CHICAGO - With the temperature in the 30s, cold drizzle falling and players slipping and sliding on the Soldier Field turf Sunday, this was not going to be the kind of game in which the quarterbacks put on a show.
The fact the quarterbacks were Green Bay’s Brett Hundley, who has struggled as a starter since Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone, and Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, a rookie with few credible receiving threats to target, made the prospect of a shootout all the more unlikely.
No, this was going to be about running the ball and stopping the run.
The Packers were superior at both and that was the difference in their 23-16 victory. If they’re going to climb back into the playoff picture – and that’s still a big if – they’d do well to follow the formula that got them over a major hurdle Sunday.
Hundley took care of the ball, made just enough plays with his arm and one big one with his feet and otherwise did some of his best work handing off the ball to four backs.
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The Packers had a season-high 37 rushing attempts and finished with 160 yards on the ground, tying their second-best total of the season.
“Today was rainy so it’s pretty hard to throw and catch the ball in the rain,” said tight end Richard Rodgers. “We did a good job of that, even though it was raining. But a game like this, we’ve got to run the ball and that’s what we did.”
The Packers’ committee of running backs was reduced to one after starter Aaron Jones went down with a knee injury after just three carries in the first quarter and Ty Montgomery went out with a rib injury not long after breaking off a 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
That left rookie Jamaal Williams, a fourth-round draft pick, to carry the load. In the previous four games combined, Williams had two carries for 2 yards. He hadn’t rushed for more than 11 yards in a game and had 34 total.
Against the Bears, though, Williams had 67 yards on 20 carries and though his long gain was just 7 yards he ran hard and effectively, lowering his pads, plowing forward and picking up 3 and 4 yards at a crack.
“Jamaal, knowing he’s the only running back we’ve got in the game, for him to run with that reckless abandon was impressive,” said center Corey Linsley. “When Aaron went down, Ty stepped up and when Ty went down, Jamaal stepped up.”
Coach Mike McCarthy dusted off the playbook and had receiver Randall Cobb take a couple of direct snaps in the wildcat formation. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski got a couple carries, too.
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VIDEO: Nagler's post-game chat
Hundley made one big third-down play with his feet, scrambling for 17 yards to the Bears’ 20 in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, he threw a beautiful 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams.
The Packers’ maligned defense also turned in one of its better efforts, holding the Bears to 55 rushing yards and turning up the heat on Trubisky with five sacks.
With winter arriving shortly in Green Bay, three home games remaining and two potential cold-weather games on the road (Pittsburgh, Cleveland), this could be their recipe for success.
“It worked for us today,” said guard Lane Taylor. “It was definitely effective today, especially with the conditions and stuff.”
The extent of the injuries to Jones and Montgomery will determine whether the Packers activate seventh-round draft pick Devante Mays, who has played in just three games and was inactive Sunday. He has yet to carry the ball in a regular-season game.
BOX SCORE: Packers 23, Bears 16
“We felt like the past four weeks, the answer has been right in front of us,” Linsley said. “We felt like we were right on the cusp. Today was us turning it up and answering the problems. But now it’s about making this thing mean something, turning this into a turning point in the season.”
For all their warts, the Packers stand a chance to win games, against teams better than the Bears, if they can run the ball. McCarthy hasn’t always demonstrated a willingness to make that commitment, but now he doesn’t have much choice.
“Oh, man, as an O-lineman, the more we run the ball, the more we like it,” Linsley said. “I don’t know if that’s the recipe going forward. But we wouldn’t mind at all.”