By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay’s 24-23 victory over Chicago kicks off 100th season in dramatic style
GREEN BAY, Wis. – After 99 years and one half of football, Aaron Rodgers willed his team to the greatest comeback in Green Bay Packers history, and brother, that’s a lot of history.
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Indeed, the story is as old as the game itself, and why we love it.
Rodgers, the NFL’s two-time MVP, erased a 17-point fourth quarter deficit en route to Green Bay’s amazing 24-23 victory over Chicago on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
It wasn’t just how Rodgers did it. It’s that he did so after being carted off the field in the second quarter. Rodgers’ left knee was grotesquely twisted as he was sacked a second time.
The injury wasn’t a single freak play so much as the result of constant battering by a rejuvenated Bears’ defense.
Led by Khalil Mack, whom the Bears traded for and promptly made the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player last week, Chicago was on a mission: Hit Rodgers early and often.
To compound matters, Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy inexplicably had backup quarterback DeShone Kizer throwing with nowhere to go and not enough time to get there.
Kizer was hit while attempting a screen pass to Ty Montgomery. The errant throw was hauled in by Mack, who sprinted 27 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0 with 39 seconds in the half.
The Packers exited to boos from many of the 78,282 fans at Lambeau Field. Surely a national TV audience also felt like this game, and perhaps the Packers’ season, would be lost.
When he left the Packers were down 10-0. When he returned it was 20-0.
Rodgers shared a laugh with McCarthy on the sideline before taking the field and directing a field goal drive to make it 20-3 in the third quarter.
Then he really heated up.
Playing on one leg, as if bouncing on a Pogo stick, Rodgers relied on his brains, his guile and his magnificent right arm to shred the Bears’ defense. It also helped that the Packers’ offensive line – in particular right tackle Bryan Bulaga – got it together after an abysmal first half.
After surrendering four sacks in the first half, the Packers shut down Khalil and his cohorts after intermission. To do so with an injured, immobile quarterback is remarkable in its own right.
Rodgers was 3 of 7 for 13 yards when he limped off.
He went 17 of 23 for 273 yards and three touchdowns after he returned. His passer rating of 130.7 was incredible under the circumstances. Then again, that’s why Rodgers isn’t merely the highest-paid player in the NFL, but also its best player.
“Aaron Rodgers was remarkable,” McCarthy told reporters. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
First came the Geronimo Allison touchdown drive.
Allison caught four of his five passes on the Packers’ first touchdown drive of the season. It began in the third quarter and spilled into the fourth, when Allison capped it by beating the Bears’ best cornerback, Kyle Fuller, for a 39-yard touchdown.
That made it 20-10.
Next came the Davante Adams touchdown drive.
Adams, who caught five passes for 88 yards, snared a pass and went 51 yards deep inside Bears’ territory. Then he hauled in a short pass and dived into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown.
That made it 20-17.
The Bears added a field goal to make it 23-17, but the Packers had too much time and too much quarterback to go quietly into the Wisconsin night.
Facing third-and-10 at the Green Bay 25, Rodgers rolled left as Randall Cobb was bumped off his crossing rout by Bears’ safety Eddie Jackson. Cobb stopped, reversed course and caught a perfect pass just inches beyond Jackson’s outstretched arms.
“I saw Aaron scramble and I tried to break free,” Cobb said. “Once I caught it I just saw green grass and did what I could to get in (the end zone).”
Cobb raced 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown to make it 24-23 with just 2:13 to play. Cobb finished with nine catches for a career-high 142 yards and the biggest play of the night.
“We went exclusive no-huddle (in the second half),” McCarthy said. “The two-minute drill is the best thing (Rodgers) does.”
Rodgers has had many great moments.
There was the “Hail Mary” victory at Detroit. There was the last-ditch completion to Jared Cook in Dallas to beat the Cowboys. There was the late pass to Cobb to KO the Bears at Soldier Field and send the Packers to the playoffs.
All were great. None was any better than this.
Now it’s time to prep for Minnesota and the vaunted Vikings defense. The Vikings defeated the 49ers 24-16 in their opener to set up this Sunday’s noon showdown at Lambeau Field.
Meantime, Rodgers needs to rest and rehab his left knee, the offensive line needs to build off its strong second half and coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense needs to do the same.
Hopefully Rodgers won’t go down against the Vikings, but even if he does Minnesota would be wise NOT to count him out.