Insider: Thumbs up to defense setting tone
THE BIG PICTURE
So much for this being a trap game: Fresh off their emotional victory over the Seahawks, the Packers seemed ripe for a letdown. Instead, they pounced on a dazed Chiefs team from the start en route to a 38-28 victory. Coach Mike McCarthy has preached the importance of a fast start, and the Packers have won their first three games for the first time since 2011 (and the third time under McCarthy). They are one of seven unbeaten teams in the NFL. With a road game against the mediocre 49ers on Sunday followed by home games against the Rams and Chargers, a 6-0 record heading into the bye week seems likely, with a tough Week 8 test looming Nov. 1 at Denver.
Aaron Rodgers’ ability to get a free play by catching opponents offside or with 12 men on the field — a tactic the team practices diligently — was pivotal in the Packers’ win last week against Seattle, and he did it twice to the Chiefs in a dominant first half. The first, on the Packers’ third drive, gave them a first down despite an incomplete pass on third-and-one. Randall Cobb scored on a three-yard TD pass eight plays later. The second extended the Packers’ scoring drive near the end of the first half, which culminated in a 27-yard TD pass to James Jones (his fourth of the season) that boosted Green Bay’s lead to 24-7. On the night, Rodgers threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns, his most since last Nov. 9 against the Bears and the fourth time in his career he has done so (which is a franchise record). Cobb caught three of them.
The loss of safety Morgan Burnett for this game to a calf injury was a major concern for the Packers’ defense. Green Bay struggled to contain Bears running back Matt Forte when Burnett was sidelined for the season opener, but kept the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch in check when the run-stuffing safety returned for Week 2. Tasked with stopping the Chiefs’ elusive Jamaal Charles, the Packers also were without backup safety Sean Richardson (ankle injury). But the defense set the tone early, with Mike Daniels dropping Charles for a three-yard loss and the Chiefs going three-and-out on their first three series. Charles carried three times in the first quarter for minus-one yard and rushed for only 36 in the half. Newly re-signed linebacker Joe Thomas recorded his first NFL sack, dropping Alex Smith late in the opening quarter, and had a nice tackle on Charles at the end of the first half. Jayrone Elliott contributed a 10-yard sack of Smith early in the third quarter, and Mike Neal and Daniels teamed for a seven-yard sack on the next play. Cornerback Sam Shields helped salt the game away midway through the third quarter, intercepting Smith on the Chiefs’ 19. Cobb scored his second TD of the game on the next play to make it 31-7.
On a night when it was difficult to find fault with any aspect of the Packers’ performance (until the Chiefs trimmed the final margin against a soft defense in the final quarter), injuries continued to take a toll, particularly on the receiving corps. Davante Adams, who was limited in practice by a sprained ankle suffered against Seattle, was ruled out for the game after coming up gimpy on the game’s first series. And backup tight end Andrew Quarless was knocked out of the game with a first-half knee injury. Seldom-used Jeff Janis even made an appearance at wide receiver in the first quarter. On the defensive side, backup linebacker Jake Ryan left with a hamstring injury and defensive end Datone Jones was being evaluated for a concussion.
RANTS & RAVES
RAVE: Although Eddie Lacy was deemed recovered enough to play despite spraining his ankle against the Seahawks, the Packers’ ground game faced a stiff test against a Chiefs defense that had allowed only 13 rushing touchdowns (fewest in the NFL) since Andy Reid became coach in 2013. Lacy came out strong, cutting back across the field for five yards on his first carry and then taking a shovel pass from Rodgers for a 26-yard gain that set up the game’s first touchdown. He bulled his way to 34 first-half yards on six carries. James Starks picked up where he left off last week as he rotated in for Lacy, taking a swing pass 19 yards for a first down on the third drive, and Alonzo Harris’ first NFL carry went for 16 yards.
RAVE: Already missing Jordy Nelson for the season, the Packers’ receiver corps also has had to deal with a preseason shoulder injury to Cobb and the sprained ankle suffered by Adams against the Seahawks. Adams was in the lineup Monday night against the Chiefs, but came up gimpy after failing to catch a third-down pass on the first series and was replaced by Janis. But the wide receivers who did play performed admirably. Ty Montgomery’s role was enhanced, and he scored the game’s first touchdown (and enjoyed his first career “Lambeau Leap”) on an 8-yard reception that capped the Packers’ second drive. Cobb capped the Packers’ third drive with a three-yard TD catch as Rodgers spread the wealth around and caught another scoring pass in the third quarter.
RAVE: As was the case against the Seahawks, mobility in the pocket figured to be a must for Rodgers against a vaunted Chiefs pass rush led by outside linebacker Justin Houston. With right tackle Brian Bulaga (knee) out of action, backup Don Barclay and the rest of the offensive line did a good job early helping Rodgers remain on his feet. Rodgers proceeded to carve up a Chiefs secondary that came in missing suspended cornerback Sean Smith and then lost Phillips Gaines for the game to a knee injury in the first quarter. Rodgers threw for 208 yards and three TDs in the first half.
RANT: Only the weather failed to cooperate on an otherwise upbeat night for the Packers. A pregame drizzle turned into a downpour early in the second half, soaking a crowd of 78,214. Under the bright lights of “Monday Night Football,” the fans — many of whom arrived early for a full workday of tailgating — remained in full throat throughout.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» Green Bay scored a first-quarter touchdown for the third straight week. A year ago, the Packers’ 151 first-quarter points were the most in an NFL single season since 1991.
» The Packers now have appeared on “Monday Night Football” for 23 consecutive seasons (1993-2015), a streak topped only by the Broncos (1992-2015). They improved to 15-8-1 in MNF home games. In his home games as a starter on MNF, Rodgers now it 5-1.
» Former Packers assistant Reid saw his record as a head coach fall to 5-5 against Green Bay. The previous nine games were played when Reid was guiding the Eagles.
» Although the Packers beat the Chiefs in the inaugural Super Bowl, they’ve struggled against them in the regular season. Their victory Monday was only their third in 11 meetings between the teams.
» Cobb extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one reception to 44 with a three-yard TD catch in the first quarter.
» When Shields intercepted Smith in the third quarter, it marked the 27th time in the last 28 games (including playoffs) that the Packers have forced at least one turnover.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt