Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Tyler Lancaster, down to shoddy tackling
With their playoff pipe dreams officially extinguished, the Packers can turn their full attention to preparing for the 2019 season under the direction of a new head coach. It would have been nice to see if Aaron Jones could continue his emergence, but the promising running back suffered a knee injury Sunday that likely will sideline him for the final two games. The Packers might want to consider shutting down other key contributors who have been battling through injuries (although banged-up quarterback Aaron Rodgers insisted he wants to keep playing) to get a better look at which younger players are worth bringing back next season.
The Packers pulled into a 14-14 tie late in the third quarter thanks to an ill-advised Bears fake punt. They dodged a bullet on the second play of the fourth quarter when Bears running back Tarik Cohen lost a fumble on a wildcat snap inside the Green Bay 30-yard line and Dean Lowry recovered. But Rodgers was sacked on first down and then missed consecutive deep throws to open receivers Randall Cobb and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, giving the ball back to the Bears inside their own territory after a holding penalty on a punt. The Bears needed just five plays to march 45 yards (with the help of two defensive penalties) for the touchdown that gave them the lead for good.
Rookie Tyler Lancaster, who filled in admirably after stalwart defensive tackle Mike Daniels was lost for the season to a foot injury, had a doubly difficult challenge Sunday: Kenny Clark, the Packers' best defensive lineman, was inactive with an elbow injury. But rather than being steamrolled by the Bears' ground game without their two defensive anchors, Green Bay held Chicago to under 100 yards rushing thanks in large part to Lancaster (team-high seven tackles, six solo). The Packers just might have found something in their 6-3, 313-pound midseason roster addition out of Northwestern.
The Packers' defense missed a number of tackles that turned into big plays for the Bears. A glaring example was rookie cornerback Josh Jackson allowing Bears receiver Allen Robinson to slip from his grasp and turn a short pass into a 19-yard gain in the second quarter. On the same drive, safety Eddie Pleasant failed to wrap up a sack of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who then hit tight end Adam Shaheen for 23 yards. It was all too much to bear for former Packers safety LeRoy Butler, who tweeted, "Truly pathetic tackling by @packers defense."
» Off the mark: Rodgers’ NFL-record streak without throwing an interception ended Sunday at 402 attempts when Bears safety Eddie Jackson picked off a deflected pass, but it was the throws nobody caught that were the bigger problem. Rodgers’ accuracy has picked up a little during the season, but Sunday was a big regression. He missed several open receivers, mostly downfield. Two of the throws were intended for Randall Cobb, the first coming on an intermediate route when the veteran receiver was wide open but Rodgers’ pass sailed several yards over his head. Rodgers also missed rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling in single coverage with inside leverage down the right seam. And Rodgers missed rookie Equanimeous St. Brown, who was wide open on a crossing route over the middle of the field. These are throws Rodgers, a historically accurate quarterback, has made routinely over the course of his career. It was alarming to see his passes so consistently off the mark. On the day, Rodgers finished 25-for-42 (59.5 percent) for 274 yards, no touchdowns and the interception, with a passer rating of 69.
» Mack attack: When it became apparent right tackle Bryan Bulaga would not start, Khalil Mack must’ve been licking his chops. Mack, often matched against backup right tackle Jason Spriggs, finished with 2 1/2 sacks to bring his season total to 12 1/2 in 12 games. He had 1 1/2 sacks against Spriggs, including a half sack where Mack brought down Rodgers with his back. In two games against the Packers this season, Mack finished with 3 1/2 sacks, one forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown in two games against the Packers.
»Jones injured: The Packers, who preserved Aaron Jones all season by limiting his carries, appeared poised to ride him extensively Sunday. Jones got four carries in the first two possessions, but he left the field after the fourth with a knee injury and never returned. Backup Jamaal Williams filled in admirably with 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and added 40 yards on three catches, but the Packers missed Jones’ big-play potential. Jones spoke earlier in the week about wanting to shed the injury-prone label. He'd managed to do so until Sunday.
»An odd fake: Bears coach Mike Nagy is known as a gambler, but his decision to try a fake punt midway through the third quarter made no sense. With the Bears' defense dominating the Packers' offense, Chicago had a fourth-and-2 from Green Bay’s 49. Instead of pinning the Packers deep, the Bears lost a yard on a fake-punt carry. The Packers used the short field to score their only touchdown, pulling into a tie at 14 after the 2-point conversion. It didn’t hurt the Bears on Sunday, but calls like that can end seasons in the playoffs.
»Breeland back: After a week away from the team to tend to a personal matter, cornerback Bashaud Breeland started at nickel Sunday. His availability was important, especially with defensive tackle Kenny Clark out. Breeland gave the Packers some veteran presence at the cornerback spot, with rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson starting on the perimeter.