Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Brett Hundley, down to tight end moves
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers finally proved they can win a game without Aaron Rodgers, springing what Las Vegas odds-makers deemed an upset by beating the lowly Bears 23-16. At 5-4 and with the mediocre Baltimore Ravens (4-5) coming up next Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers — no doubt surprisingly to some — still have a shot at staying in playoff contention long enough for Rodgers to possibly return in the season’s final weeks.
There would be other pivotal plays, but the one that made it clear this could be the Packers’ day came midway through the second quarter with Green Bay leading 10-3. The Bears seemed about to tie the score after running back Benny Cunningham took a Mitch Trubisky pass and rumbled down to just shy of the goal line. Bears coach John Fox challenged the ruling on the field, claiming that Cunningham had scored by extending the ball and touching the pylon. Replay revealed that Cunningham actually lost possession of the ball as he reached for the pylon, and possession went over to the Packers on a touchback.
After being matched up against All-Pro counterparts in Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford in his first two starts, Brett Hundley was on more even footing Sunday with the Bears starting rookie quarterback Trubisky. But this was Hundley’s first start on the road, never an easy assignment particularly against an archrival. Playing in a steady rain and without his top two running backs in the second half due to injuries, Hundley made big plays when he needed them and, most importantly, once again avoided turning the ball over. He made two terrific throws to Davante Adams, one going for a 19-yard touchdown and another for 42 yards on third and 10 late in the game that enabled the Packers to keep running down the clock. Hundley completed 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions and an impressive passer rating of 110.8.
Much of the usual Packers-Bears buildup was overshadowed last week by the shenanigans involving Martellus Bennett, who ripped the Packers and their medical staff after being released with a failure to disclose injury designation, and then rejoined the New England Patriots. Burnett’s absence meant more opportunity for the only other tight ends available, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers. Each made one catch (for 17 total yards) and provided serviceable blocking, but it’s clear the Packers no longer have the big-play, field-stretching ability at the position provided last season by Jared Cook. General manager Ted Thompson’s decision to bring in Bennett instead of bringing back Cook looks worse by the day.
After being benched against Detroit for pass-blocking lapses, Aaron Jones looked primed to perhaps put up a third 100-yard rushing game after gaining 12 yards on his first three carries. But a knee injury soon ended his day. Next up was Ty Montgomery, who burned the Bears in Chicago last season (162 yards and two touchdowns) and did it again with a 37-yard TD run in the second quarter. But on the Packers’ final series of the first half, Montgomery aggravated a rib injury suffered in the first meeting this season with the Bears. That ended his day and left rookie Jamaal Williams as the only active running back. Williams delivered a workman-like effort, carrying 20 times for 67 hard-earned yards. One of those carries produced a first down on fourth-and-1 on a drive that ended with a field goal. Williams gained all but two of the team’s 26 yards on that drive. Going forward, he figures to get plenty more opportunities.
When the Packers hosted the Bears in September, Adams left the field on a gurney after taking a vicious hit from linebacker Danny Trevathan. With Trevathan sidelined by injury this time around, Adams — who acknowledged last week that he needed to make some plays — came up big with the two huge pass receptions from Hundley. Adams finished with five catches for 90 yards and made it clear that Green Bay does indeed still have a deep passing game.
Jordy Nelson made only three catches for 20 yards, but came up big on three consecutive plays that resulted in the Packers’ first touchdown. On a poorly thrown deep ball from Hundley, Nelson drew a questionable pass-interference penalty against Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara that put the ball on the 50-yard line. After making a 14-yard reception two plays later, Nelson then made a key block on Bears safety Eddie Jackson that helped spring Montgomery on his 37-yard TD run. Whether it was Nelson blocking or Randall Cobb taking direct snaps and carrying the ball four times for eight yards, Packers receivers contributed in multiple ways.
The Packers' offense needs all the help it can get from special teams, one reason that Trevor Davis has been aggressive in returning kicks out of the end zone. But against the Bears, Davis fielded a punt in the end zone rather than letting it go for a touchback. He was brought down short of the 10-yard line. Holder Justin Vogel mishandled a snap on Mason Crosby’s 35-yard field-goal attempt that would have sealed victory with just over a minute remaining. The resulting miss gave the Bears one final — but ultimately unsuccessful — opportunity.
BITS AND PIECES
• Outside linebacker Nick Perry chalked up a career-best three sacks, becoming the first Packers player to accomplish that feat since A.J. Hawk against the Ravens on Oct. 13, 2013.
• Defensive lineman Mike Daniels recorded a sack for the first time since Week 1 when he took down Trubisky at the start of the second quarter. The Packers had five sacks and seven quarterback hits.
• By sweeping the Bears this season, the Packers extended their lead in the NFL’s oldest rivalry to 96-94-6. The Packers improved to 18-7 against the Bears under coach Mike McCarthy (regular season and postseason).
• Attendance at Soldier Field was announced as 61,285 tickets distributed, with an actual crowd of 55,661 on a soggy day.