Posted: Dec 25, 2011 10:05 PM by Lee Douglas
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - Aaron Rodgers threw five touchdown passes for the first time in his career to help the Green Bay Packers nail down the No. 1 seed in the NFC and claim another round of bragging rights in the NFL's most storied rivalry by knocking the Chicago Bears out of the playoff chase.
Rodgers threw a pair of touchdowns to Jordy Nelson, another two to James Jones, and found tight end Jermichael Finley for a score as the Packers beat the Bears 35-21 on Sunday night.
"To be able to be a part of something special like this has been incredible," Rodgers said in a television interview. "Great night tonight for us, securing that No. 1 seed."
Clay Matthews made a key first-half interception for the Packers (14-1), who needed the win to tie down home-field advantage in the NFC.
The loss eliminated the Bears (7-8) from playoff contention and put the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs as at least a wild card.
Third-string running back Kahlil Bell rushed for 121 yards for the Bears, who trailed by only four early in the third quarter. But Rodgers drove the Packers for touchdowns on their next three possessions to put the game out of reach.
Rodgers was 21 of 29 for 283 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions when backup Matt Flynn took over for Rodgers with 7:54 left in the game.
"Now we're going to enjoy the rest of our Christmas with our families," Rodgers said.
Chicago came into Sunday on a four-game losing streak and beset by injuries. But the Bears were able to stay in the game with solid defense and tough running by Bell, who started because of injuries to Matt Forte and Marion Barber.
Rodgers' second-half fireworks proved to be too much for Chicago.
The victory was the Packers' fourth over the Bears in 2011. Green Bay also beat Chicago in the 2010 regular-season finale, the NFC Championship game, and at Soldier Field on Sept. 25.
With the Bears trailing 14-3 at halftime, quarterback Josh McCown found Earl Bennett wide open for a 49-yard gain to set up first-and-goal on the 1. Bell fumbled just short of the goal line on the next play but offensive lineman Edwin Williams recovered the ball for a touchdown.
With the Packers nursing a four-point lead, and the Lambeau Field crowd nervously quiet early in the third quarter, Rodgers answered by dropping deep and throwing a rainbow pass to Nelson, who blew through the Chicago secondary and hauled in the ball for a 55-yard touchdown.
Rodgers then showed his running ability on the Packers' next possession, juking his way between Bears linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs on a scramble. Rodgers finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown toss to Jones, giving the Packers a commanding 28-10 lead.
Packers safety Charlie Peprah came up with an interception, and Rodgers found Nelson for another score to give Green Bay a 35-10 lead.
McCown finally answered with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Davis - then earned the ire of the Lambeau crowd by scrambling for a two-point conversion and spiking the ball over the goalpost with his team trailing 35-18.
Rodgers' offensive feats came behind a patchwork offensive line, as the Packers were without three of their top four tackles.
Chad Clifton returned to practice this week after sitting out since October because of hamstring and back injuries, but isn't ready to play. Bryan Bulaga was inactive Sunday because of a left knee sprain, and backup Derek Sherrod is out for the season with a broken right leg.
Green Bay also was missing wide receiver Greg Jennings, because of a sprained left knee, and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett because of a concussion.
The Bears have lost five straight games since losing quarterback Jay Cutler to a broken right thumb in a Nov. 20 victory over San Diego. Chicago was 7-3 after that win, but came into Sunday's game barely alive in the playoff chase.
The Bears started McCown on Sunday after backup Caleb Hanie struggled to fill in for Cutler. McCown's most recent start came with the Oakland Raiders in 2007, and he was out of the NFL last season.
To make matters worse for the Bears' offense, Barber was inactive because of a calf injury and was listed as doubtful going into the game. Chicago already was without Forte, who missed his third straight game because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Chicago did have Devin Hester, who was active despite an ankle injury.
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