There were lots of heroes to pick from in the Packers’ stirring 21-14 victory over the arch-rival Bears in the NFC title game Sunday at Soldier Field.
But, at the end of the game, nobody stood out like undrafted rookie CB Sam Shields, whose second outstanding interception of the day with less than 45 seconds remaining sealed the deal.
In a game that started out like it was going to be a rout similar to the one the Packers pulled off on the road in Atlanta the previous week — but ended up being a typical black-and-blue Packers-Bears slugfest that did justice to one of pro football’s most storied rivalries — Shields had a forced fumble and a sack for a 10-yard loss, in addition to his two interceptions.
Talk about coming up big!
It was a lot like the All-World performance that LB Erik Walden, another decidedly under-the-radar Packer, provided in his team’s previous encounter with the Bears in Week 17, when he stole the show with three sacks and a team-leading 16 tackles (after coaches’ film review).
Typically overshadowed by increasingly high-profile stars on both sides of the ball, it’s players like Shields and Walden, who left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, who have been the heart and soul of a Packers team that was forced to overcome the loss of six starters and numerous key reserves to injuries and, over the course of the 2010 season, actually became a lot better.
The PFW spin
Let’s start with Walden, who has been playing in place of injured ROLB Frank Zombo (knee) for the last month and, while not reaching the same level as he did in Week 17, has been extremely serviceable.
With an extra week to prepare for Super Bowl XLV, Zombo, who is considered stouter at the point of attack than Walden, will probably be healthy enough to finally return to action against the physical Steelers.
After battling through the season from hell in terms of injuries, the Packers actually will be entering the Super Bowl in pretty good shape health-wise. Clearly, PFW/PFWA Defensive MVP Clay Matthews is feeling fit as a fiddle after struggling through a shin ailment earlier in the season. And then there’s DE Cullen Jenkins, who played a strong game Sunday and looks like he’s over the calf injury that limited him late in the season.
With Matthews, Jenkins and NT B.J. Raji, whose 18-yard interception return for a TD gave the Packers a 21-7 lead Sunday, all operating at 100 percent, the Packers’ pass rush is as potent as it has been all season — at just the right time.
As soon as it became clear the Packers would be playing the Steelers on Super Sunday, there has been no end to the references to the last game between these two teams — a 37-36 shootout won by the Steelers in Week 15 of the 2009 season in which Ben Roethisberger and Aaron Rodgers combined for 892 passing yards and six TDs (three each) with zero interceptions.
For the record, in a Super Bowl matchup between this season's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in points allowed (Pittsburgh and Green Bay, respectively), I’m ready to not go out on much of a limb and predict that there’s no way a similar shootout is in the offing.
Here’s another prediction I feel pretty safe in making: Another unlikely Packers player will make a major impact in a game for all the marbles.