Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011
Posted 5:19 p.m. Updated 8:46 p.m.
By John Mullin
Guard Chris Williams sat silently in front of his locker, showered and dressed to leave, a hat pulled down a little farther than usual over eyes that looked a little damper than usual. Across the locker room, two teammates sat next to each other, looking straight ahead after most of the locker room had cleared out, neither speaking.
The shock of the Bears 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers was nearly palpable among players who were within a play or two of the Super Bowl and were having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that their season was over.
Thisll sit with us until we play another game, said center Olin Kreutz.
In the final analysis, the Green Bay Packers were simply a little bit better than the Bears. The Packers came into the home of the Bears and took away the NFC Championship trophy named for the Bears own founding father.
Read: Bears' grades come up short
The win advances the Packers to Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the AFC Championship.
But as Sunday wound down, none of that seemed to matter.
There were some things to be proud of, said a subdued Julius Peppers, still in his uniform pants long after improbably near-hero Caleb Hanies final pass was intercepted at the Green Bay 12 with 40 seconds to play. But the main goal we wanted to accomplish, we werent able to do that.
Its very disappointing. I just dont know how else to say it.
Then Peppers issued the mission statement for the 2011 season: Well be back, he said matter-of-factly. We will be back.
Almost back this year
The Bears were almost back Sunday in a game where they appeared to be thoroughly outclassed to start with and then thoroughly out-manned, literally, in the second half.
Green Bay went 84 yards effortlessly through the Bears defense on its first possession for a 7-0 lead while some of the crowd of 61,171 were still filing in. They pushed the lead to 14-0 less than 4 minutes into the second quarter with Aaron Rodgers picking the secondary apart for some of the 252 yards the Packers amassed on the Bears in the first two quarters.
The Bears then awoke on defense and shut the Packers out over the final 41 minutes of the game, with Green Bays only score coming on an interception and 18-yard return for a touchdown by defensive tackle B.J. Raji deep in the fourth quarter.
By that time, the Bears had lost quarterback Jay Cutler to a possibly serious knee injury; they had seen No. 2 Todd Collins come off the bench and deliver a putrid performance on two possessions; and they were in the suddenly very capable hands of No. 3 Hanie.
Watch: Lovie's postgame comments on Cutler injury
Without running one of his own offenses plays since October when he was demoted to No. 3 behind Collins, Hanie completed 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in just the fourth quarter. He directed scoring drives of 67 and 60 yards, setting up one score with a 32-yard pass to Johnny Knox that was followed by a one-yard bolt by Chester Taylor, and he threw 35 yards to Earl Bennett with just under 5 minutes for a touchdown that brought the Bears to 21-14.
Watch: Could there be a QB controversy?
But they could get no closer. A fourth-and-4 pass toward Knox was intercepted by cornerback Sam Shields and the Bears season was over.
I felt good going in, said Hanie, who was not restricted just to handing off to Matt Forte despite having little practice time. I felt like we had a chance to go down and score every time.
In his first action since throwing three passes against Carolina in Week 5, Caleb Hanie directed the Bears on two touchdown drives including throwing one TD pass to Earl Bennett. (AP)Comeback Caleb
The Taylor score was the first touchdown by the Bears against Green Bay in nine quarters, since a Greg Olsen TD catch in the second quarter of the first Packers game this season.
Hanie shook off the disastrous interception and return by Raji to throw the pass to Bennett between two defensive backs, one of whom was 2009 NFL defensive player of the year Charles Woodson.
I kinda wish we had Jay in there the whole game, the way things were going, a relieved Clay Matthews said after the Packers escape.
The Bears dont leave Sunday with a conference championship or the chance at a second Super Bowl in five years. But they finished with plans.
Watch: Cutler says Bears were in position to win Super Bowl
Were in this for the long haul and we might have fallen short of our goals this year, said linebacker Lance Briggs. But next year we wont fall short.
Our jobs not done. Hats off to the Packers; theyll represent the NFC very well. But next year the Chicago Bears will have their day.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.