We were treated to two games of football in the span of 60 minutes on Sunday night. For the first 40 minutes, the Bears were unstoppable on both sides of the ball. But over the final 20 minutes, the Packers tweaked their offensive game plan to accommodate an injured Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay overcame a 20-point deficit to eke out a 24-23 victory over a Chicago team that could end up being really, really good this season.
Bears offense flashes exciting upside
Sunday night was supposed to be about one thing: the return of Aaron Rodgers. But the future Hall of Fame quarterback went down in the second quarter with the team trailing 10-0 to an upstart Bears team, and things got much, much worse before they got better.
The Packers headed into the Sunday night as heavy favorites; all eight CBSSports.com experts had them beating the Bears. Partly because, at least on paper, Green Bay is a much better team. But also because Rodgers, who played just seven games last season because of a shoulder injury, was finally healthy and looking to make up for lost time after the Packers stumbled to seven wins in 2017 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
But plans of complete and total domination went out the window on the Packers’ first drive, which lasted five plays and 12 yards. And it all went downhill from there. Second-year Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky led his team on a 10-play touchdown drive, going 4 of 4 for 54 yards and punctuating it with this two-yard run.
A Packers three-and-out later, Trubisky was back on the field. Nine plays and 60 yards after that, the Bears converted a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. For an idea of just how rare that scoreline is, the last time Chicago led Green Bay by 10 points was in 2007.
As impressive as Trubisky was (11 of 14, 109 yards in the first half), it’s clear that first-year coach Matt Nagy, who comes from Kansas City, has big plans for Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Trey Burton, Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. In Nagy’s offense, which is right out of the Andy Reid playbook, Cohen is playing the role of Tyreek Hill, Howard is Kareem Hunt, Burton is Travis Kelce and Robinson and Gabriel are Sammy Watkins and Chris Conley. This is where we mention the Chiefs hung 38 on the Chargers Sunday.
Here’s a laser from Trubisky to Robinson that was his most impressive throw on the night:
If nothing else, Nagy’s first-half play-calling was a refreshing change from the staid, predictable and ultimately ineffective offenses we were subjected to from John Fox.
Mack makes instant mark for Bears defense
Yes, Fox was a defensive guy, but from 2015-17, his defenses finished 31st, 23rd and 14th, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics. No, Fox didn’t have the benefit of Khalil Mack, who proved in the time it took him to make his way from the sidelines to the huddle that he’s worth every penny the Bears are paying him, and they should throw the Raiders another first-round pick for what he did to the Packers in the first half on Sunday night.
Here’s Mack’s first snap, on the first series:
And on the first drive after Deshone Kizer replaced Rodgers, Mack did this:
That saved three points, and possibly seven.
But there’s more! On the next drive, Mack collapsed the pocket, forced Kizer to his left where he was promptly met by rookie Roquan Smith, who registered a sack on his very first NFL snap.
Two plays later, Mack decided that mere sacks and turnovers weren’t fully exploiting his otherworldly skills.
Sweet Georgia Brown.
Just a reminder: It’s Week 1, and Mack didn’t even take part in training camp or preseason. Another reminder: Jon Gruden didn’t think Mack was worth the money.
Unfortunately for Chicago, professional tackle football games are still four quarters. And while the Bears took advantage of a Rodgers-less Packers offense for several series late in the first half, that all changed when he returned to the field clearly less than 100 percent after intermission.
Rodgers is the NFL’s best player in case you were wondering
Aaron Rodgers made his way back on the field with nine minutes to go in the third quarter and the Packers trailing, 20-0. Given that he limped to the sidelines a half-hour earlier, and took a cart into the locker room before it was announced that he was questionable to return with a knee injury, it was reasonable to expect coach Mike McCarthy to shut him down for the evening. Take the L, regroup, and get ready for next week’s game against the Vikings. No reason to expose the franchise quarterback to an extended whipping all for what felt like insurmountable odds, right?
Instead, Rodgers was back under center on Green Bay’s first drive of the second half, and the Packers’ offense finally found its rhythm to the tune of a 12-play drive. And with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the third quarter, Green Bay finally got on the board with a Mason Crosby 42-yard field goal.
On the next series, it was vintage Rodgers, starting with a rope on third-and-14 that moved the sticks. Five plays later, he dropped a 39-yard dime to cut the lead in half, 20-10.
It started to feel like everybody — Packers fans, Rodgers, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth and, of course, the Bears — knew how this was going to end.
The Packers’ decision to go no-huddle in the second half neutralized the Bears’ dominant first-half pass rush, making McCarthy’s decision to return to his veteran quarterback a smart one. Also making McCarthy look smart: Rodgers doing this on the very next drive:
Seventeen unanswered points seemed to indicate the inevitable Bears implosion, but after back-to-back three-and-outs, and the score at 20-17 with nine minutes to go, Chicago held on for dear life. On their penultimate drive, the Bears were 3 of 4 on third down, which included Trubisky running for a first down then calmly rolling right and finding Anthony Miller on third-and-7 from the Packers’ 49-yard line with 3:28 to go. Then Howard on second-and-13 rushed for 11 yards down to the Packers’ 14.
After an incomplete pass, the Bears kicked the field goal, giving them a 23-17 lead with 2:39 to go.
But here’s the thing: Should the Bears have gone for it? If they failed to convert, the Packers would have started on their own 14-yard line. Given the way Rodgers was playing, Green Bay wasn’t settling for a field goal. By kicking, Chicago led by six points, which would basically guarantee a one-point loss after a Rodgers touchdown drive.
Put another way: There are several reasons John Fox is out of work. One of those reasons is that he was unreasonably conservative. Nagy, who went for it on fourth down early in the game and was unsuccessful, turtled up when the game was on the line. And look, there’s nothing to say Rodgers wouldn’t have led a touchdown drive from his 14-yard line too. But isn’t that all the more reason to go for it if you’re Nagy? There’s also this: The Bears had two plays to get two yards for a first down and extend the drive — and they couldn’t convert.
Which brings to the Packers’ final, fateful series.
On first down, Rodgers hit Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller right in his hands. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground. This is where we remind you that Fuller had two interceptions last season … and dropped six others.
Two plays after that, Randall Cobb did what at that point seemed inevitable: took a Rodgers pass in the middle of the field and promptly housed it.
And that, folks, is a wrap. After 40 minutes of Bizarro Ball, Rodgers, even on one leg, reminded us why he’s the absolute best, and the Packers are currently the biggest threat to the Vikings in the NFC North.
If you want to relive the magic of Rodgers’ performance, check out the the live blog below.
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