Packers Lineman Raji Secures Win With Interception

“I’m like, B. J, you’re three-something,” said Bishop, referring to Raji’s weight. “I don’t really believe you.”

But after watching Raji slip into pass coverage, intercept a pass by the Bears’ third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie and rumble 18 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter — the deciding score in Green Bay’s 21-14 win over Chicago in the N.F.C. title game — Bishop decided Raji was not so crazy after all.

“He made a believer out of me,” Bishop said. “To drop back in coverage and get an interception, then run it to the end zone, I’m a believer.”

So, apparently, is Packers Coach Mike McCarthy.

“We’ve been using him on goal line,” McCarthy said, “so I guess now we have to throw him the ball, since he can show he can catch and score.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s magnificent play has gotten most of the news media attention surrounding the Packers. But the defensive coordinator Dom Capers has quietly put together a unit that, despite key injuries, has been more than reliable. From linebacker Clay Matthews, with a third-generation pedigree, to the undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields, it is a unit that was fifth in the league in total defense and second in interceptions with 24 during the regular season. On Sunday, the Packers had three interceptions and limited the Bears to one third-down conversion in 13 attempts.

“We play as one,” said Bishop, a fourth-year player. “We’re one heartbeat out there with a whole bunch of talented guys. We never worry.” He added, “We know that somebody is going to make a play.”

But Raji? In coverage? Bishop could not remember that happening this season, and Capers was cagey when asked about it.

“We’ve got a few things where he’ll pop out there, but we don’t do it a lot,” Capers said, smiling. “It’s kind of uncommon to have a 340-pound guy roaming around back there.”

Then again, the Packers have already used Raji in one unusual role — as a blocker in their three-back, or bone, formation. That was how Raji got the nickname Freezer, a riff on the Refrigerator sobriquet given to William Perry, who lined up at fullback in goal-line situations for the Bears during their season in 1985.

But with a little more than six minutes to play Sunday and the Packers leading, 14-7, pass coverage was where Raji ended up. On a third-and-5 from the Bears’ 15, Raji said, his job was to read Hanie, then track running back Matt Forte if he ran a crossing route. So when Forte swung wide, Raji slid to his right.

“The running back came right to me, so I was right there for the play,” Raji said.

And suddenly, there was the ball, big as day. “I was just like, he really threw this?” Raji said. “All I had to do was catch it. I knew I was going to the end zone if I could catch it.”

Raji was so confident that he would score that he held the ball out in his right hand for the last 5 yards, a showy move that made Bishop recall Leon Lett’s botched fumble return in Super Bowl XXVII. Buffalo’s Don Beebe chased down Dallas’s Lett and knocked the ball loose as Lett held it in his right hand and neared the end zone.

“I kind of had a flash of that play where — was it Don Beebe who stripped it?” Bishop said. “I kind of had a flash of that when I saw them knock it out and we jumped on it.”

Shields, whose second interception of the game secured the victory with less than a minute to go, could not stop laughing. “That was real funny to me, seeing him with the ball in the air,” he said.

Even Raji had to acknowledge that, saying: “You never dream about having a touchdown as a nose tackle. It’s one of those things that ain’t in my head.”

Now with the Packers headed for the Super Bowl, Bishop could not think about anything else.

“It’s great for a D-lineman to do it, because it’s so rare,” he said. “And it was at a big moment. It was a great thing, and I’m happy for him.”

Bears’ Cutler Exits With Injury, Raising Questions About Toughness

The N.F.C. championship game between the Bears and their bitter division rivals from was billed as a marquee matchup featuring two gunslinging quarterbacks. But after an ineffectual first half, Cutler spent all but one series of the second half of the Bears’ 21-14 loss bundled up on the sideline, a helpless bystander to his Green Bay counterpart Aaron Rodgers’s coronation.

Cutler said he sustained a left knee injury in the first half, probably on the first play after the two-minute warning when he was sacked by the rookie cornerback Sam Shields, who forced a fumble that the Bears recovered.

Before halftime, Cutler returned and threw two passes, a completion to Matt Forte and an interception by Shields. Cutler played the first series of the third quarter before being replaced by Todd Collins.

“Last series I really aggravated it,” Cutler said, adding, “It hurt.”

The decision to sit, he said, was made by the team’s medical staff. “I was going to keep playing,” Cutler said, adding, “Gave it a go in that first series but couldn’t really plant and throw, so they kind of pulled me.”

At his locker, Cutler said in a voice that was barely audible, “It’s disappointing I couldn’t give it a shot.”

Nearly saving the day was , a third-year player out of Colorado State who threw seven passes in the regular season. Hanie, 25, replaced the 39-year-old Collins, who was unable to convert a first down in two series.

Despite getting few repetitions at practices, Hanie completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards and touchdown. He was also intercepted twice.

“He’s a good player,” Cutler said. “We knew that if we gave him a shot, he’d play well. He can move. He’s got a great understanding of this offense. I was proud of him.”

If it had been up to him, Cutler said, he would have taken all the snaps. He said he felt confident that he would be able to play the second half.

Bears Coach Lovie Smith thought otherwise. “Went in and worked on him a little bit at the half,” he said. “But he came out, he just couldn’t go. Team, doctors and all, there was no decision really. He was injured.”

The Bears did Cutler no favors by issuing a statement in the press box that he had a knee injury and that his return was questionable, instead of stating that the medical staff had ruled out a return. Pressed about Cutler’s injury, Smith did not try to hide his exasperation behind his usual vanilla delivery.

“Hey, guys, he hurt his knee and he was out, all right,” Smith said, his voice rising. “There’s nothing else for me to tell you on that. I don’t know exactly when it happened. He couldn’t go and that was that. Let’s go to some other questions.”

Smith should have been prepared for the questions. He had essentially invited them by framing Sunday’s showdown as “a quarterback’s game,” saying it was all about “standing in the pocket, taking a couple of hits if you have to, just being that leader that the teams sees is out front making plays.”

When Cutler was sidelined by a hit that nobody could immediately pinpoint, it raised eyebrows. The Internet was filled with people, including some on their accounts, questioning his toughness.

Bears tight end Greg Olsen said: “If there was any way he could have played, there’s no question he would have. He tried to fight through it. Obviously he didn’t feel like he could go on, so we had to move on to the next guy. It’s definitely hard.”

Olsen added, “I’m sure he was heartbroken.”

Hanie engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives, the second of which culminated in a 35-yard pass to Earl Bennett. He was intercepted by Shields in the final minute after bringing the Bears 29 yards from the tying touchdown.

Cutler completed 6 of 14 passes for 80 yards. In the first half, he failed to convert a third down as the Bears fell behind, 14-0. He spent most of the second half trying to stay out of his teammates’ way. At one point in the third quarter, he was chased off a bench by Charles Tillman and the rest of the Bears’ defensive backs, who needed to get off their feet after trying to slow Rodgers’s march to XLV in Texas.

Asked what it was like to be reduced to a spectator in the biggest game of his career, Cutler said, “It’s a lonely feeling.” He added: “To get to this point and have an opportunity, it’s just hard. Some of the shots I took earlier in the year I was able to bounce back, and then to be in the situation where all this happened, it’s just tough.”

After the crowd around him dispersed, Cutler turned and faced his locker. His eyes grew watery as he took his time buttoning his purple jacket.

Cutler’s car was parked inside the tunnel and he walked to it slowly, his left leg as stiff as his upper lip.