Dougherty: Brett Hundley, Packers make most of favorable matchup
CHICAGO – Give Mike McCarthy, Brett Hundley and the Green Bay Packers credit.
They proved they could win a game without Aaron Rodgers and settled their ship after losing three straight.
That was all they could accomplish Sunday at Soldier Field, and they did it with a tough 23-16 win on the road against an NFC North rival.
But it also must be noted that this was a favorable matchup for the Packers, because the Chicago Bears’ weaknesses and strengths dovetailed with theirs in a couple important ways.
The Bears, with a rookie quarterback and very possibly the worst receiving corps in the league, aren’t equipped to attack the Packers’ secondary like New Orleans and Detroit did. And while the Bears run the ball well with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, the Packers’ run defense has been pretty good, too.
So while the Packers have to feel good about Hundley making a couple important plays and getting his first win, they also should heed his words from his postgame news conference. Because there are less favorable matchups coming up over the season’s final seven weeks, and while the win is good for morale, next Sunday will be a re-set against a Baltimore Ravens team coming off its bye.
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“It gives a boost of confidence for sure, especially to get the first one under us,” Hundley said. “But every week is a new week. So we’re going to enjoy this — I’ll tell you now, I’ll enjoy this for the next couple hours. But once we get back and get things settled down and tomorrow hits, we’ve got another game to win.”
It’s almost impossible to overstate how important quarterback play is in the NFL, and the Packers won this one mainly because Hundley (110.8 rating) outplayed the second pick of this year’s draft, Mitch Trubisky (97.0).
For most of the day, not much separated two young quarterbacks who obviously are under orders to play it safe. Both teams were hell bent on protecting their guy by running the ball — the Packers finished with more runs (37) than passes and sacks combined (28), and if you take away the Bears’ three possessions in hurry-up, they had almost an even split of runs (16) to passes (20).
But the Packers have to be most encouraged that with the game on the line, Hundley made a couple plays. That’s something he hadn’t done the last three weeks.
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In the fourth quarter he made his best play to date when he answered a Bears touchdown that cut the Packers’ lead to 16-13 with a touchdown of his own. It was an improvised scramble and back-shoulder throw on the run to Davante Adams for a 19-yard touchdown.
Then after a Bears field goal that cut the Packers lead to seven points, he hit a clutch deep shot to Adams for 42 yards with the outcome on the line on third-and-10. That should have wrapped up the game with 2:04 to play. It didn’t only because Justin Vogel’s bobble of the snap caused Mason Crosby to miss what would have been the game-clinching field goal a few plays later.
But the point is, Hundley stood tall in the pocket and delivered a deep throw on the money in the clutch. He hadn’t made any plays like those the last three weeks, and that’s progress. He also again took care of the ball — after throwing three interceptions when Rodgers went down against Minnesota, he has thrown only one since, including none Sunday. The difference this week was he made a couple plays, too, whereas Trubisky made only one — a 46-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Bellamy.
Maybe there were signs of this coming when Hundley got on a couple teammates in practice last week. At minimum, that’s a sign that he’s taking charge as time goes on. Regardless, he did it on the road against a decent defense. The Bears had two weeks to prepare for Hundley coming off their bye and in their previous game had held New Orleans’ Drew Brees to only 20 points in the Superdome.
The win gives the Packers’ playoff hopes some life, too, mainly because it stopped a tailspin. At 5-4 they’re tied with Detroit for second place in the NFC North, behind 7-2 Minnesota. They’re one of 10 teams in the NFC with five wins, so there’s still a long road ahead there.
The Packers also are finding out that their rookie running back class might be pretty good. After fifth-round pick Aaron Jones (knee injury) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) had to leave the game, fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams (20 carries, 67 yards) came through. He ran with power that he didn’t show in the preseason, and he did it against a defense stacked to stop the run. Knowing he can bring a physical element to the run game could come in handy as winter football closes in.
And if Jones and Montgomery can’t play next week, maybe the third back in this year’s draft class, seventh-rounder Devante Mays, will get a chance to show he’s a real NFL back, too.
BOX SCORE: Packers 23, Bears 16
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REPLAY: Review Silverstein's live game blog
But things will get tougher for the Packers from here. For starters, there’s only one other rookie quarterback on their docket (Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer). Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is having a bad season, but he’s got a big-league arm and 10 years as an NFL starter to lean on. Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Netwon and Matthew Stafford are on the schedule too, as is Minnesota’s third-ranked scoring defense.
Hundley looked like one of the happiest men in the world as he left the locker room Sunday, and who can blame him? That first NFL win is big, and as he learned, it doesn’t come easily.
But he and the Packers also had a lot going in their favor in this one. The NFL is a matchup league, and things are going to get a lot tougher from here.