'Relaxed' Packers rebound, pound Bears
CHICAGO — Aaron Rodgers again was at his best when the Green Bay Packers needed him most.
In search of answers to their early-season struggles, the Packers' 28th-ranked offense put the ball back in the hands of their MVP quarterback, and Rodgers rewarded them with one of his finest outings in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
Rodgers completed 22 of 28 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns for a 151.2 passer rating that was second only to his 155.4 performance in a 31-3 win over the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 25, 2009.
The Bears' offense ran 30 more plays and produced nearly 150 more total yards than Green Bay in front of 61,736 at Soldier Field, but Rodgers was flawless in lifting the Packers from the depths of last Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions, when he threw for only 162 yards.
It was the second-fewest yards Rodgers had thrown for during a game in which he played start to finish. Pitted in an early shootout with Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, Rodgers matched last week's total with 1 minute, 54 seconds left in the first half.
"I had a feeling he'd go off this week," left guard Josh Sitton said. "He's a little bit salty when we don't play well. He takes it out on the next team. It was good. Aaron was Aaron today."
The Packers scored on their first six possessions, including touchdowns on their first three. The only drive that didn't produce points came on a Mason Crosby blocked field goal with 4:52 left in regulation.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy stayed true to the no-huddle offense, but threw in a few wrinkles and stopped pressing to establish the run. After the Bears sliced the Packers' defense on a 15-play scoring drive to start the game, Rodgers went to the air on the first five plays of Green Bay's first possession.
The offense was more efficient in operating the no-huddle against the Bears than it has been during the early portion of the season. Buoyed by a Richard Rodgers' 43-yard completion, the Packers went 81 yards in six plays and scored on an Eddie Lacy 2-yard touchdown in a swift 2:22.
The Packers lost the time of possession battle by nearly 13 minutes, but the efficiency of the offense more than made up for it.The Packers marched down in 3:47 on the next series with Rodgers' 3-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson ending a 10-play, 78-yard drive. Their last score before halftime, a seven-play, 61-yard drive in 2:47, ended with a confident 22-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in single coverage.
"We jelled," said Cobb, who had seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. "We were able to make plays in the receiving game. … We were able to move the ball, pick up first downs and stay on the field. That's big whenever you can move the ball and put points on the board."
The Packers didn't run the ball particularly well — Lacy finished with 17 carries for 48 yards — but Rodgers managed to jump-start Cobb, who was limited to 14 catches for 126 yards in the first three games.
Then, there was Nelson, who appears to be on the verge of stardom. In the Bears' determination to stop the run, rookie Kyle Fuller proved no match for the seventh-year receiver, who pulled down 10 catches for 108 yards and two scores.
It looked like Rodgers might have had a shot at a fifth touchdown in the third quarter when he broke a tackle and heaved a 34-yard strike to rookie Davante Adams, but the play was nullified because of a holding penalty on center Corey Linsley.
As momentum built for Rodgers, the Bears' offense came unwound. After tight end Martellus Bennett was stopped short of the end zone before halftime, Cutler threw interceptions on the Bears' first two series of the second half.
The small opening was all Rodgers needed, and the Packers finished the game on a 24-0 run.
When asked to give an assessment of Rodgers' day, Nelson first joked: "Not very good. He missed like six passes," but the quarterback's brilliance in bounce-back games hasn't been lost on his teammates.
It's what Rodgers has built a reputation on since taking over as the team's starter in 2008.
"He was out there being Aaron," outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. "When he's playing his best ball, he is relaxed. … He did a fantastic job for us today."
Rodgers admitted in his postgame news conference that he put a little extra pressure on himself this week with his "R-E-L-A-X" message to Packers' fans, but that was the point. Over the course of a 16-game season, there's bound to be a few "freak-outs."
The important part is how you respond.
"It's a focus I try and bring every week," Rodgers said. "I don't feel like I ever need to prove anything, but it sure is nice, when people start doubting us, to go out and have a performance like this."
One other factor in the Packers' victory was the Bears playing without several preferred starters, including center Roberto Garza, left guard Matt Slauson and defensive end Jared Allen, who was sidelined by an illness he developed this week.
Allen's absence certainly helped the Packers' offensive line, which kept the pocket clean for their quarterback. The offense was called for four holding penalties, but Rodgers was sacked only once while running out of bounds to avoid Ego Ferguson near the end of the third quarter.
The teams meet again at Lambeau Field in November. Until then, the Packers wrap up their early division swing Thursday against the Vikings, who improved to 2-2 with a somewhat surprising 41-28 triumph over Atlanta.
The Packers remain one game back in the division following the Lions' 24-17 win over the New York Jets, but they feel Rodgers and their offense are back on track.
"I feel like there was a little bit more sense of urgency with us this week," Sitton said. "It's not a must-win, but it was pretty close to it. It's as close to it as possible this early in the season. It was a big win for us. It's a division game. We needed this."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.