Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The Green Bay Packers advanced to the Super Bowl by beating the Chicago Bears 21-14 in the first playoff meeting in 70 years between the National Football League’s oldest rivals.
Aaron Rodgers and James Starks had rushing touchdowns and defensive tackle B.J. Raji scored on a fourth-quarter interception return as the Packers won the National Football Conference’s championship game at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Green Bay knocked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler out of the game with a knee injury in the second half and held on for the victory after Chicago turned to third-stringer Caleb Hanie, who directed two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
“You have to give credit to our defense,” Rodgers, the Packers’ quarterback, said in a televised interview. “I didn’t play my best game. We just had enough points on offense and B.J. had a big touchdown.”
Green Bay will play the Pittsburgh Steelers or New York Jets in the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium at Arlington, Texas, about 22 miles outside Dallas. Pittsburgh hosts New York today in the American Football Conference championship game.
The Packers have won three straight road playoff games and become the second team to reach the Super Bowl as a sixth seed, joining the 2005 Steelers. They’re the first to do it from the NFC.
“It’s always hard when we come to Chicago,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after receiving the NFC championship trophy named after former Bears owner George Halas. “We had a little bit of everything today, that’s for sure. We’re looking forward to going to Dallas.”
Green Bay Titles
Green Bay has won a record 12 NFL championships, including three Super Bowl titles. The team’s last Super Bowl win came after the 1996 season with Brett Favre at quarterback. Rodgers took over for Favre in 2008 and is now 3-1 in the playoffs.
After throwing six touchdown passes with no interceptions in wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons this postseason, Rodgers was intercepted twice against the Bears while completing 17 of 30 passes for 244 yards.
The Packers’ defense sealed the win, as Raji scored with 6:12 left and Sam Shields had a fourth-down interception with 37 seconds remaining at the Green Bay 12-yard line as the Bears sought the tying score.
“Our defense carried us today,” Rodgers said.
While this was the 182nd game in the NFL’s oldest rivalry, it was only the second time the Packers and Bears met in the playoffs. The last time was on Dec. 14, 1941 -- seven days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- when the Bears won 33-14 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field to advance to the NFL’s title game.
At 69 years and 40 days, it’s the longest gap between postseason meetings in NFL history.
Chicago and Green Bay played twice during the regular season, with each team winning at home.
The Packers qualified for the playoffs by beating the division-rival Bears 10-3 in Green Bay on the final day of the regular season. They’ve since gone on the road for playoff wins in Philadelphia, Atlanta and now Chicago, which had won the NFC North Division title by one game over the Packers.
After a 48-21 rout of Atlanta -- the NFC’s top seed -- last week, the Packers opened a 14-0 lead against the Bears early in the second quarter.
The Packers drove 84 yards on their opening possession, with Rodgers completing all four of his pass attempts for 76 yards before scoring on a one-yard run. Green Bay got its second touchdown less than four minutes into the second quarter, when Starks reached across the goal line for a four-yard score.
With the Bears trailing 14-0, Cutler left the game with a knee injury after one series in the second half and was replaced by 16-year veteran Todd Collins. Cutler completed 6 of 14 passes for 80 yards and an interception.
Collins, 39, was then replaced by Hanie after misfiring on all four of his pass attempts. Hanie, signed by the Bears in 2008 as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, led a 67-yard scoring drive on his first series to pull Chicago within 14-7 with 12:02 remaining.
Raji, a 337-pound lineman, pushed Green Bay’s lead back to 14 points by stepping in front of a pass from Hanie with 6:04 left and returned it 18 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
The Bears answered less than two minutes later as Hanie found Earl Bennett for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Chicago got the ball back with 2:53 remaining and drove into Packers’ territory before Shields intercepted Hanie’s fourth-down pass to seal the win.
“We had an opportunity at the end to tie,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said during a news conference. “That was with Caleb leading, so can’t complain about his play at all.”
The 2005 Steelers had been the only team to reach the Super Bowl as the worst seed in its conference since the NFL’s postseason expanded to 12 teams in 1990.
Pittsburgh also won three straight road playoff games that season and went on to win the NFL title.
Green Bay would be favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers in this year’s Super Bowl against the Steelers or Jets.
Pittsburgh has won an NFL-best six Super Bowl titles -- most recently after the 2008 season -- while the Jets are seeking a Super Bowl return for the first time in 42 years.
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