Montgomery, Michael get it done on ground

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery (88) runs past defenders for a long run in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field Sunday, December 18, 2016.

CHICAGO - As far as trivia questions go, this one might be a doozy for Green Bay Packers fans near and far: Ten players have at least one genuine rushing attempt in the first 14 games of the 2016 season. Can you name them?

In a year in which the Packers have gone experimental with their running game, your scribbled list should include the likes of Aaron Ripkowski and James Starks, Jeff Janis and Christine Michael, Randall Cobb and Aaron Rodgers. If you forgot such fringe contributors as rent-a-player Knile Davis and practice squad call-up Don Jackson, well, no one is going to blame you.

The last time so many Packers had legitimate carries was 2005 — hello, Noah Herron and Najeh Davenport — and even then the numbers are a stretch.

McGINNPackers in control after thrilling win

DOUGHERTYHalfway to filling huge holes

D'AMATOAn interloper in a Bears den

INSIDERThumbs up to Montgomery

BOX SCOREPackers 30, Bears 27

Yet here were the Packers on a frigid day at Soldier Field with their backs against the playoff wall, and there was the truest form of a running game since Eddie Lacy mangled his ankle on Oct. 16. Ty Montgomery, the converted wide receiver, and Michael, a waiver-wire pickup from the Seattle Seahawks, rumbled for 207 total yards and three combined scores. They shredded the Chicago Bears for 10.35 yards per carry and, after a heinous defensive collapse, the Packers escaped with a 30-27 win.

“This was surprising today,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who chipped in 19 yards despite a groaning calf. “I don’t think we expected to rush for over 200 yards. I think we have confidence in Ty, we wanted to get him a number of touches. But this was definitely unexpected in the best way possible.”

It was as unexpected as it was historic. Montgomery, who had never carried more than nine times in a game before Sunday, finished with 16 rushes for 162 yards — the highest regular-season total by a Packers player since running back Samkon Gado ripped off 171 against the Detroit Lions in 2005. His 123 yards in the first two quarters were the most in a half since Ahman Green racked up 166 in Week 17 of 2003.

But perhaps most telling is this: Someone finally passed Lacy as the team's leading rusher more than two months after his last appearance. Montgomery is now atop the list with 390 yards.

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“He did phenomenal," Ripkowski said of Montgomery. “He kept his balance, utilized his stiff arm, did a great job with the ball security. He pressed the holes really well and did everything that he needed to do. He got all the extra yards; he made all the extra yards. He really did an outstanding job today.”

Because of Montgomery’s upbringing as a wide receiver — though he did operate out of the backfield at times during college at Stanford — there have been droves of questions about his durability or maximum workload in various situations. And to their credit, coach Mike McCarthy and his assistants swore by Montgomery’s sturdiness time after time.

Christine Michael breaks away from Chicago's Cre'von LeBlanc for a touchdown run.

Their words were reinforced by Sunday’s rampaging effort, and five of Montgomery’s 16 carries produced gains of 9 yards or more. He blasted through tacklers like they were not there. He picked with precision the holes his offensive line widened. He churned his legs through the line of scrimmage. He finished with 10.1 yards per carry, a total as ludicrous as it was deserved.

Montgomery’s two best runs exceeded every gain by the Bears’ offense, which topped out with a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Cameron Meredith. In the first quarter he broke a tackle, spun through the hole and shed safety Adrian Amos as he lapped up 61 yards. In the second quarter he read the block of left guard Lane Taylor and exploded for 36 more, dragging defenders for what felt like 30 feet.

“He runs hard,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “It’s tough for one person to bring him down. He has a low center of gravity and he stays low and he runs really hard. Today, just from looking at the (tablet) slides on the sideline after some of the runs, I mean he had some great vision today. Seeing holes before they were created and being patient.”

Montgomery paired nicely with Michael, whose explosiveness within the first few steps seems boundlessly effective as a change of pace. Michael, who carried four times, rocketed across the line of scrimmage on his final attempt before discarding a would-be tackler and outrunning everyone for a 42-yard score late in the third quarter.

His touchdown gave the Packers a 27-10 lead, and the celebration traveled from the end zone to the press box, where members of the Packers’ front office couldn't contain their glee. There was general manager Ted Thompson high-fiving Russ Ball, his vice president of football administration. And there was Brian Gutekunst, the director of player personnel, jogging over to slap both of them on the back.

"It was a great day on the ground," Montgomery said.

Ten players later, the Packers have a running back duo that might actually stick.

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