NFL: Green Bay Packers beat Chicago Bears to win NFC North for third straight year
Last Updated: 30/12/13 1:59am
Aaron Rodgers: Recovered from a rusty start to see the Packers into the play-offs again
Aaron Rodgers returned to action to lead the Green Bay Packers to the NFC North title, even if they did leave it late to beat the Chicago Bears 33-28 at Soldier Field.
The winner-takes-all battle between the two divisional rivals went right down to the wire with Rodgers - who missed the last seven games due to a broken left collarbone - coming up with a moment of magic.
The quarterback engineered a 15-play, 87-yard drive that culminated in him escaping pressure to launch a 48-yard pass to Randall Cobb for the game-winning score with 38 seconds remaining.
Having led 28-20 after scoring at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bears had one final chance to deny their long-time adversaries from taking the division for a third straight year.
However quarterback Jay Cutler saw his Hail Mary pass towards Alshon Jeffery intercepted by Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields on the last play of the game.
Defeat, particularly to the Packers, will be tough to take for the Bears. They have now missed the play-offs in six of the last seven seasons, with their first under coach Marc Trestman seeing them finish with an 8-8 record.
The early signs were promising for the home team; not only did they take the lead on Cutler's four-yard pass to running back Mat Forte, they also intercepted a rather rusty Rodgers on Green Bay's first two possessions.
However he recovered from the early setbacks to help his team score 13 points without reply before the break, including an unusual touchdown for Jarret Boykin that saw him pick up a loose ball and eventually trot into the end zone after his quarterback had fumbled.
Rodgers and Cobb combined for the first time in the evening for a third-quarter score for the Packers, though the seven-yarder was sandwiched in between a pair of rushing touchdowns for Forte.
The Bears edged back in front when Cutler hit Brandon Marshall from close range, only for their opponents to hit back on their very next drive when Eddie Lacy ran in from six yards out.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy opted not to go for two to level the scores, leaving his team needing at least a field goal. Rodgers went even better than that, heaving a throw to the wide open Cobb to make sure his franchise would make the post season for a fifth straight year.
"We've got a great group of guys," said Rodgers afterwards. "The focus throughout this whole period has probably been too much on me. It needs to be back on the team. Hopefully we can move forward together."
The Packers are rewarded for their road win with a home play-off tie against the San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card round next weekend.