Quick takes: Packers out of playoff race after 24-17 loss to division champ Bears
CHICAGO – The Green Bay Packers' playoff hopes — which admittedly had miracle-level odds entering Sunday — officially ended at Soldier Field.
The Packers' offense was throttled in a 24-17 loss, a game that saw the Packers lose running back Aaron Jones to a knee injury and the end of Aaron Rodgers' streak of consecutive passes without an interception.
The loss snapped the Packers’ eight-game winning streak at Soldier Field, dating to the 2010 NFC Championship game. Fittingly, the Bears sealed their first NFC North title since 2010 with the win.
There have been plenty of “Go Pack Go” chants inside Soldier Field the past couple years, but with the city of Chicago ignited with the long overdue success of its franchise, Sunday's game ended with “Green Bay sucks!” chants late in the fourth quarter.
It’s the second straight year the Packers’ playoff hopes officially ended in Week 15. This time, of course, it happened with Rodgers making every start. A year ago, the Packers' season floundered with backup Brett Hundley starting more than half the games.
The Packers will close out their season with a trip to the New York Jets next week before their finale at home against the Detroit Lions.
Here are five takeaways from the loss:
Off the mark
Rodgers’ NFL-record streak without throwing an interception ended Sunday at 402, 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.
When it became apparent right tackle Bryan Bulaga would not start Sunday, Khalil Mack must’ve been licking his chops. Mack, often matched against backup right tackle Jason Spriggs, finished with 2.5 sacks to bring his season total to 12.5 in 12 games. He had 1.5 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 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown in two games against the Packers. With Mack under contract the next five years, the Packers could end up regretting that for a long time.
Aaron Jones might’ve gotten one carry too many. The Packers, who preserved Jones all season, appeared poised to ride Jones 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 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. The Packers limited Jones’ touches this season, an attempt to preserve their top runner throughout the whole year. It worked until Sunday.
An odd fake
It will be interesting to hear Bears coach Matt Nagy’s explanation for his second-half fake punt that gave the Packers life. Nagy is known as a gambler, but his call 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 1 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.
After a week away from the team to tend to a personal matter, cornerback Bashaud Breeland started as 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.