Chicago, with nothing to play for, competed as if it were the and gave no quarter. Green Bay, with everything on the line, mounted an unforgettable rally.
Somewhere, Vince Lombardi and George Halas had to be smiling.
The result was a 10-3 Packers win that propelled Green Bay to the postseason and sent most of the 70,833 fans at Lambeau Field home happy.
Green Bay’s win gave it an N.F.C. wild-card berth and ended the Giants’ season. The Packers, the Giants and Tampa Bay all finished with 10-6 records, but Green Bay won the tie breaker based on the strength of its victories.
“It feels incredible,” said Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden, who had a team-high 2 sacks and 11 tackles. “It didn’t always look great for us, but we got it done.”
The Packers got it done with a terrific defensive effort that limited the Bears to 227 total yards and just 97 yards after halftime. Green Bay sacked the Bears’ Jay Cutler six times, had two interceptions and limited Cutler to a 43.5 passer rating — less than half his season average.
“I don’t know if it was our best game this year or not,” Packers nose tackle B. J. Raji said, referring to his defensive teammates. “But if it wasn’t, it was close.”
Green Bay struggled on offense throughout and trailed, 3-0, before Mason Crosby kicked a field goal with 2 minutes 39 seconds to play in the third quarter.
The winning points came when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit tight end Donald Lee with a 1-yard touchdown pass with 12:42 left in the game. The play was set up by a 46-yard completion from Rodgers to the Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings.
Chicago drove to Green Bay’s 32 in the closing moments. But Cutler was intercepted by Nick Collins, the Packers’ Pro Bowl safety, with 10 seconds to play.
“I thought the guys showed a lot to come out of here with a win,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “The Bears played really hard and fought all game, but so did we.”
The Packers entered as a 10-point favorite largely because it seemed unlikely that the Bears (11-5) would play their starters the entire game. When Atlanta defeated Carolina earlier Sunday, the Falcons clinched the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C. and the Bears were locked into the No. 2 seed.
Bears Coach Lovie Smith had to choose between playing his starters in what had become a meaningless game for Chicago or resting them for the playoffs.
But Smith, who said earlier this week, “We’re playing to win the game,” did exactly that. And for much of the game, it appeared Chicago might just pull off a stunning victory.
“It was nice to play the whole game,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “It keeps us in shape because we’re off next week.”
Linebacker Lance Briggs added, “We had an opportunity to knock them out of the playoffs.”
The Bears led, 3-0, midway through the third quarter when Green Bay’s offense, which produced 45 points a week earlier against the Giants, received a boost from Williams, who returned a punt 41 yards to Chicago’s 44.
Three plays later, Rodgers hit Jennings for 33 yards to the Bears’ 1. But Chicago’s defense forced the Packers to settle for Crosby’s 23-yard field goal, which tied the game, 3-3.
After the Packers forced a three-and-out, their offense produced its finest drive of the day — a five-play, 75-yard march to take a 10-3 lead.
Rodgers hit receiver Donald Driver with a 21-yard pass on a third-and-3 to keep the drive going. On the next play, Jennings got behind Chicago’s defense and Rodgers hit him in stride for 46 yards to the 1.
The Packers then brought in their goal-line personnel, and Rodgers ran a play-action fake. Lee slipped out in the right flat and caught the winning score.
While the ending was thrilling for the Packers, much of the day was a struggle.
Green Bay’s offense went nowhere in the first half. Then Chicago took the lead with 4:31 left in the second quarter after a 10-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
Chicago had a chance to take a two-score lead when the veteran cornerback Charles Tillman made a diving interception early in the third quarter, then returned the ball 42 yards to Green Bay’s 15. But Packers safety Charlie Peprah answered with an interception in the end zone.
That seemed to give the Packers a spark — and helped them eventually topple their greatest rival.
“I’m just proud of them,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said of his team. “This is an exciting day for the organization. It’s an exciting day for our fans. And we’re excited as a football team.”