. “Just being aware of where I was in the pocket, stepping up when I had to, keeping plays alive.”
Left guard T.J. Lang says the offensive linemen understand Rodgers’ propensity to scramble. It’s part of his game. On Sunday, Rodgers scrambled – as he often has this season – and made the gutty throws on top of it.
Buying time paid off.
“He likes to do that,” Lang said. “He likes to keep plays alive and get out of the pocket. It just tells us that we have to block until we see that ball thrown.
“I don’t think the pass protection was perfect tonight by any means, but we did have some big third downs where guys stayed engaged and kept in front of guys and allowed Aaron to get outside the pocket and hit some receivers for first downs.”
Rodgers noted afterward that the Bears mixed in some delayed blitzing. A split-second of extra time helped Sunday and he was nearly flawless. In addition to Jones’ three touchdowns, Cobb also dropped a potential touchdown.
Rodgers was 23 of 36 for 291 yards, and the passer rating of 116.8 was his best mark in eight weeks.
“It just felt great,” Finley said. “Rodgers got in a groove. Our receivers got in a groove. We got that middle of the field working today. It’s a great feeling.”
Disarray in the backfield rarely means disaster for Rodgers. Throughout his career, it has created opportunities. On Sunday, the big plays returned.
For a Green Bay offense that’s had several moving parts, the timing is ideal.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity,” Rodgers said. “I think this team is playing the right way right now.”
Full story here
By Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com
~After the Green Bay Packers’ 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:
1. Defensive back Charles Woodson said Sunday that team officials thought the Packers could beat the Bears without him, thus agreeing with the decision to give his healing collarbone one more week of rest. Woodson is a versatile player who can help near the line of scrimmage, but there is no doubt the Packers are playing excellent downfield defense in his absence. Over their past three games, the Packers have allowed only three completions in 25 attempts on passes that traveled at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. They have three interceptions in those situations and have not allowed a touchdown. Cornerback Sam Shields’ return from a shin injury has given the Packers three really good cover men between him, Tramon Williams and rookie Casey Hayward. On Sunday, they limited Bears receiver Brandon Marshall to six receptions for 56 yards and no other receiver caught a pass. One of the reasons rookie Alshon Jeffery was flagged three times for offensive pass interference was that Shields had such tight coverage on him.
2.Bob McGinn’s analysis of tight end Jermichael Finley’s future created a hubbub Sunday morning, enough so that several readers wanted to know why the Packers would release Finley during the season. That’s not what McGinn wrote, of course. What he did suggest, however, is that the Packers no longer view Finley’s talent and potential to be worth his 2013 salary (a total of $8.25 million), his drops (five in his first 13 games, via ESPN Stats & Information) and the mild but frequent off-field headaches he creates. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Packers renegotiating Finley’s contract and keeping him on the roster. He is still only 25 years old, and in the fourth quarter Sunday we were reminded of his ability to stretch defenses with a 31-yard reception. But such plays have been infrequent — the catch tied his second-longest of the season — and when the Packers needed touchdowns Sunday, they turned to receiver James Jones. Finley told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that the team hasn’t “shown me any signs” that it is ready to move on, but their on-field strategy confirms McGinn’s basic theory: Finley is in no way the offensive centerpiece the Packers once envisioned.
3.The Packers have crossed the line of no return on place-kicker Mason Crosby. If they aren’t going to cut him now, after he missed from 42 and 43 yards and prompted them to pass on a 45-yard attempt, what would prompt it? Would he have to lose a game on a chip-shot field goal? Maybe so. But that’s not really a proactive way of operating. It would be silly to wait for a loss before moving on. It’s not as if his misses haven’t impacted the games he’s played. His teammates have picked him up. Wins and losses shouldn’t affect the Packers’ analysis of Crosby. It’s only by the efforts of others that his misses haven’t been more costly. So the guess here is the Packers are committed to Crosby no matter what.
And here is one issue I still don’t get:
To his credit, Packers coach Mike McCarthy attempted to explain his decision to use a trick punt return midway deep in his territory through the fourth quarter while protecting a 21-10 lead. McCarthy said that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one of several players who were dealing with mild injuries and that he saw “the potential for the big play on special teams” that would take the pressure off Rodgers and the offense. But there is really no adequate explanation for the play, and the Packers are fortunate it did not impact the outcome of the game. We always push for coaches to be aggressive and unconventional, but McCarthy’s risk simply wasn’t necessary. First, it was a high-risk design — a non-quarterback (Randall Cobb) throwing across the field to a little-used young receiver (Jeremy Ross). After midway through the second quarter, the Bears had demonstrated absolutely no ability to move the ball. The only way they were a scoring threat was on a short field. McCarthy just coached his team to its second consecutive NFC North championship, so he gets a break here. But he and the Packers were fortunate a Bears special-teams player didn’t scoop up the ensuing fumble and run for a touchdown.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby would have been replaced months ago by most coaches, many times since then.
~By Gregg Doyel, CBS Sportsline
~ CHICAGO — Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby has become a freak show, so unreliable that his coach now treats that side of the field like four-down territory. But don’t tell that to Crosby, because he doesn’t want to hear it. Won’t acknowledge it. All but sticks his fingers in his ears and …
Na-na-na-na … I can’t hear you.
That was Crosby’s reaction, in various shapes and forms, to questions after the Packers overcame another of his brutal kicking days to beat the Bears 21-13 on Sunday for the NFC North title.
“I had a good week of work, just didn’t make two kicks today,” Crosby said. “But we won the game. We won the division. It’s a team sport.”
True, football is a team sport — until it’s not. Until it comes down to a field goal on the final play. And then this team sport boils down to one man attempting one kick. Sunday wasn’t that day for Green Bay, but that day’s coming. And in an era where the best kickers make close to 90 percent of their field goals — eight are above that threshold this season — Crosby has missed at least one kick in eight consecutive games.
The timing is terrifying for the Packers, who have watched Crosby go from one of the better kickers in the NFL — he was 24 of 28 on field goals last season, 85.7 percent — to the absolute worst. Every full-time kicker but Crosby is hitting at least 70 percent of his kicks, but Crosby isn’t even in the 60s. He’s 17 of 29 (58.6 percent) … and he isn’t even that good. Not since the third week. After opening the season with five consecutive conversions, Crosby is 12 of 24.
The Packers are chasing their second NFL title in three years with a Super Bowl-caliber offense led by Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl-caliber defense led by Clay Matthews — and a 50-50 proposition at kicker.
Although 50-50 kickers don’t stay employed for long in the NFL, the Packers don’t have much choice. There are only two regular-season games left before the playoffs, making this a dangerous time to try a new kicker off the street. If he’s unemployed this late in the season, whoever he is, how good could an alternative kicker be?
That’s where the Packers are right now. They’re going to stick with Crosby — because they’re stuck with him.
“We are not changing our kicker, so you can write that down right now,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He is our guy.”
Even if they don’t trust him. Three times Sunday, McCarthy turned down kicks in Crosby’s usual range. And he’s not happy about it.
“Mason needs to make those kicks,” McCarthy said. “We left points on the field today. Also, you factor in some of the decisions you make after that …”
Like the decision in the third quarter, when the Packers faced a fourth-and-6 at the Bears 26. Rather than go with his 50-50 kicker, McCarthy leaned on a quarterback completing 67 percent of his passes — and Rodgers came through with a 12-yard pass to Randall Cobb. Minutes later Rodgers threw a 6-yard touchdown to James Jones, their third TD connection, and the Packers led 21-7.
Crosby didn’t see a thing wrong with it. Going for it on fourth-and-6 from the 26? Made sense to Mason.
“Coach was trying to get us a two-touchdown lead,” Crosby said.
Crosby is in his own world on this one, channeling that scene from Fight Club, where the first rule about Mason Crosby’s struggle is you don’t talk about Mason Crosby’s struggle. The second rule about Mason Crosby’s struggle is you don’t talk about Mason Crosby’s struggle.
Stupid me. I wanted to talk about his struggle. So I asked Tyler Durden Mason Crosby about it — specifically, I asked him if he was worried the Packers might want to replace him before the playoffs — and he looked at me like I was insane.
“I’m not going to think about that,” he said. “That’s not even on my mind. We just won the North division. I’m not going to think about that.”
Kickers have to be that way, of course. They’re like cornerbacks or closers, needing enormous confidence and no memory. Miss a kick, and it’s gone. Forgotten. A kicker has to channel denial, and Crosby was channeling like a champ after a game in which he missed from 43 and 42 yards and had his coach turning down three other makeable opportunities.
It started when the doors opened to the Packers’ locker room and about 50 media members headed toward Crosby’s locker. Truth be told, his locker was only 10 feet from Jones’ locker — and seeing how he caught three touchdown passes, lots of the media were in the vicinity for the receiver, not the kicker.
That’s what Crosby was thinking as he put on one dress shirt and folded another, folding it so well he could work at The Gap. He was meticulous with that shirt, is what I’m telling you, and after placing the shirt in his bag he headed for the exit when he walked right into me and another reporter. Wide-eyed, Crosby realized we were there to talk not to the receiver, but to the kicker. The questions came. So did the answers.
“We won the division,” Crosby said.
“I’ve done some great things,” he said.
“This is a team sport.”
“Winning the game is all that matters.”
On and on he went, treating his struggle like something that’s real only if he acknowledges it. So he refused to acknowledge it.
A few lockers down, fullback John Kuhn was willing to talk about it. He was smiling until he realized the question was about Crosby, and then Kuhn started to wince. He likes Crosby. You can tell. He’s not mad at the kicker, but concerned about him — concerned about Crosby, and the team.
“It’s really tough,” Kuhn said. “We all support him tremendously. We love him to death, and want him to have great success. All we can do as teammates is stick with him and ride it out.”
Some rides end early. Full story here
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior analyst
~The Packers welcomed back All-Pro OLB Clay Matthews Sunday, and what a difference he makes. Matthews had a pair of sacks on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and five solo tackles including four tackles for loss.
Not everything was perfect though.
While Aaron Rodgers seems to lock onto Randall Cobb on about half of his passing plays, Jones has proven too good of a matchup for Rodgers to totally ignore as he did in the blowout loss at the Giants when Jones wasn’t targeted once by Rodgers.
Jones had a career high three touchdown passes Sunday at Chicago and Rodgers was 5/7 overall throwing to Jones. Jones has great size and strength, runs precise routes, and has strong hands.
Cutler threw at him time and time again Sunday, with little success. Sam was usually matched up on Bears rookie Alshon Jeffery, who was supposed to give the Bears that strong number two receiver and be a size mismatch. Instead, Shields was often in perfect coverage and Jeffery often resorted to pushing off. The refs missed it for awhile, and actually the first flag they threw was on Shields, for getting his facemask tugged.
Shields was solid all day long, aside from a run early in the game outside when he lost containment on the edge and allowed Matt Forte to bust off an 18-yard run. Other than that, Shields had three fine pass defends.
Packer fans love to boo Finley, and are ruthless on him when he doesn’t come up with a catch. But he came up big Sunday with a few key third down receptions, and Rodgers was 5/6 when throwing to the big tight end.
Finley was also wide open, uncovered, on a key third down play in the second half when Rodgers instead forced one low to a well-covered Greg Jennings in the same general area, and missed. It would have resulted in a punt, but the refs felt compelled to throw a flag on DE Julius Peppers for a late hit on Rodgers. It’s great for the Packers for the refs to finally look out for Rodgers like they do Manning and Brady. But it was a bad call, and Finley had good reason to be ticked off Rodgers looked right passed him. A few weeks ago, Rodgers did that again throwing one to Cobb on a 4th down play, that was intercepted. Finley was wide open on that play. Perhaps his drops issue has gotten Rodgers to the point where he only will look at Finley first on a few plays now.
I usually cringe when I watch him play inside but he was solid against the Bears both in pass coverage on Forte, and against the run. He led the Packers with eight tackles and had two pass defends.
He’s certainly not in the league of Desmond Bishop, whom the Packers really miss. And he’s not even on par with D.J. Smith, but he’s gotten better and he played a fine game Sunday in the windy city.
The rest of the Defense
From Ryan Pickett inside, to B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, and Jerel Worthy, the DL had a great game and they were a mismatch for the atrocious Bears offensive line. One almost feels badly for Cutler behind that line.
It is great to see Neal healthy enough, finally, to be out there because the guy has a big heart and skills in there. It’s easy to see what Ted Thompson liked in him so much to draft him higher than anyone expected a few years ago. When he’s on the field that is.
As usual, Hawk was solid if not a headliner. His work, like fellow Buckeye Pickett, often goes unnoticed by the fans, and announcers who should see it. But coaches and teammates know how important Hawk is.
Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward had fine games again, and Morgan Burnett was solid. Aside from the one touchdown Brandon Marshall had where he broke away from Jones and stiff-armed Hawyward’s head, the pass defense was fantastic.
It amazes me how Dom Capers’ defense can always put a blanket on the Bears offense, but never slow down Eli Manning and the Giants. A bad defense, Atlanta, pitched a shutout on New York today.
As I type this right now at 4:15 CST, I am seeing the injured Raider veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski just chip-shot a 51-yard FG thru the middle of the uprights.
With Crosby, it’s an R-rated short film. You, he, we never know if the ball will curve left a little, right, left a lot, or right a lot.
This guy has earned a flatout release now three times at least this year but coach McCarthy has so much loyalty to him, he’s sticking with him. While noble in a sense, it’s also handicapping the team, quite obviously.
So obvious that the coach passed on a 45-yard FG early in the game and went for it instead.
Later on, McCarthy let him try a few under-50 yarders. Crosby responded by going 0-2. He should have kicked his final ball in a Packer uniform as games are going to be too close in January to have a handicap like this.
The Bears kicker today was Olinda Mare, who was 2-2. He was on the street until this week when the Bears called him in as their regular stud kicker Robbie Gould was injured and put on IR. What a difference there was in kickers today. One guy looked like a sure strikeout at the plate, while the other guy, the new guy, looked confident that he’d get a hit.
Crosby keeps slicingor hooking them into the hazard.
If Ryan Longwell wants to come off the golf course and kick again, he should be on a plane tomorrow morning.
I love Ryan Grant, and I seem to have defended him dozens of times over the past four years to friends and readers. But his fumble today was unacceptable. I know it was Charles Tillman and the famous “punch”. But Tillman has tried that a lot the past month and nobody has fumbled from it.
Grant did today, and it was at a point where the Packers were up 21-7 and marching. They were in field goal range already (for normal kickers), but were headed for a possible touchdown and a 21-point lead.
I’m still not sure why Grant was getting carries at that juncture ahead of Alex Green and DuJuan Harris. One of them might have been dinged up, who knows. But Harris only had five carries on the day, and Green 13. Grant was given eight carries.
The Packers were up 21-10, with 7 1/2 minutes to go, and the defense had just stopped the Bears again and forced them to punt it back to Rodgers and the offense. The Bears offense had been stymied for most of the day, and the Packers were up two scores and about to take the ball back and ice the game at best. At worst, a three-and-out, but taking a few more minutes off the clock.
Instead, punt returner Randall Cobb fielded the punt at the 23-yard line, and shockingly threw a lateral backwards all the way across the field, intended for seventh string wide receiver Jeremy Ross. The throw was low, but should have been caught and fallen on at the worst. Instead, Ross dropped it, and couldn’t pick it up before a Bear came in and scooped it up.
The mystery call ultimately gave the ball back to the Bears with a first down at the Packers 16-yard line. Fortunately for the Packers, the defense, again, held up and kept the Bears out of the end zone. But the chip shot (it wasn’t Crosby) field goal made it a one score game at 21-13, with still seven minutes to go.
Also, McCarthy’s loyalty to the obviously shaky kicker Crosby has proven to be a handicap to this team.
Crosby left six points on the table today, and when facing teams like the 49ers, Giants, Falcons, Seahawks in the playoffs, those six points are going to come back and haunt the team sooner rather than later. When a coach passes on a 45-yard FG and instead goes for it, you know there’s a problem at kicker.
There are many better options available right now, starting with former Packer Ryan Longwell.
While I like Crosby, and surely so do his teammates and coach, the NFL is a business, even for the Packers. Crosby is one of the game’s highest-paid kickers, and should be a strength. Instead, he’s an achilles heel.
Posted by Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior analyst, via Associated Press
~CHICAGO — The Green Bay Packers had the best comeback for all that trash-talk from the Chicago Bears.
Another NFC North title.
The Packers clinched their second straight division crown with a 21-13 victory over their archrivals Sunday — at Soldier Field, no less.
Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on all three touchdowns, Clay Matthews hounded Jay Cutler with two sacks and the Packers limited the Bears to just 190 yards, their third-lowest total of the season. Rodgers finished 23 of 36 for 291 yards as Green Bay won its sixth straight against Chicago.
Brandon Marshall had a 15-yard TD catch for the Bears. But Cutler had another dismal day against the Packers, throwing an interception that led to Green Bay’s second touchdown, and Alshon Jeffery was whistled for three offensive pass interference calls late in the second half.
Chicago has lost five of six and is in danger of missing the playoffs after beginning the season 7-1. Boos rained down on the Bears in the fourth quarter, and again as they walked off the field.
Packers vs. Bears is the NFL’s oldest — and fiercest — rivalry, and it got a little more heated earlier in the week when Marshall and Lance Briggs ripped on their neighbors to the north.
Marshall was particularly vehement, saying he’d never disliked a team as much as he did the Packers.
Green Bay had held him to 24 yards on two catches in their first meeting back in September, and the NFL’s receptions leader called the rematch “personal,” adding, “But the talk, you have to back it up. We’ll go out there and we’ll do everything we need to do to get a win.”
Marshall did his part, sidestepping one tackle and stiff-arming Casey Hayward on his way to the end zone for a touchdown that gave Chicago a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. He screamed and tossed the ball into the stands while the Chicago sideline erupted in high fives and hand slaps.
But the Packers silenced the Bears — and their fans — with a touchdown, interception and another touchdown, all in a three-minute span.
Having already been sacked twice, Rodgers was on the run again on third-and-6 when he spotted Randall Cobb down the right sideline. He threw a dart to Cobb, who hauled it in for a 31-yard gain that put the Packers at the Chicago 35. Three plays later, Rodgers connected with Jones for a 29-yard score that tied the game at 7.
After exchanging punts, Cutler was looking for Devin Hester but found Hayward, instead. It was the sixth pick of the season for the rookie, who grabbed the ball at midfield and returned it 24 yards. Five plays later, Rodgers hooked up with Jones again, this time for an 8-yard catch that made it 14-7 at halftime.
The Packers made it 21 unanswered points on the first drive of the second half. In another third-and-long situation, Rodgers threw incomplete to Jermichael Finley.
But the Packers got a second chance when Chris Conte was called for pass interference. After a delay of game penalty on Green Bay, Rodgers found Jones for a 6-yard score.
It was Jones’ first three-touchdown game and the fourth multiple-TD game of his career.
The Bears had a chance to get back in the game when Charles Tillman forced a fumble by Ryan Grant and Nick Roach recovered it. Chicago got another break when Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett hauled Jeffery down right in front of the end zone — and right in front of an official. The pass interference penalty gave Chicago the ball at the Green Bay 1.
But the Bears could only get a 34-yard field goal by Olindo Mare out of it after Jeffery was called for pass interference, his first of three.
By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel
~Under the deliberative direction of Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers almost never make major decisions until deadlines near.
But barring a shocking turn of events in the next month or so, tight end Jermichael Finley is playing his fifth and final season for the team.
Sources familiar with the Packers’ thinking say the club not only wants to get rid of Finley but has decided to do exactly that in the off-season.
There is no way the Packers will pick up the second half of the two-year, $14 million contract they gave Finley in late February, according to sources.
Finley hasn’t performed anywhere near the sixth-best tight end in the National Football League, which is where he ranks in average salary per year at $7 million. An executive in personnel who conducted a full tape study of Finley last week rated him as the 22nd-best tight end.
Russ Ball, the Packers’ vice president of football administration, hasn’t signed many bad contracts since taking over the negotiating job in February 2008 and he surely didn’t do one with Finley.
By insisting upon a short-term deal, it gave the organization another year to monitor their offense and their locker room with Finley in it. The Packers’ concerns only grew stronger in the last 10 months.
The deadline on Finley is the 15th day of the league year, or mid-March. If he’s on their roster at that time, the Packers must pay him a $3 million roster bonus.
No matter what happens, the Packers must count the prorated portion of his modest $1 million signing bonus against their 2013 salary cap, or $500,000. But when he leaves their roster via trade or waivers, his $4.45 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus and $300,000 workout bonus all go away.
Neither the Packers nor some personnel people for opposing teams expect Finley to be much of a loss.
The Packers won a Super Bowl two years ago without Finley, and they went 3-1 this year without Clay Matthews. In an interview with Packer Plus last month, Finley categorized himself as the fourth option on offense, and fourth options normally don’t rank fifth on a team’s pay scale as Finley does in Green Bay.
Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers seem to have lost some confidence in Finley and have moved toward a more wide receiver-driven attack. Next year, the Packers will return four veteran tight ends along with Brandon Bostick, a rookie free agent on the practice squad with exciting potential as a downfield receiver.
Besides, McCarthy’s interest has been piqued by the prospect of fielding a legitimate rushing attack next season, and that would be hard to do given Finley’s soft blocking.
Andrew Quarless, the team’s best blocking tight end in 2011, will be back. So will D.J. Williams, who at merely 238 pounds is a more effective and willing blocker than the 248-pound Finley, one scout said.
The Packers also will return scrappy Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor, and have more than enough draft choices to add another tight end if he’s the best player available.
Clearing $8.25 million off the books for Finley will give the front office flexibility in negotiations with Rodgers, Matthews and B.J. Raji, which are expected to commence shortly after the season.
It also might give the Packers the incentive to take another shot at re-signing wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was eyeing a deal averaging in the $16 million range before an abdominal injury cost him half a season. Unless a team such as Miami goes hard after Jennings, it’s unlikely he can command anywhere near $16M.
Even if Jennings departs as an unrestricted free agent, the Packers would be good to go with Jordy Nelson and James Jones outside, Randall Cobb inside and youngsters Jeremy Ross and Jarrett Boykin entering their second seasons.
Donald Driver is expected to retire, and if Jennings leaves the Packers figure to draft another wide receiver, too.
Finley’s contract for 2013 would be a deterrent for most teams interested in making a trade. In order to avoid having to cut Finley, the Packers no doubt would give agent Blake Baratz the chance to shop his client and try to land a long-term deal with a new team that would be more cap-friendly in 2013.
The Packers probably would be fortunate to obtain a draft choice because the entire league will know they’re not keeping Finley past mid-March.
It just depends on whether a team such as Oakland, which needs a tight end and is led by general manager Reggie McKenzie, believes enough in Finley to make a deal.
The overriding reasons behind the Packers’ decision to move on are Finley’s contract and his disappointing performance in the last 1½ seasons. But certainly the way Finley has conducted himself over the five years enters the equation as well.
As one NFC personnel man said last week, “He seems to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
So did Baratz. The Packers were and remain livid about the agent’s tweet saying Rodgers “isn’t a great leader.” No matter how Finley tried to disassociate himself from Baratz on the matter, the damage was done.
Still, Finley has said many things himself over the years that chapped this button-down organization. In some ways, he was just being honest, as happened Wednesday when he said Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher had slowed down.
Every coach and scout in the industry knows that to be true, but there are certain things the Packers just don’t want being said during Bears week.
In the end, they ran out of patience wondering what Finley or those close to him would say or do next.
There also were deep-rooted questions about the level of respect Finley still had among his teammates and coaches.
Finley’s heyday was the final eight games of 2009 and the first four games of 2010. Over that 12-game stretch, he posted three of his four 100-yard games, catching 65 passes for 876 yards, a 13.5 average and five touchdowns. Lined up more wide than in a three-point stance, he was targeted 83 times.
After the 2010 playoff defeat in Arizona, veteran safety Adrian Wilson said Finley was “very comparable to Antonio Gates. Hell of a player.”
On Oct. 8, 2010, two days before Finley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Washington, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said, “He is probably one of the better (tight ends) in the league, if not the best.”
After three seasons, Finley was so focused that he didn’t have a single penalty and dropped a very manageable seven passes in 117 attempts.
At the combine in February 2011, McCarthy said, “I love that kid, man. He’s so competitive and he loves to play football.”
Since then, Finley has been penalized nine times and dropped 19 of 166 passes, a rate of 11.5% that almost doubles his mark from 2008-’10. According to STATS, no tight end has dropped more in the last 1½ seasons, and most of the leading tight ends have dropped fewer than 10.
Gates, by the way, has three drops in 157 targets during that span.
So when Finley, directly or indirectly, groused about lack of opportunities, his complaints fell on deaf ears. Not that Finley was being malicious, but the Packers finally reached the conclusion they couldn’t trust him.
Finley entered the NFL in 2008 with 4.62-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Some faster, more talented tight ends are in the league, and while you no longer see Finley pull away from defenders and run through deep zones, scouts say his ability to stretch the field remains impressive.
Based on the scout’s evaluation last week, Finley’s ability to run is his most attractive asset.
“But I didn’t see him like a couple years ago where you worried about him all the time,” one personnel director said. “I don’t see that mismatch ability like I used to. Drops. Inconsistent routes. Not disciplined.”
Beyond the erratic hands, the scout said Finley stops playing hard if he isn’t doesn’t see the ball early in games.
“If he was into it, he could clear out zones and put pressure on the safeties,” the scout said. “But if he’s not involved you see three-quarter or halfhearted effort. I don’t get the impression he’s a team player. If he’s not involved, his attitude is, ‘I won’t bust my butt.’ ”
At times, the scout said, Finley can be explosive out of a three-point stance. Other times, he said, Finley “falls off the face of the earth and it’s like playing with 10 guys.”
Scouts say they see lack of flexibility in Finley. One theorized that it was stiffness in his hips and knees that caused him to drop so many balls.
As a split receiver, Finley struggles to sink his hips and make sharp, wide-receiver type cuts to get open.
“His routes aren’t polished to that level,” one scout said. “If you run a great route, you get open, but that doesn’t seem to matter to him. He’s playing more like he’s on the playground.”
Finley has been more aggressive after the catch in the last month. Based on STATS data, he is tied for 11th among tight ends in average yards after the catch.
At midweek, Finley admitted that he should do a better job as a blocker. He already has allowed four “bad” runs this year, two more than his previous high for a full season.
“It’s downright embarrassing at times,” one scout said. “I’ve seen Finley just whiff. Not a lot of interest in pass pro, either. He lacks great strength and is not a physical guy.”
On Tuesday, one scout was asked to compare Finley to 31 other prominent tight ends on the basis of winning a game now. He tabbed 14 over Finley while giving Finley the edge over 17.
But on Thursday, after reconsidering his choices following extensive tape work on Finley, he moved these seven tight ends from being worse than Finley to being better: Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, Greg Olsen, Anthony Fasano, Ed Dickson, Heath Miller and Marcedes Lewis.
Thus, Finley finished as the No. 22 tight end on that scout’s board.
“He’s that type of athlete that will fool people,” the scout said in summation. “Unless you really, really dig and do your homework, and just look superficially, you’ll say all he needs is just a change of scenery. The ego of most coaches will be, ‘I can fix this guy.’ ”
Youth remains one of Finley’s greatest allies. He won’t turn 26 until March.
Asked if he would be sad to leave Green Bay, Finley said, “If it is my time to go, I’d be disappointed.
“I’ve got some regrets. But I’ve done a great job and played to my ability and my opportunities.”
Now it would be in Finley’s best interests to help the Packers win another Super Bowl. He will need every résumé-builder that he can find come March.
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By Wes Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~In the neighborhood where DuJuan Harris grew up, the only football field readily available was a nearby street with grass sandwiching each side of the road.
The rules were simple — two-hand touch on the pavement and tackle once you ran off the road.
The Green Bay Packers’ first-year running back (5-foot-8, 203 pounds) never has been the biggest player on the field. It didn’t matter if it was in an NFL locker room or in his local pick-up games as a kid growing up in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa.
So Harris learned fast. If he was going to survive, it would be in his best interest to stay the course and use his speed and quickness to evade any patty-cake tackles coming his way.
It was the same way he approached life.
One of nine siblings, growing up in Brooksville wasn’t always a cakewalk for Harris. He watched as a number of people close to him were unable to fulfill their dreams.
Yet, Harris never took his sights off his. Even within his family, Harris wasn’t the biggest, strongest or the fastest compared to his older brothers, but he had his goals.
There was a time when the Brooksville area produced professional athletes on a perennial basis. During Harris’ lifetime, the most notable alumnus was former Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick Jerome Brown, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who died at age 27 following a car accident in 1992.
In recent years, however, that trend had slowed.
“Growing up they didn’t think somebody could make it out of there,” Harris said. “A lot of people didn’t have their eyes set on that, but I always told myself I was going to get the hell out of there and do something.”
Harris’ career as a running back didn’t explode like his idol, Barry Sanders, but it got him a college education — he’s one class short of his degree in criminal justice — during a career at Troy in which he rushed for 2,636 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Harris went undrafted in 2011 before signing with Jacksonville, where he was on the practice squad for 11 games before being promoted to the active roster the last five games.
After the Jaguars cut him during this year’s training camp, Harris was claimed by Pittsburgh for the last preseason game before being released and ultimately landing on the Packers’ practice squad on Oct. 24 after a handful of workouts with other NFL teams.
Harris instantly made an impression.
“A little shocked just because of his size, because usually we’re a bigger-back team,” said Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt. “(I) watched him on the first day of practice, his foot speed and quickness and ability to jump cut and get in and out of cuts and stop on a dime was immediate, ‘This guy’s got a little something to him, he’s got a little wiggle and some burst.’”
In an effort to set the tone against Detroit on Sunday, Harris lowered his shoulder into the Lions’ Ricardo Silva on the first play from scrimmage to finish an 11-yard carry. He wound up with a career-high 31 yards in seven carries in what was a solid day on the ground for the Packers.
This week, Harris sat down with Press-Gazette Media to talk about his journey to the NFL, his aspirations to be an every-down back and life on and off the field.
■ Twitter handle @Ol_sLy_Foxx.
■ Earned his nickname, “Foxx,” because he was born with red hair.
■ His favorite movie is “Gladiator,” but loves watching anything on Blu-Ray.
■ Along with rushing for 42 yards on nine carries last year with the Jaguars, Harris also had 14 kickoff returns for 308 yards (22.0-yard average).
■ Doesn’t listen to anything in particular before a game, but listens to a lot of Florida-based music in general. “A lot of people who guys here have never even heard of, but with music some artists tend to — some of their best music is before they got famous because then they start turning into just wanting to make money. No one is really serious about it,” Harris said.
■ Harris has five brothers and three sisters.
■ In Sunday’s 27-20 win over Detroit, Harris was on the field for seven offensive plays and carried the ball each time.
■ Before getting called to work out for the Packers, Harris worked as a contractor and car salesman in the Jacksonville area for short periods of time while he waited for workouts.
By the numbers
3rd — all-time leading rusher in Troy history.
4.48 — 40-yard dash time, according to Pro Football Weekly
13 — Was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster in Week 13 of both of his NFL seasons.
Did you know?
Harris once rushed for 363 yards and four touchdowns during a game at Brooksville Central High School despite playing for only three quarters and 2 minutes of the fourth before his coach took him out with the game in hand. It still ranks as the Hernando County record. “I wanted more, but I didn’t want to get greedy,” Harris said.
How did your family and friends react to your performance last Sunday?
“They were pretty happy for me after the game. They were going crazy. The whole county pretty much. When I go back home, even when I came back from college, a lot of kids felt like I did it and they can do it also. That’s the biggest thing to me. I gave them some hope. I gave some kids some hope.”
On his mindset going into his first carry last Sunday:
“Set the tone. We were down by seven, so they gave me the shot to get out there first. The only thing I thought about was setting the tone. We have to get the team into it somehow.”
Were you nervous at all getting the start?
“No, you just have to tell yourself to relax. It’s just like you practice. Just relax, know what you have to do, read your reads and pretty much run the way you run. … They kept calling my number and I’m here to help the team the best way I can. Whenever the line had a perfect block, I just hit the holes that they made.”
Was it a gratifying feeling after selling cars for a week?
“It felt good. It felt really great. It had been awhile since I had been out on the field and I had an opportunity to get back out there. I did the car salesman thing and it was kind of tough finding a job like that because some people knew I had been in the NFL, so they think like, ‘The pay is not going to be like what you are used to,’ so it was still kind of tough, but it’s something I did. First, to learn something new plus I couldn’t stand just sitting around — I couldn’t stand it. I just wanted to stay active, do something and have some kind of cash flow coming in.”
Do you feel NFL teams overlooked you because of your size?
“Possibly, but there are a lot of short backs in the league. A lot of short backs who have proved they can play. That we exist out there and can make plays like tall guys can. The short thing, I don’t think it was too big of an issue.”
Could you be an every-down back in the NFL?
“It’s possible. I feel like it’s possible. I feel like I could do it, but it starts with being comfortable and doing everything I need to do and then execute. It’s possible. I’m going to keeping work towards it. The more you can get some every-down backs on a team, the better. You can have this guy be that back, that guy can be that back and have two or three guys back there. It makes us that much better.”
Why did you choose Troy over Florida A&M?
“I pretty much only had two offers coming out of high school and that was FAMU and Troy. I originally committed to FAMU and the next week I had a call from Coach Tony Franklin, at the time he was an offensive coordinator, and he called and told me they wanted me to come there for a visit. When I got to Troy, I committed because I knew that’s where I needed to be at.”
Who is DuJuan Harris?
“I’m a down-to-earth, laid-back guy. I’ll listen to some music here and there. A lot of DVDs, I go DVD shopping here and there. … Other than that, I just like to relax and whenever I have time to be with family, I like to see if they want to have a little cookout or something. I just like to be around family. I’m a really laid-back guy.”
What would you like to do after football?
“Work with juveniles — kids who are moving down the wrong path. I feel like kids listen to someone who’s been there, done that. I feel like kids listen to them more and feel more comfortable, too. I’d definitely like to work with kids, change their life and get them moving in the right direction. Use my major. There are other things, too. That’s why I did the car dealership thing. I did a little bit of contracting when I wasn’t playing. I was just doing different things I never did just to learn. I just feel it’s good to learn things.”
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