"I saw Aaron launch back and throw," Frey said. "I looked. It was like, 'Man. He's wide open.'"

Added Zack Bowman: "That's what happens when you have miscommunications on the back end."

That was the final scoring play of a wild afternoon that also included Jarrett Boykin's bizarre fumble recovery touchdown late in the first half. That came after Peppers hit Rodgers from behind.

Initially, it appeared Rodgers had thrown the ball. But no whistles blew. And after Anderson didn't scoop the ball on a hop, it sat for two seconds at the 15 with no whistle and no Bears going after it.

Boykin grabbed it 8 yards in front of where Peppers hit Rodgers and jogged to the end zone.

"I don't know what everyone else saw," Anderson said. "But you did see an arm coming forward and you assumed dead ball."

The Bears rallied after that. Matt Forte's 157 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns were a big reason why. Brandon Marshall's diving 5-yard touchdown catch on the opening play of the fourth quarter provided a 28-20 lead. And quarterback Jay Cutler (15-for-24, 226 yards, two TDs, one interception) was solid overall after a trio of early three-and-outs.

But Rodgers, playing for the first time since fracturing his collarbone 55 days earlier, delivered the ultimate magic trick on the clutch touchdown to Cobb, the Packers' third fourth-down conversion on a 15-play, 87-yard, NFC North-clinching drive.

"Two guys making a great, great play," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, "that will be running on the highlight reel for the rest of my time on this earth."

It also will be running through the Bears' nightmares — the final play they were hoping to make that instead left them out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

"Two weeks ago, we sat in position to make something happen," defensive end Corey Wootton said. "We could have beat Philly and we got our butts whooped. Ultimately, it came down to this game. And we had this game in our hands."

Added Jennings: "We don't have tomorrow anymore."

dwiederer@tribune.com

Twitter @danwiederer