By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Dec 18, 2016 at 8:41 PM

On a day when the Lions and Vikings both lost, the frigid weather turned out to be not quite as unbearable as had been feared, they discovered they actually do have a running back – a very good one, in fact – and the suddenly opportunistic (if porous) defense had taken the ball away four times, the Packers still almost early-Christmas-present gifted this crucial, must-win game to the Bears.

Maybe they just had a flair for the dramatic.

After letting a 17-point second-half lead slip away when Chicago tied the score at 27 with 1:19 left, Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on a 60-yard bomb to set up Mason Crosby’s winning field goal as time expired for a 30-27 Green Bay victory on Sunday. And just like that, the Packers’ winning streak reached four games, they got within one of Detroit in the NFC North and now control their own destiny – if they win their final two games, they’ll be division champs again, something that seemed unthinkable a month ago when they’d lost four in a row and were 4-6, near the bottom of the conference standings.

The Packers had third-and-11 at their own 26-yard line, there were 31 seconds remaining and the Bears held all the momentum, having scored 17 straight points. It looked like we were heading to overtime. Then Rodgers caught the shotgun snap, took a couple steps to the left on his injured right calf, saw Nelson put up his arm as he sped past rookie cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc – who had no safety help in the quarters coverage – and unleashed a majestic, perfectly thrown pass that landed in his receiver’s hands, another late-game long strike to add to the quarterback’s canon. Rodgers has three fourth-quarter completions of at least 50 yards over the last two seasons (including playoffs); according to ESPN Stats, the rest of the NFL has one such completion in that span.

With the wind chill temperature in Chicago’s Soldier Field at minus-4 degrees at kickoff, the Rodgers-to-Nelson deep connection felt like putting on a favorite comfortable holiday sweater, warm and familiar and, in this case, not ugly but beautiful. It was also awesomely, impossibly fun. And how clutch was Crosby to calmly, coolly – freezing coldly – nail not one, but two field goal attempts, after the Bears called a timeout before the first one was snapped, on an objectively horrible field surface in the arctic elements with potentially the Packers’ season on the line?

But we’re burying the lead. Ty Montgomery, a wide receiver who has been playing running back for about six weeks, had a breakout performance. In football jargon, his play rated somewhere between stud and monster. With James Starks out due to a concussion suffered during the week and the Packers desperately needing a running game on a bad field in awful weather, Montgomery answered the call. He nearly doubled his previous career high for carries in a game, more than doubled his previous career-long rush, gained the most yards by a Packers runner in a half (123) since 2003 and looked simply untackleable (more on him soon). Green Bay just might have found itself a ground game.

There were still some warts in the win, though. Against a below-average offense, the Packers’ defense gave up 449 total yards, including 354 passing yards to backup Matt Barkley. Wide receiver Davante Adams, who struggled with drops last year, twice let would-be touchdown passes fall through his hands. Clay Matthews, who’s dealing with a shoulder injury, was completely ineffective, and Rodgers’ ailing hamstring and calf surely didn’t get any better Sunday.

But the Packers won when they had to win, and they did so even after making it a little bit too interesting. Green Bay and Chicago are now tied in their all-time rivalry, 93-93-6, the first time the teams have been tied since 1933. A couple more wins this season and the Packers will be in the playoffs for an eighth straight season.

So, how did we get to this point, this cautiously optimistic, are-they-peaking-at-the-right-moment point? Here's everything you need to know, or just forgot, or want to be reminded of because it feels so good again – plus all kinds of other wacky whatnots, from the Packers' Week 15 win over the Bears.

Who starred

OMG Ty Montgomery. Earlier this week, Montgomery – only sort of jokingly – told me he hasn’t played Madden NFL 17 yet because he was still mad the video game designers gave him such inexplicably low ratings for route running in the 2016 version. Well, such problems may concern a wide receiver, but not a running back, which is what Montgomery has become.

The 2015 third-round pick out of Stanford, a running back in high school who was converted to wideout in college, rushed 16 times Sunday for 162 yards (10.1 average) and two touchdowns. His 61-yard run in the second quarter could easily have been a 2-yard loss, but Montgomery – who has flashed his natural vision, strength and elusiveness – ducked and spun out of the grasp of multiple Bears defenders and sped down the sideline for the Packers’ longest rush of the year. Special shout-out to fellow running back Christine Michael, who hadn’t really done anything since being signed a month ago, but busted out an impressive 42-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Who stunk?

The pass rush and the pass defense had a few big plays, but generally neither was very good against Chicago. The ageless Julius Peppers had a strip sack in the second quarter that resulted in a Packers field goal, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix snagged two of the secondary’s three interceptions – with a Green Bay defensive back wearing No. 21 and easily picking off a Bears quarterback, it looked like Charles Woodson and Jay Cutler out there – but otherwise Green Bay got no pressure on Barkley and allowed two 100-yard games to a couple of undrafted Chicago receivers.

Damarious Randall, who has missed seven games due to injury and was questionable for this week, was benched late in the game because of what head coach Mike McCarthy referred to as "performance." Cornerbacks Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter were beaten too often, and undrafted rookie safety Kentrell Brice seemingly missed every tackle he attempted to make. The Packers let Barkley complete nearly 70 percent of his passes and pass for more yards than any previous Chicago quarterback against them, which is bad.

Unsung hero

The offensive line has been playing unheralded, unmatched, outstanding football during the current win streak. On Sunday, with the sacred obligation to protect a hobbled Rodgers, who lacked his usual mobility, the linemen allowed four sacks, none of which they were really responsible for – either coverage sacks or the product of Rodgers holding the ball and not being able to escape. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, specifically, was fantastic.

In run blocking, the unit was even better, grading the road in rough conditions for the Packers’ best rushing game of the season. Honorable mention unsung hero goes to tight end Jared Cook, who was Rodgers’ go-to weapon early on – the two have definitely develop a strong chemistry in Cook’s first year on the team – and he finished with six receptions for 85 yards, including a 27-yarder and a 17-yarder on third downs in the opening quarter.

McCarthy score

(Mike McCarthy isn't renowned for his play-calling, having fired and then rehired himself for that role last year, but he does try his best. Here we rate his coaching performance, on a score from one to 10 McCarthy heads.)

McCarthy needed to find some kind of running game, and making a concerted effort to feature Montgomery was the right decision. The game plan felt fluid and well-planned through three quarters, as Green Bay went up, 27-10, and it’s hard to fault McCarthy with the poor offensive execution later in the second half, as the Packers stopped moving the ball. McCarthy’s strategy of calling timeouts on defense with the opponent driving late in halves in order to preserve some time to work with on offense, in this instance, looked pretty darn smart, as the Packers got the ball back after Chicago’s field goal for the game-winning series.

Of Rodgers’ 60-yard prayer, McCarthy afterward said this: "Let’s be honest, you’re sitting there, it’s third-and-11, you (usually) let the clock run out – that’s a decision you have to make. We felt like we were going to take the shot at the conversion." You won’t often go wrong just trusting No. 12. Seven heads.

Four-word reaction

The Bears still suck.

Dumb #hottake

Ty Montgomery is the Packers’ solution at running back! Make him the official, full-time lead back moving forward! No, it’s still a gimmicky gadget-y look with Montgomery (6-foot, 216 pounds) in the backfield, and he’s not someone who should be a team’s No. 1 runner. However, he could certainly replace Starks as the change-of-pace lightning to Eddie Lacy’s thunder, assuming Lacy gets heathy and returns next season.

Still, even if Montgomery’s not a 15- to 20-carry starting running back, he’s proven he’s a guy who needs 15-20 touches a game in some capacity.

Good quote

"Ty had a heck of a game. He’s worked his tail off to be in this situation. Obviously it’s not ideal for you to be at this level of football and then switch positions in the middle of a season. To take that head on, it shows you the kind of person he is." – Jordy Nelson on Montgomery

Best photo

Encouraging thing

Though the secondary did not have a great afternoon in terms of stopping Chicago’s passing game, the defense was opportunistic. It was the hallmark of those 2009-2012 Packers teams that the defense would bend but not break and make big plays. They did that Sunday with four takeaways – the Peppers fumble recovery, Clinton-Dix interceptions and a pick by Micah Hyde, who also had two other passes defensed, including a crucial one on the Bears’ final drive that prevented a touchdown.

Green Bay forced at least four turnovers for the second consecutive week, something they hadn’t done since 2009. If the offense gets rolling like it looks like it might, the defense’s obligation is – if not able to stop its opponents all the time – to take the ball away and give it back to Rodgers and Co. Honorable mention here goes to Crosby, who hit all three of his field goal attempts, including the game-winner twice, and all three extra points, in weather that is perhaps the worst for kickers.

Alarming thing

The Packers are certainly getting healthier – their linebacker corps is almost back to full strength, they’re no longer starting their No. 4 and No. 5 cornerbacks, both lines are improved and they now have legitimate options at running back in the absence of Lacy and Starks. But there is a but.

Their best player on offense, Rodgers, and the defense’s biggest potential playmaker, Matthews – even if he hasn’t demonstrated it much this year – are hobbled by injuries that each says he will probably have to deal with the rest of the season. Green Bay seems to be rounding into the form that had many predicting it’d be in the Super Bowl (and has some OnMilwaukee staffers wondering if this team resembles the 2010 version), but it’s a much more dynamic, dangerous team with its two leaders healthy and firing on all cylinders.

Looking ahead

The Packers host the slumping Vikings (7-7) in Green Bay on Christmas Eve Saturday (12 p.m., FOX), before heading to Detroit for their regular-season finale against the – for now – division-leading Lions (9-5). If the Packers win those two games, they’ll get the NFC North crown. It’s as simple as that.

As McCarthy said, "(This puts us in position to control our own destiny, and that’s all you can ask for at this time of year, especially going into two more division games and especially for what we’ve been through earlier. We’re getting stronger as far as our performance and our mentality, but we need to get healthy, because we’ve got another rough one at home on Saturday [against Minnesota]."

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.