CHICAGO — There was one Monster of the Midway in the NFC Championship Game and his name was Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay’s quarterback wasn’t even at his best, but he was better than the first, second and third quarterbacks used in vain by the Chicago Bears against their bitter NFC North rivals.
Rodgers ran for a score and made a touchdown-saving tackle in leading the road-savvy Packers into the Super Bowl with a bone-jarring 21-14 victory over Chicago on Sunday.
"It’s an incredible feeling," Rodgers said. "I’m at a loss for words."
Rodgers played well enough to keep the Bears off balance, Green Bay punter Tim Masthay kept Devin Hester under wraps and the Packers’ superb defense took care of the rest in knocking the Bears out of the playoffs.
It was the 182nd meeting in the NFL’s most historic feud, and the stakes had never been bigger.
Coming off consecutive playoff victories at Philadelphia, Atlanta and now Chicago, the Packers (13-6) are headed to Dallas. No matter what happens in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6, the Packers and their fans hold ultimate bragging rights over their foes to the south.
Green Bay will play the Pittsburgh Steelers, who topped the New York Jets 24-19 in the AFC Championship Game. The Packers opened as 2½-point favorites for the game at Cowboys Stadium.
"We made a play to win the game and that’s all that matters," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Keep playing defense the way we know how, and it’s going to be tough for teams to beat us."
All Jay Cutler could do was watch, having left the game with a knee injury early in the third quarter. Even before the injury, the Bears quarterback was having trouble moving the ball. Worse, he was getting booed by the home fans.
Bears coach Lovie Smith grew testy after being asked several questions about Cutler’s injury.
"He hurt his knee and he was out, all right?" Smith said. "There’s nothing else for me to tell you on that. I don’t know exactly when it happened, he couldn’t go and that was that."
Primary backup Todd Collins replaced Cutler and was jeered even worse. Then little-known backup Caleb Hanie and the Bears (12-6) actually made it a game.
Chicago’s third-stringer rallied the Bears for a touchdown drive to cut the lead to 14-7 after Chester Taylor’s 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Hanie had a chance to tie the game after the Bears’ defense finally made a few stops, but threw a ball straight to Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who lumbered 18 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 21-7 lead.
Hanie wasn’t finished. He threw a 35-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett to again cut the lead to seven points with 4:43 left.
The Bears forced a punt and got the ball back with under 3 minutes left. Hanie drove the Bears to the Green Bay 29-yard line, then threw a fourth-down interception to Sam Shields.
Rodgers proved ready for the biggest day of his brief but impressive career as the successor to Brett Favre, even if his final stat line didn’t look impressive.
He threw for 244 yards with two interceptions — a disappointment, given how well he had played lately. But his play in the first half was good enough to put the Bears in a two-touchdown hole, boggling a good defense that suddenly seemed to fall for every play-action fake.
Chicago was ready for a championship party under sunny skies and 20-degree temperatures, and went wild from the national anthem on. But Rodgers quieted them down quickly, marching the Packers on an opening drive then ended with his 1-yard scramble for a score.
Early in the second quarter, Brandon Jackson faked out Brian Urlacher for a long gain on a screen pass, and Rodgers’ pass to Jordy Nelson set up James Starks’ 4-yard TD run for a 14-0 lead.
Green Bay’s defense forced a three-and-out to begin the second half, and Rodgers went back to marching the Packers down the field.
With the Packers poised to put the game away, Rodgers instead tossed the ball to Urlacher on third-and-goal. He took off and ran down the Bears linebacker near midfield, barely preventing him from running it back for a touchdown when he grabbed him.
Rodgers’ play almost certainly saved a score and might have saved the game.
"I don’t get paid to tackle, but that was probably one of my better plays of the game," Rodgers said.GREEN BAY – 21
CHICAGO – 14
KEY: Aaron Rodgers scored on a 1-yard keeper less than five minutes into the game, and the Packers stayed at least one score ahead of the Bears the rest of the way.
SUPER BOWL XLV
GREEN BAY PACKERS vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
WHEN: Feb. 6, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
TV/RADIO: Fox (5), KWWN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM)
LINE: Packers -2-1/2; total 45-1/2