Silverstein: Look beyond Aaron Rodgers for clutch contributors in Packers' comeback win
GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers has ice in his veins. He has the guts to play hurt. He can read defenses like few others. He can complete passes that are within an inch or two of being broken up. He can demoralize a defense with an audible at the line of scrimmage.
And, oh yeah, he has some clutch teammates around him.
Plenty of praise has been heaped on Rodgers for leading the Green Bay Packers to a season-opening 24-23 opening night victory over the Chicago Bears. And rightly so. The Packers aren’t 1-0 if he doesn’t return from a knee injury in the second half and perform his magic.
But the Packers also aren’t 1-0 if Geronimo Allison, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jamaal Williams and Bryan Bulaga are playing for someone else Sunday.
To understand how vital their roles were in the victory — and we’re just talking offense here — you need to deconstruct the game and take your focus away from Rodgers. There was more to the victory than just his fabulous ability to locate open receivers and put the ball on the money.
“Obviously, having '12' out there is the key,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “It’s something we intend to keep happening. It’s always better when he’s on the field. They don’t pay him all that money for him not to be out there and play.
“There were a lot of guys with some great performances.”
The way the game started you would have thought none of those performances were forthcoming. The Bears took control of the game on both sides of the ball with far more creative game-planning than the Packers drew up during their five months of preparation.
On defense, the Bears came up with an unusual but effective way to take tight end Jimmy Graham out of the game and isolate Akiem Hicks, the best defensive tackle in the division, against second-year guard Justin McCray.
It was a brilliant game plan because it put pressure on Rodgers and took away his most likely target when under duress.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s plan to take away Graham called for his outside linebackers to line up wide anytime the tight end lined up in a “flex” formation, which is a stand-up position a few yards outside the tackle. At the snap, the linebacker would jam Graham and disrupt his timing before heading off to chase Rodgers.
“It’s not common, for sure,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “It just messes up the timing. In the passing game, it’s all about timing so you can’t get to a certain spot. And then you’re playing catch up. Depending on where you need to go with your route, it can be detrimental to you getting to your spot.”
With Hicks blowing past McCray and Khalil Mack creating heat from the outside, Rodgers had nowhere to go with the ball. When Graham wasn’t jammed at the line, he wasn’t getting open, and so he was not a factor in the game.
When Rodgers came back from his knee injury in the second half, coach Mike McCarthy went to a no-huddle, quick-release passing game, which essentially transferred a great deal of responsibility from Rodgers to his wide receivers.
Consider the Packers' first series of the second half.
DOUGHERTY:Hobbled Rodgers wins battle of wills
SILVERSTEIN:After rough first half, O-line finds its way
Rodgers delivered low on a slant route and Adams went down and got it for an 8-yard gain. On third and 1, he threw to the flat and let Cobb fight for the first down. On the next play, he dumped the ball off to tight end Lance Kendricks on a short crossing route that gained 13 and two plays later he hit Cobb on a slant for 9 yards.
The drive stalled and the Packers had to settle for a Mason Crosby field goal.
On the next series, Rodgers put the offense in a hole with an intentional grounding penalty, but on third and 14, Allison found a hole in the middle of the Bears' defense and dove forward for the first down.
Allison got open again on a 3-yard route, spun and turned it into a 12-yard gain. Cobb and Ty Montgomery both turned short completions into 10- and 8-yard gains, respectively.
At that point in the half, 42 of the 79 passing yards and three of the seven first downs the Packers had gained had come after the catch. With a balky knee, Rodgers couldn’t scramble and was putting the ball in the hands of his receivers and telling them to make a play.
“It’s his job to make sure he gets the ball out in a timely manner, and it’s our job to make sure we’re where we need to be in a timely manner and make the plays,” Allison said.
It was then that Rodgers changed the complexion of the game with a deep throw so accurate that if Allison had let it drop to the ground it would have landed point down in the end zone an inch in either direction of being out of bounds.
Alison made the catch possible with a subtle push off on cornerback Kyle Fuller and great concentration as he hauled in the pass with both arms and dropped his knees down before going out of the back of the end zone. The catch wasn’t possible without a perfect throw, but Allison still had to finish the play, and he did.
“G-Mo’s catch was unbelievable,” Bakhtiari said.
As all of this was developing, the protection around Rodgers was getting better. The line had adjusted to account for Hicks, and Bulaga had fine-tuned his game plan against Mack and kept him from harassing Rodgers.
With the ball at his own 25 with 11 minutes, 52 seconds to go, Rodgers allowed his teammates to go to work. Of the 80 passing yards that were to come, 54 were after the catch, including 42 on two plays that may foreshadow what kind of season Adams is going to have.
On a 51-yard completion, Adams produced 33 yards after the catch. It would not have been possible if Williams hadn’t stoned blitzing linebacker Danny Trevathan with a courageous launch into his chest right in front of Rodgers. On the 12-yard touchdown that completed the drive, Adams made one of his patented shake-and-bake moves after a 3-yard catch and ran past cornerback Prince Amukamara on his way to the end zone.
“You can’t put everything on the quarterback, who is pretty good,” Adams said. “But if he throws me a hitch or whatever it is, I have to make sure I make the first guy miss and I get upfield.”
And so, with Rodgers’ targets coming up big, the way the game ended was appropriate.
Rodgers, with all day in the pocket, found Cobb across the middle on third and 10 on one of their patented scramble-drill connections and Cobb turned an 11-yard completion into a 75-yard game-winning touchdown.
Cobb had a wide swath of green in front of him, but he finished the catch and run by using two good blocks from Montgomery to get into the end zone.
The final totals showed Rodgers with 273 passing yards in the second half; 160 of them were gained after the catch.
As great as Rodgers was, the players around him were just as responsible for the offensive turnaround. It took a quarterback like Rodgers to lead the comeback and a sterling performance from those around him to finish it.