Insider: Thumbs down to tackling, penalties
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers did what they always do against the Bears. Aaron Rodgers delivered pinpoint passes, particularly to longtime favorite target James Jones, and the Packers' defense forced Jay Cutler into making the big mistake. The offense clicked with Rodgers despite his limited preseason reps, and Jones (two TD catches) helped ease the sting of Jordy Nelson's season-ending injury. Nothing like beating a division opponent (and your most bitter rival) in the season opener.
The Bears were driving with under four minutes left in the game and trailing 24-16. They had a first down at the Packers 29 and Jay Cutler had been playing mistake-free football. That all changed when Packers linebacker Clay Matthews stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Martellus Bennett. Matthews picked off the ball and rumbled 32 yards into Bears territory, setting up a game-clinching TD run by Eddie Lacy. "That was a big-time play," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That was a play we needed. I thought that play changed the game."
The Packers were frustrated early by a ball-control Bears strategy that kept Aaron Rodgers' offense off the field. The Bears won time of possession in the first half 18:20 to 11:40. Green Bay's defense bent, but did force the Bears to settle for just one touchdown and two field goals. In the second half, the Packers took command by scoring TDs on their first two drives sandwiched around a Bears field goal, and the defense again kept the Bears out of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play when safety Sean Richardson broke through and pressured Jay Cutler into throwing an incompletion.
Poor tackling on the part of the Packers enabled the Bears to keep drives alive and control the ball. Matt Forte rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries as cornerback Sam Shields, in particular, seemed to struggle to keep up. The Packers also gave the Bears' offense a boost with some costly penalties, one of which led to Chicago taking three points off the board and instead converting that field goal into a touchdown.
RANTS & RAVES
RAVE: Rookie Ty Montgomery gave new life to the Packers' kickoff-return game, bringing his first one out for 41 yards (equaling the team's longest return of last season) and the second-half opening kick for 46. "I thought Ty Montgomery was excellent today," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought he made good decisions on when to bring the ball out of the end zone."
RAVE: Randall Cobb vowed last week that he would play despite a sprained shoulder ("No way would I let my teammates down"), and Cobb did more than just show up. Cobb had five catches on five targets (only Davante Adams had more targets with eight) for 38 yards, including a five-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter that gave the Packers an eight-point lead. "I'm obviously sore, but for the most part I came out good," Cobb said.
RAVE: James Jones made himself right at home in his first game back with his new team, catching four Aaron Rodgers passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns. "It felt good," said Jones, who re-signed with the team last week. "We got back out there and it looked like we didn't miss a beat."
RANT: Penalties were a problem for the Packers on offense as well as defense. Holding penalties wiped out what would have been a third TD catch for James Jones as well as a 17-yard scramble by Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay was penalized 10 times for 74 yards on the day.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» Julius Peppers at age 35 still has a spring in his step. He had five tackles (four solo) and one-and-a-half sacks Sunday plus two quarterback hits.
» With safety Morgan Burnett inactive due to a calf injury, Micah Hyde got the start and the Packers began the game in their "Big Okie" defense, which featured Sean Ricardson as a third safety in place of a cornerback.
» Clay Matthews' interception marked the second straight year he has made one in Chicago. Last year he returned the pick for 40 yards; on Sunday, he rumbled 48 yards (although a penalty lessened this return).
» The Packers now are 13-3 overall (regular season and playoffs) in games started by Rodgers against the Bears.
» With another win over the Bears on Thanksgiving night, the Packers would pull even with the Bears in their all-time series (they now trail 93-92-6).
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@Stucourt.