The Packers’ hopes of playing in Super Bowl LI took a major hit earlier Thursday when running back Eddie Lacy was placed on injured reserve because of an ankle injury. Lacy’s loss for a minimum of eight weeks seemed devastating. But in a return to his West Coast roots, Aaron Rodgers turned to the short passing game and made the most of dual threats Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb, who operated out of the backfield for most of the game and made big plays both running and receiving in a 26-10 victory over the Bears. After playing four straight home games, the Packers (4-2) next face a difficult road test against the Atlanta Falcons (4-2) a week from Sunday and must keep winning to stay within reach of unbeaten Minnesota (5-0).
DOUGHERTY: Get used to dink-and-dunk Packers
D’AMATO: Packers fans far from home
The Packers’ offense was stuck in neutral throughout the first half, and disaster struck on their opening drive of the third quarter when Rodgers fumbled while being sacked near the Green Bay goal line and the Bears’ Leonard Floyd recovered the ball in the end zone to put Chicago ahead 10-6. For the Packers quarterback, it marked the fourth fumble returned for a touchdown since Week 16 of the 2015 season. But Rodgers responded. With pinpoint passing, he directed a 13-play, 85-yard drive that was the Packers’ longest of the season and culminated in a Davante Adams TD catch. After a Bears punt, Rodgers topped that drive by leading an eight-play, 88-yard TD march capped by a four-yard toss to Adams that gave Green Bay a commanding 20-10 lead.
One theory about Rodgers’ struggles put forward this week by former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner was that he didn’t trust his receivers’ ability to get open. Longtime favorite Jordy Nelson had shown signs of rust while coming back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2015 season and none of the other six receivers on the Packers’ 53-man roster had stepped up to fill the void. But against an injury-ravaged Bears secondary, Adams produced a career-high 13 catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The first put the Packers ahead 13-10 midway through the third quarter and the second extended the lead to 20-10 at the start of the fourth. Adams wasn’t even cleared to play until hours before the game after sustaining a concussion against Dallas. His 13 receptions were one shy of the team record set by Don Hutson in 1942.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby, usually Mr. Automatic, missed the extra point after Green Bay’s final touchdown. It was his first unsuccessful PAT attempt since 2014. Later in the fourth quarter, Crosby’s 31-yard field-goal attempt was blocked. Fortunately for Crosby and the Packers, victory already was comfortably in hand.
Rodgers endured endless analysis all week after another ragged performance against the Cowboys, in which he missed open receivers, threw an interception and lost a fumble inside the 10-yard line. The Packers quarterback needed to respond with a bounce-back game, particularly in light of losing Lacy to the IR list. Rodgers struggled early, with the Packers’ dink-and-dunk passing game looking as bland as their all-white “color rush” uniforms in the first half. But after opening the second half with the strip-sack fumble, Rodgers rediscovered some of his old magic. He led the Packers on the two long TD marches and took control of the game. Rodgers set a Packers' single-game record for completions with 39 (breaking Brett Favre’s mark of 36 set against the Bears in 1993) and finished 39-for-56 for 326 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 102.2.
The Packers’ running game was a mystery entering the game. With Lacy placed on injured reserve earlier in the day and James Starks also sidelined by injury, Green Bay was left with undrafted free agent Don Jackson (just promoted from the practice squad), newly acquired Knile Davis (obtained in a trade with Kansas City), plus Montgomery and Cobb, two receivers moonlighting as running backs. Jackson departed early with a hand injury Davis wasn't ready after just arriving Wednesday. The result was huge nights for Montgomery, who delivered 60 yards on nine carries and 66 yards on 10 receptions, and Cobb (five carries for 21 yards; career-high-tying 11 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown)
Green Bay’s pass rush made perhaps the most game-changing play midway through the second quarter when outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews clobbered Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer, breaking his left forearm in the process. With injured Jay Cutler inactive, that turned the reins of the Chicago offense over to third-stringer Matt Barkley, who according to ESPN last completed a regular-season pass in November of 2013. Even with the Packers’ injury-depleted secondary, Barkley was overmatched (6-for-15, 81 yards, two interceptions).
The Packers’ run defense lost its No. 1 ranking after being shredded Sunday by Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys. Dom Capers’ unit was determined to atone against the Bears, who lost Matt Forte to the New York Jets in free agency and his replacement, Jeremy Langford, to an ankle injury. Bears starter Jordan Howard came in averaging 5.0 yards on 66 carries, but was held to 22 yards on seven attempts. As the team, the Bears gained 69 yards on 18 carries.
BOX SCORE: Packers 26, Bears 10
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DID YOU NOTICE?
» With their three first-quarter points Thursday, the Packers have outscored their opponents 27-10 in the opening period this season and 185-22 in their last 19 regular-season home games.
» When Crosby opened the scoring with a 32-yard field goal, it tied the all-time score between the teams in regular-season games at 3,247 apiece, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
» With the win, the Packers improved to 15-7 against the Bears under coach Mike McCarthy, including victories in 11 of the last 13 games. In all but one of those 15 wins, the Packers scored at least 20 points.
» After missing a chance to even the all-time series by losing to the Bears last Thanksgiving, Green Bay cut Chicago’s series lead to 94-93-6 by winning Thursday.
» This marked the 11th straight season that the Packers faced the Bears in prime time. The Packers’ 20 prime-time games against the Bears dating to 1970 are the most they have played against any team.