Packers' running game regains groove

Robert Zizzo
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Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) scores a touchdown in the first quarter against Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.

If you’re looking for a bright spot in this Green Bay Packers’ season that seems to be going backward, it’s the return of an effective running game.

Running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers combined to rush for a season-high 177 yards and 6.3 yards per carry.

It wasn’t enough to help the offense score more than 13 points, the Packers’ second-lowest point production of the season, but it was light years ahead of the 69.3 rushing yards they averaged in their three previous defeats.

Lacy got the ball rolling right away on the second play of the game, when he took a handoff up the middle and broke several tackles with his signature spin moves for a 29-yard gain, his longest of the season.

Lacy cracked the 100-yard mark for the second straight game after suffering through a rough first half of the season, rushing for only 408 yards in the season’s first 10 games. Ankle and groin injuries hindered his output and availability, even forcing him to sit out the Nov. 15 game against Detroit.

But Lacy came out running hard and decisively Thursday night against the Bears, gaining 105 yards on 17 carries. He added four receptions for 34 yards. On Green Bay’s third possession of the game, Lacy took a Rodgers screen pass, got a key block from center JC Tretter near the line of scrimmage and took the ball into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown. Lacy has now scored a touchdown in all six games he’s played against the Bears.

Lacy’s only blemish was a second-quarter fumble when he had the ball stripped from him on a 15-yard run. That was the last time Lacy would see the field for the rest of the first half. The fumble recovery sparked the Bears, who started the game with three straight three-and-outs and on four of their first five drives. But then they scored on the two drives following Lacy’s fumble.

Lacy was back on the field for the Packers’ first series of the second half, and they didn’t hesitate to get him back involved. He got the ball on Green Bay’s first four plays, gaining 21 yards.

This could signal another late season resurgence for Lacy. In his final six regular-season games last season, he averaged 98.7 yards.

In-game injuries

Rookie cornerback Damarious Randall left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury. With Micah Hyde inactive with a hip injury, rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins was forced into action, playing on the edge in the nickel package. In the dime package, Rollins moved inside and Demetri Goodson played the edge.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga limped off field with 8:30 left in game with a left ankle injury. He was replaced by Don Barclay and didn’t return.

Tretter in lineup

Tretter got his first career start in place of Corey Linsley, who left last Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

Tretter was the starting center entering training camp last year until a knee injury opened the door for then-rookie Linsley, who had since started every game.

Tretter played well but his low snap to Rodgers on third down killed a third-quarter drive. Rodgers had to scramble to recover the ball and hurt his left elbow on the play.

Hyde (hip) also was inactive. He was limited in practice this week after leaving in the first half against the Vikings. The short turnaround likely contributed to his inability to recover in time.

Also inactive for the Packers were injured wide receivers Jared Abbrederis (rib/chest) and Ty Montgomery (ankle), quarterback Brett Hundley, running back Alonzo Harris and linebacker Andy Mulumba.

The Bears, meanwhile, were without four starters, including tight end Martellus Bennett (ribs), their leading receiver. Also out of the Chicago starting lineup were wide receiver Eddie Royal (knee), safety Antrell Rolle (knee) and defensive end Will Sutton (elbow/biceps).

Extra points

• Rodgers reached 250 career touchdown passes faster than any quarterback in NFL history when Lacy took his first-quarter screen pass 25 yards for a touchdown. Rodgers got to 250 in 121 games. Miami’s Dan Marino held the previous record in 128 games.

• The Bears entered the game ranked 30th in the NFL in allowing third-down conversions. Chicago’s defense had allowed opposing teams to convert 44 percent on third downs. But on Thursday, Chicago’s defense stepped up, allowing the Packers to convert only 3 of 11 times. Green Bay also failed on its two fourth-down conversion tries.

• The Packers had a chance to even the series with the Bears in game No. 192 of the NFL’s oldest rivalry. But the Bears’ victory Thursday gave them a 94-92-6 lead in the series, which includes two playoff games (1-1).

• At kickoff, the temperature was 39 degrees with 19-mph winds from the north. The tarp, starting from the north end, was removed about 2 hours before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The rain continued throughout the game and appeared to play a factor in four fumbles and several dropped passes.

• Through 11 games last season, the Packers had completed eight touchdown passes of 30 yards or more. Through 11 games this season, the Packers have only three. or follow him on Twitter @RobertZizzo.

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