By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Dec 30, 2013 at 11:09 AM

It looked so familiar, didn't it?

There was an opposing wide receiver waltzing into the end zone unmolested, a Green Bay Packers cornerback waving his hand at a non-existent safety in disbelief.

There were the full-house blitzes and the opposing quarterback still stepping up and delivering the ball without a hint of pressure.

And there was the opposing running back, being left alone by linebackers in the flat; shedding would-be tacklers like water off an otter.

That was Packers football for the last eight weeks, defensive mistakes accentuated by an offense that moved as efficiently as a hybrid filled with diesel.

But then, there was a forgotten sight. A quarterback scrambling, staying alive, his eyes drawing an opponent down out of his coverage and having the gumption (and the arm strength) to go for it all in one shot.

Aaron Rodgers had played seven games this season. He missed seven full games and all but a drive of an eighth.

It wasn't that long ago, was it?

It seemed like a lifetime, those 55 days since he last strapped on a helmet. So much ... "bad" happened.

Three other quarterbacks. Thanksgiving in Detroit. Interceptions turning into touchdowns against Philadelphia. The final 20 seconds against Pittsburgh.

It all went away the moment Randall Cobb streaked past Chris Conte Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago, Rodgers finding him from 48 yards out for the game-winning, NFC North-clinching touchdown in the final seconds.

The defense, which looked every bit as porous as 28 points and 345 yards allowed would indicate, made the one stop which they absolutely had to when an underthrown Jay Cutler Hail Mary attempt was intercepted by Sam Shields as time expired.

In the end, it was like old times - to a point. The offense scored more than 30 points, Jordy Nelson (10 catches, 161 yards) and Cobb (2 catches, 55 yards, 2 TD) made big plays and Eddie Lacy (66 yards, TD) and James Starks (88 yards) burned up the ground for large gains.

Rodgers wasn't sharp, however. He missed throws high and wide, was intercepted in the end zone and a rating of 85.2. On balance, he was outplayed by Cutler (226 yards, 2 TD, INT, 103.8 rating).

The "rust" was understandable, and the Packers showed some resolve in withstanding Rodgers' two early turnovers and uncharacteristic incompletions.

For a time, it felt like the loss in Cincinnati. In the end, it was the like the gritty win in Baltimore.

The result was a victory, a third straight division title and a repeat engagement with the San Francisco 49ers in the opening round of the playoffs.

Looks familiar, doesn't it?

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.