It could have been Chicago's dream come true: Winning a division title at the expense of its hated rival and earning a home playoff game next week.
Yet the city got its worst nightmare: the Packers celebrating yet another huge victory in Chicago, and the Bears going home for the winter.
The soul crusher came with 38 seconds remaining. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in his first game back from a broken collarbone, found Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8. No Bears defender was within a mile of Cobb when Rodgers released the ball.
"I was thinking, 'You better not drop it, you better catch it," Cobb said. "I could see and feel the guy behind me."
The Bears had 38 seconds to try to assemble a miracle drive, but Jay Cutler's hail mary on the last play of the game was intercepted.
When it was over, the Bears' 33-28 loss sealed, receiver Brandon Marshall couldn't even pick himself up off the field right away, lying facedown on the turf in disbelief.
"I laid there for a few seconds, and I knew that wasn’t a good look," Marshall said afterward. "I immediately thought about Ray Lewis when they lost to, I believe, the Patriots. ... Just tried to figure out the best way to move forward as fast as possible. Ray Lewis picked himself up, put a smile on his face and won the Super Bowl the next year [in 2013]."
Will the Bears try again next year with Cutler, who's a free agent after this season, under center?
"Man, you know how I feel about Jay," Marshall said, smiling. "That's my quarterback. We're attached at the hip.
"I don’t have any inside information, but Jay will be back."
Of course, the Bears have not realized their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl title since the 1985 season. They won't have a chance to redeem themselves until 2014. Until then, they're stuck with what could have been.
Nightmare: Aaron Rodgers
We could stop here, really. Not even a broken collarbone could keep this Bears killer from ripping Chicago’s heart out, stomping on it, putting it in a shredder and setting it on fire. We could give you his final stats, but why twist the knife at this point?
Quotable: "He was Aaron Rodgers. He made some plays, he gave us some plays—it’s the NFL. But he made the plays when it counted."
-Bears cornerback Tim Jennings
Nightmare: Painful mistakes
When is a sack not a sack? When one of them is followed by a personal foul, giving the Packers a first down and leading to a field goal. And when the other ends in a fumble that is picked up by your player, then dropped again, then scooped up and taken in for a Green Bay touchdown.
Nightmare: Jordy Nelson
The Packers star had 161 yards receiving, almost every one of them clutch. As bad as the Bears defense was heading into this game—and during the game Sunday—Nelson was Green Bay's top playmaker not wearing No. 12.
Nightmare: Bears defense
Aaron Rodgers had 17.8 seconds to throw every time he went back to pass. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but we could throw that number out there and no one would blink. That’s how much time he had, no matter how many players the Bears ran at him.
Quotable: "We put ourselves in a good situation forcing them into [fourth downs], and we've gotta get off [the field]. It's as simple as that."
-Bears defensive lineman Corey Wootton
Nightmare: Fourth downs
Three times the Bears had a chance to stop the Packers on fourth down on their final drive. And three times they failed. Including when Rodgers found Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown pass that gave the Packers a 33-28 lead with 38 seconds left. That, dear readers, is why Chicago is speechless right now.
Quotable: “It was a little miscommunication on that [touchdown] play; they found the gap. We had a couple of opportunities [on the Packers’ final drive], and we just didn’t make a play.”
--Bears cornerback Tim Jennings
Dream: Matt Forte
On one critical drive in the second half, the Bears handed the ball to Forte five times. Because that's all they needed to do. He ended the day with 110 yards rushing, 47 receiving and three total touchdowns. That Pro Bowl selection is looking pretty darn justified right about now.
Quotable: "He did a heck of a job for us. I think he’s the best all-around back in the NFL. He had 60-plus catches this year and he ran the heck out of the ball. I'm glad he’s on our team."
-Jay Cutler, on Matt Forte
Dream: Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery
Whether it was Jay Cutler or Josh McCown at quarterback, these two receivers did nothing but produce all season. On Sunday, they combined for nine catches, 154 yards and a TD. Fortunately, they're not going anywhere.
Quotable: "We're definitely thankful for the opportunity we had to control our own destiny. Couldn’t ask for anything more than that, and we didn’t get it done."
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