CHICAGO – There were multiple ways the Green Bay Packers could have beaten the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, but only one came with the hope of a better season attached to it.
It would need to feature Brett Hundley doing something special.
After three straight losses in which Hundley had thrown for one touchdown with four interceptions, the story of the 2017 season was getting close to being written. No Aaron Rodgers, no playoffs.
But in a 23-16 victory, Hundley made three clutch plays, all in the fourth quarter. Yes, it was just three plays, but it was against the eighth-ranked defense on its home field — all with the game on the line.
“Huge,” receiver Davante Adams said of how important this game was for Hundley. “He definitely took a step in the right direction.”
Exiting with a three-point victory would have put the Packers in the same position they are now — tied for second in the NFC North with a 5-4 record — only it would have seemed like a much different place.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Hundley had not engineered a drive ending with a touchdown pass since the second quarter of the Minnesota game, a streak of nine straight quarters without a scoring connection.
The Packers were desperate for the victory, but they really needed Hundley to show he could make plays that are the difference between winning and losing. The plays that make everyone forget all those others that made the third-year quarterback look unqualified to be a starter.
“It’s not like we were missing by a lot,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Last week, we missed by a half yard on some of those. So, maybe you start losing some confidence. All it takes is a couple and it can really build from there. It is big.”
For the first time since he took over for Rodgers in the first quarter of the Vikings game, Hundley made plays that changed the outcome, the most spectacular a 19-yard touchdown pass to Adams that gave the Packers a 23-13 lead.
Hundley was 14 of 21 for 125 yards when the Packers took over on their own 25-yard line holding onto a 16-13 lead with 10 minutes, 39 seconds to go. He connected on passes of 18 yards to Adams and 8 yards to tight end Richard Rodgers before facing a third and 2 at the Chicago 37.
Hundley took the shotgun snap and started to scan the secondary for an open receiver. The Bears were in man-to-man coverage with both safeties back and four men rushing, hoping to make Hundley force the ball into coverage.
On the left side, tackle David Bakhtiari was riding outside linebacker Pernell McPhee inside causing a pileup in front of Hundley.
“I think I saw him (McPhee) and the D-tackle talking,” Bakhtiari said. “I think he tried to a call a stunt and the D-tackle didn’t hear him right so there was no contain.
“I even mentioned to Brett earlier, these D-ends are taking inside moves, trying to pinch-pocket or fold over inside. It will give you a chance to make (it around the corner). If you see it, take advantage of it. He did.”
Indeed he did, albeit looking a little bit like a guy whose foot had fallen asleep.
“That’s the slowest I’ve ever ran in my life,” joked Hundley, who said his hamstring had tightened up on him during the game, causing him to limp 17 yards for a first down at the 20-yard line.
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After fullback Aaron Ripkowski — filling in for rookie Jamaal Williams, who was filling in for Ty Montgomery (ribs) and Aaron Jones (knee) — gained a yard, coach Mike McCarthy called a passing play that featured Adams, Rodgers and Nelson on the right side.
From the shotgun, Hundley took the snap, scanned the field and then felt a little pressure from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who had taken the inside against right tackle Justin McCray. As McCray drove Floyd through the pocket, Hundley took a half dozen steps to the right, pointed to Adams and threw a fastball to the corner of the end zone.
The receiver reached up and plucked it out of the air while cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson were helpless to defend him. Adams came down with his left foot on the goal line and snuck his right foot in for the touchdown.
BOX SCORE: Packers 23, Bears 16
“Elite-level play,” Adams said of the throw. “Anybody can take off and run. You can put a running back there to play quarterback if you just want him to run it. But I don’t think running with it would have gotten a score.
“But throwing a great ball back shoulder like that, to an open guy, or not even — I wasn’t wide open. He made a good throw and it actually made me a little more open by the way he threw it. That’s a next-level play. He just has to continue to make those.”
Hundley completed his last four passes for 87 yards and a touchdown, his last a 42-yard lob down the right sideline that dropped into Adams’ arms without an altered stride. It was third and 10 at the Packers 35 and should have resulted in another three points except kicker Mason Crosby missed from 35 yards after holder Justin Vogel dropped the snap.
The Packers held on and now get ready to host Baltimore at Lambeau Field. Hundley has by no means arrived and must build off those performance, but for the first time his teammates leave with the confidence he can make clutch plays.
“We just have to keep this momentum going,” Hundley said. “We’ve got to ride the wave. I think it gives us a boost of confidence, especially getting the first one (victory) under us. But every week is a new week, so we’re going to enjoy this.
“But once we get back and get things settled down and tomorrow hits, we’ve got another game to win.”