Quick takes: Aaron Rodgers works more comeback magic to rally Packers past Bears
GREEN BAY – Thirty minutes into their 100th season, Aaron Rodgers was in the locker room with an injury. Khalil Mack had turned Sunday night’s game into his own personal showcase, embarrassing the Green Bay Packers as much as the Oakland Raiders for letting him go. The Chicago Bears were pitching a shutout, up 17-0.
And everybody wearing green — players and coaches alike — were booed off the field as they headed for the locker room.
The idea that scene would be a precursor to a 24-23 comeback win didn’t seem plausible. But then, when has Aaron Rodgers ever been conventional?
Rodgers pulled a Willis Reed on Sunday night, returning after halftime to will his team to victory. Usually, such clichés would seem trite. Not on this night.
The final dagger came on a 75-yard, catch-and-run to Randall Cobb, giving the Packers their one-point lead with 2:13 left. Cobb finished his sprint to the end zone ducking inside running back Ty Montgomery’s block, a nifty piece of running.
The Packers' defense – which gave up very little after a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive by the Bears to open the night – held on the Bears’ last-ditch drive. Nick Perry ended the night with a fourth-down strip sack, which Kenny Clark recovered.
Here are five takeaways from the Packers' season-opening win:
1. Laser-rocket arm
Aaron Rodgers can play on one leg. He has shown that ability before, specifically during the 2014 playoffs, when a calf injury rendered him immobile. Rodgers did it again Sunday night. His first touchdown pass of the season was an all-arm, 37-yard bomb to Geronimo Allison. Rodgers dropped 10 yards back to the Packers’ 47 and, with almost no forward momentum put into the throw, dropped a dime to Allison in the opposite corner end zone. His second touchdown also showcased arm strength. With the pocket spread around him, Rodgers instinctively started to turn up field before realizing he couldn’t. He then flung a fastball to Davante Adams in the left flat, again with hardly any momentum into the throw. There’s so much else to discuss with Rodgers’ game — his athletic ability, incredible play extensions, cerebral field vision that prevents substitutions — that his arm strength can be easy to gloss over. But it’s why Rodgers was able to remain effective Sunday night, and why he has a chance to remain that way even as he’s likely to play through injury for the next couple weeks.
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2. Mack attack
Whatever the Packers offered to get Mack from the Raiders, it wasn’t enough. Because the Raiders instead shipped one of the NFL’s best defensive players to the division rival Chicago Bears. In hindsight, there’s just no way general manager Brian Gutekunst could allow that to happen. Mack almost beat the Packers by himself. Though he finished with only one sack, he was constantly in the backfield. He also returned an interception 27 yards, seemingly the play of the game, which put the Bears up 17-0 with 56 seconds left before halftime. Not bad for a guy who, before this week, hadn’t participated in any football activity since last season.
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3. Offensive line rust
The Packers' offensive line as a whole did not play together this preseason. Not once. And you could tell. Right guard Justin McCray had an especially difficult outing, giving up a strip-sack (the Packers recovered) and two holding penalties. (Akiem Hicks was adamant during the week the Packers' offense couldn’t block Mack. Turned out, it couldn’t block Hicks either.) The offensive line played better when Rodgers returned, but the damage was already done by that point. The question is whether their struggles were a byproduct of rust after being unable to find their rhythm in August, or if it’s an issue that will persist throughout the fall. The Packers need to avoid the latter.
4. Primed to break out
Even if age had diminished Jordy Nelson, his chemistry with Rodgers was a core piece to the Packers' offense. For much of the first three quarters, it looked like Rodgers was searching for a go-to matchup. (Then the entire offense exploded in the fourth quarter, but still.) Rodgers finally found one in No. 3 receiver Allison. He went to Allison three straight times late in the third quarter, producing two first downs. Then, in the fourth quarter, he beat Kyle Fuller deep to Allison. Davante Adams had five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, and Randall Cobb was a security blanket with eight catches for 67 yards until his 75-yard game-winning reception, but Allison’s five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown are important. If the Packers truly get production from three receivers, it would give Rodgers an ability to pick his matchup.
BOX SCORE: Packers 24, Bears 23
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5. Wait until Week 3
It’s clear Jamaal Williams will be the workhorse until Aaron Jones returns from his two-game suspension. He’s the type of physical, downhill runner who can wear on a defense, especially in the fourth quarter. But Jones is the Packers' most talented runner, their lone home-run hitter, and they missed him Sunday night. Williams produced as expected, which is to say he had 40 yards on 12 carries (3.3 yards per carry). He punishes a defense, but Williams doesn’t break long runs. His style of running will be an ideal complement when Jones returns, but the Packers' offense will be missing a gear until the two-game suspension is over.