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Pack sack Bears at Soldier Field with 21-13 win, clinch NFC North

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is sacked second quarter Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game Sunday December 16 2012 . | Tom

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is sacked in the second quarter of the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game Sunday December 16, 2012 . | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 16, 2012 3:48PM

In the most pivotal of regular season games, against the rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears many maladies in recent years under Lovie Smith were on display.

The unforced errors, like Jay Cutler’s interception near midfield with 96 seconds remaining in the first half of a tie game. The repeated failure to convert short-yardage runs. And the inability to prevent Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from making the clutch plays to extend drives and toss touchdowns.

Even when the Packers handed them a couple of gifts – a fumble and a botched lateral on a punt return – the Bears could only muster a pair of field goals in a 21-13 loss. With the win, the Packers (10-4) clinched the NFC North and handed the Bears (8-6) a blow in its bid to earn a Wildcard spot.

It was the Packers sixth consecutive victory over the Bears in the series, which will heighten the focus on coach Lovie Smith, who announced the importance of beating his rival in gauging the success of his tenure.

The Bears actually started strong, running the ball on the first four plays and gaining 28 yards. But they were stuffed on 2nd and 1, penalized on 3rd and 1 (Roberto Garza for a false start) and tossed an incompletion on third and six.

The Bears defense, though, held its own against Rodgers early, and the offense scored on a series after Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed a 43-yarder.

Matt Forte keyed the touchdown drive with a 22-yard run, followed by a 15-yard face mask penalty on Packers linebacker Erik Walden against Bears right tackle Jonathan Scott. At the end of the play, with Scott upset, Cutler calmed him down.

Cutler capped the series with a touchdown to Brandon Marshall, who turned a five-yard pass into a 15-yard score.

The Packers, though, answered on the next series, with Rodgers brilliantly converting two third downs. One of them was a 31-yarder to Randall Cobb and the other was a 29-yard touchdown to James Jones.

D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden, who both struggled Sunday, were beaten on the respective plays.

With the game tied, though, Cutler tossed a first-down interception with 96 seconds remaining in the first half. It appeared he and receiver Devin Hester, who was playing just his second game in the slot, had a miscommunication. Hester got behind a defender, but Cutler appeared to want Hester to stop for a shorter gain.

Rodgers needed just five plays to throw another touchdown to Jones, this one from eight-yards out.

Much of the focus will be on Walt Anderson’s officiating crew.

Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery was called for three pass interference penalties, including one that negated a touchdown and another that negated a long conversion late in the game.

In addition, Bears defensive end Julius Peppers was flagged for a late hit on Rodgers, although he appeared to hit the quarterback as he released a pass attempt.

The Bears now finish the season in Arizona and in Detroit.

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