With Cutler Out Mr. Hanie Loses to Mr. Rodgers

Former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell once said that if you become injured in a Championship setting, anything short of a broken leg you play.  Russell won 11 titles in 13 years with that thinking.  Michael Jordan once played with the flu and scored 38 points against Utah in an NBA final.  In a tough-man sport, Jay Cutler proved Sunday he’s never adhered to the Russell or Jordan way of thinking.

Green Bay made the most of their opportunity, claiming the NFC championship 21-14 in Chicago and a berth in the Super Bowl in two weeks.  The win also means the Packers are the first 6th seed in the NFC to make the Super Bowl.  The first was the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the NFC Championship game, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line and in front of the home town fans, Cutler had a chance to prove the expense of what the Bears gave up for him.  What Cutler did was pull himself from the game with an apparent knee injury.  And that decision left his teammates in the hands of second string quarterback Todd Collins and emergency QB Caleb Hanie.

The game proved to be too much for Collins and Lovie Smith pulled him quickly.    Collins was having trouble with the Packers defensive pressure and isn’t mobile anyway.  So Smith rolled the dice and went with Hanie, who can move around better.  Hanie, as the emergency QB could only play if Cutler was not going to return.  Undrafted out of Colorado State in 2008, Hanie had only completed 5 of 8 regular season passes in his three year stint.  The move worked.

At the time of the switch, the Bears trailed 14-0.  Hanie rallied the Bears into a TD early in the 4th to pull within 14-7.  But with 6 minutes left Hanie’s intended pass to Matt Forte was intercepted by Nose Tackle B. J. Raji and returned for a touchdown, seemingly locking up the game for the Packers while putting them up 21-7.  But Hanie wasn’t through.

On the ensuing drive Hanie was 4 of 4, including a 35 yard TD pass to Earl Bennett that closed the gap to 21-14 with 4:43 left.  After holding Green Bay three and out the Bears got the ball back at their own 29 with 2:53 left and Hanie had a chance to be placed into the laurels of Chicago football.

For a moment Hanie lifted the Chicago fans spirits.  Completing passes and converting a crucial 4th down gave the Bears hope.  But on another 4th down play, one undrafted free agent ended the season for another.   Packer CB Sam Shields stepped in front of a Hanie pass and ended the season for the Bears, sending Green Bay to the 5th Super Bowl in their history.

Rodgers wasn’t as precise as the previous two Green Bay playoff wins.  But he started the game by leading a drive that led to him to running it in for the Packers first score and a 7-0 lead.  That set the tone for the game.  Overall Rodgers was 17 of 30 passing for 244 yards.  It was the Packers defense that was the key for this game.  Leading the way with 3 interceptions and constantly putting pressure on any Bear quarterback.

Green Bay enters the Super Bowl under Aaron Rodgers and Coach Mike McCarthy for the first time.  Overall they will seek their 4th Super Bowl title.  As far as Chicago, it was a fine season for Lovie Smith after a tumultuous start.  Until Jay Cutler settled into the Mike Martz offense the Bears offense was sporadic.  Cutler had a chance to make Chicago history Sunday, but pulled himself from the game for a knee injury that didn’t sit him down.  He stood on it the entire time.  Cutler didn’t have a broken leg, or the flu.  But he also didn’t achieve greatness and his lack of toughness will be talked about in the Windy City for a long time to come.

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