CHICAGO — Score one for the defensive backs on Sunday.
And if you ask those who play the position for the Green Bay Packers, it’s about time.
Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery was flagged three times for offensive pass interference. Had the physical, 6-foot-3 and 216-pound rookie been able to get away with them, the outcome at Soldier Field might have been much different. Instead, the penalties took points off the board and helped the Packers hang on for a 21-13 victory that gave them the NFC North title.
“It’s unheard of,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said of the three calls against Jeffery. “But it’s correct.”
It helped swing the much-talked-about matchup between the Packers secondary and the Bears receivers — led by the outspoken Brandon Marshall — toward the visitors.
“It was great getting those calls,” said Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who covered Jeffery on all three of his penalties. “Most of the time, you don’t get those calls. It’s kind of hard, the refs don’t see those calls a lot. But they saw them, and it helped out a lot.”
For a while, it looked like things would go against Shields, who has been the victim of some tough calls in coverage this season. He was called for an illegal-contact penalty in the third quarter on a play in which Jeffery actually grabbed Shields by the facemask and chucked him to the ground.
“Everybody saw what he did,” Shields said. “(Jeffery) grabbed me down to the ground. But we just moved to the next play. That’s all I could do.”
On the next play, Jeffery got behind the Packers secondary, and safety Morgan Burnett ran into him before the ball arrived. The 53-yard pass interference penalty gave the Bears the ball at the Packers’ 5. That’s when things turned in the Packers’ favor. Four plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Jeffery’s touchdown catch was wiped out when the back judge ruled that he pushed off against Shields. The call forced the Bears to settle for a field goal that cut the Packers’ lead to 21-10 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I like to play physical,” said Jeffery, who was not credited with any catches. “That’s the way the game is supposed to be played, right?”
The officials got Jeffery again in the fourth quarter, when he shoved Shields after a 7-yard reception and for a third time later in the game, wiping out a 36-yard catch that would have given the Bears a first down at the Packers’ 20 and could have put them in position to tie the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
“That’s what I’m really pleased with, the referees calling the right calls,” said Williams, who helped limit Marshall to six catches for 56 yards and one touchdown. “It happens all the time. It happens every game. It gets harder and harder, year in and year out, for a D.B. to play because guys know what they can get away with. But they came through (on Sunday); they made the right calls that they were supposed to make. For that reason, we won the game like we should have.”
No one was happier with those calls than veteran Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, who has complained for years about what receivers get away with. Woodson, watching from the sideline while still recovering from a broken collarbone, was all smiles when discussing those calls after the game.
“I’m going to tell you this: I’m very, very surprised but also very happy that the defensive backs got those calls because we never get those calls,” Woodson said. “For Sam to have coverage the way he had, for blatant push-offs that those guys get away with, to have those called, that meant a lot to me. I don’t think I’ve gotten three offensive pass interferences in a year. To get three of those in a crucial game, they could have called it either way, that was big time. I appreciate that.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.