CHICAGO, January 24- The Green Bay Packers advanced to their first Super Bowl in 13 years with a 21-14 victory over long-time rival Chicago, who could not overcome a quarterback crisis in Sunday's NFC championship game.
B.J. Raji scored on a 18-yard interception return and quarterback Aaron Rodgers ran for another touchdown as the Packers held off a late charge by Chicago to reach Super Bowl 45.
Raji’s interception run to the end zone put the Packers up 21-7 in the fourth quarter and provided the deciding points as Green Bay became the first No. 6 seed from the National Conference to make it to the Super Bowl.
Green Bay will face Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers in the Super Bowl February 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Texas.
Pittsburgh punched their ticket to the showcase event by beating the New York Jets 24-19 in the second semi-final Sunday.
The Steelers are headed to their eighth Super Bowl appearance overall and it is their third trip in the past six years.
Like the Packers, the Steelers booked their Super Bowl berth by building a substantial first half lead Sunday then held on in the second half for the victory.
Rodgers rushed for a one-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive, giving Green Bay a lead they would never surrender.
"This is a dream come true, incredible feeling. Loss for words," Rodgers said. "We just had enough points on offense and B.J. had an incredible touchdown."
With Chicago starter Jay Cutler hobbled with a knee injury, Green Bay appeared to be cruising to victory before the Bears rallied behind third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie.
Under Cutler, the Bears never got inside the Packers’ 30-yard line.
Cutler threw one pass in the second half and was replaced by backup Todd Collins, who went 0-for-4 passing, setting the stage for Hanie to enter the game and march the Bears downfield for two touchdowns to stay within reach down the stretch.
The two teams were meeting in a semi-final playoff game for the first time in the league’s most historic rivalry. It was the 182nd meeting between the teams overall but this time a Super Bowl berth was on the line.
Rodgers, in his third season as the Packers starting quarterback, easily won the battle of former first-round NFL Draft picks.
Rodgers was selected by Green Bay in the first round (24th overall) in the 2005 entry draft. Chicago’s Cutler was chosen 11th overall in 2006.
Rodgers threw for 244 yards with two interceptions.
"You have to give credit to their defense," Rodgers said. "I didn’t play my best game. They had a good plan."
Hanie orchestrated the two lone Chicago scoring drives. The Bears were inside Green Bay territory in the final minute, but Hanie was intercepted on a fourth-down pass by Green Bay’s Sam Shields to seal the outcome.
Hanie set up Chester Taylor’s one-yard touchdown run on his first drive of the game to get Chicago within seven points but he didn’t see the 330-pound Raji on a pass intended for Matt Forte. Raji, known as The Freezer, stepped in front of the throw and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.
Green Bay players were surprised that Cutler didn’t come back.
"You know if he doesn’t come back it had to be serious, not to come back and play in this game," Charles Woodson said.
Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews was wondering when Cutler got injured.
"Obviously you expect to get four quarters of play, but who knows what we did to him," Matthews said.
Said Rodgers, "I feel bad for (Cutler)," said Rodgers, "but I’m happy we’re moving on."
When Cutler went down it put the Bears in a hole that Hanie couldn’t overcome.
"Just disappointment," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We got into a hole but the guys fought back."