Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
Aaron Rodgers may not be human.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback was carted off the field with a knee injury in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field but returned facing a 20-0 deficit. All he did was throw for 286 yards and three touchdowns while directing an incredible comeback in a 24-23 season-opening victory.
His final dagger to the Bears’ heart was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on 3rd-and-10 with two minutes and 13 seconds remaining a mere two plays after Kyle Fuller dropped what likely would have been a game-clinching interception.
FINAL: @AaronRodgers12 leads an amazing comeback! #CHIvsGB
(by @Lexus) https://t.co/ZME8Clgs5I
Even on One Leg, Aaron Rodgers a Superhero
For a moment, it looked as if the Packers’ season was over.
As Rodgers was being carted off the field, memories of the 2017 campaign came flooding back when he played just seven games because of a broken collarbone. Green Bay proceeded to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 campaign as Brett Hundley threw nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
DeShone Kizer is the backup now, but he threw 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions last year on the Cleveland Browns. Green Bay has no chance without Rodgers, and that was clear on Kizer’s first possession when Khalil Mack strip-sacked the backup quarterback.
Peter Bukowski @Peter_Bukowski
A Kizer fumbled cost the Packers at least 3. A pick-six cost them another 7. That’s 10 of the 17-point deficit. Green Bay literally can’t even manage a quarter without Aaron Rodgers.
Willis Reed and Kirk Gibson now have company on the list of hobbled players who returned to treat fans to incredible moments that only come in sports.
David Gardner @byDavidGardner
If you need both legs
I feel bad for you son
I can throw 60 yards in the air
When I’ve only got one
Rodgers trotted onto the field for the second half and, despite barely stepping into many of his throws and essentially using only his arm to push the ball downfield, threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison, 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams and the 75-yard backbreaker to Cobb, who sprinted past the Chicago secondary and did much of the work after the catch.
According to John Buccigross of ESPN, it was the first time Rodgers threw three touchdowns in a fourth quarter in his incredible career.
Green Bay deserves credit for switching the offensive attack and utilizing pace to prevent the Bears’ pressure from getting to Rodgers, but this was all about the all-time great adding yet another memorable chapter to his Hall of Fame resume.
He is the closest thing the NFL has to an actual superhero.
Bears Must Maintain Offensive Aggressiveness to Succeed
Chicago’s offense lacked innovation, struggled throughout the season and lost a challenge that overturned its own touchdown during the 2017 campaign under John Fox. The result was a group that was 30th in the league in yards and 29th in points on the way to a 5-11 record.
It appeared as if things had changed, but those feelings of optimism lasted a mere half.
New coach Matt Nagy wasted no time making an impact on Chicago’s first drive, which went for 10 plays, 86 yards and a touchdown. The Bears mixed in a wishbone-like formation on a sweep with two lead blockers, misdirection and receivers in motion, and even offensive tackle Charles Leno lining up out wide.
Trubisky capped it off with a read-option keeper for the score.
Apparently Rodgers’ abilities extend to forcing the opposing coach to forget how effective his early play-calling was while building what should have been an insurmountable lead.
Robert Mays @robertmays
The complete lack of aggression by the Bears’ offense in this half is maddening. They’ve completed crawled into a shell.
Tom Fornelli @TomFornelli
Nagy’s been coaching not to blow the lead the entire second half and hey guess what you’ve done https://t.co/36GI7bFNb5
The Bears shifted into a conservative approach after Rodgers returned, mixing in predictable runs on early downs, screen passes that went nowhere and even a 3rd-and-1 pass that was completed short of the first-down sticks.
Then, the one time the Bears should have been conservative with a 3rd-and-2 on Green Bay’s 14-yard line with less than three minutes remaining, they threw an incomplete pass with Jordan Howard on the sideline. Rather than run clock and perhaps pick up the first down while the Packers had no timeouts remaining, Chicago settled for a field goal and fateful six-point lead.
Still, it was the conservative play-calling in other parts of the second half that kept the Bears defense on the field and allowed Rodgers to wear them out with his tempo.
Chicago overhauled its roster this offseason by adding Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel as pass-catchers around Howard and Tarik Cohen. The weapons were on full display in the first half and made the Bears look like playoff contenders.
The fourth quarter was a master class in playing not to lose, and Chicago lost as a result. The only way it will turn things around moving forward is to tap into that aggressiveness that worked early in Sunday’s game.
Bears Defensive Front Capable of Leading Team to Playoffs
If there are any silver linings to Sunday’s disaster for Chicago, it is the fact that the defensive front seven looks loaded and capable of leading it into the playoff picture.
This was a defense that finished ninth in the league in points allowed in 2017, and it added Mack—the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year—and Roquan Smith—the No. 8 pick of the 2018 draft.
Mack had the strip-sack and a pick-six against Kizer, while Smith tallied a sack on the first play of his career.
It wasn’t just those two, though, as Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd and even Roy Robertson-Harris made life difficult on a Green Bay offensive line Football Outsiders ranked 28th in the league in pass protection in 2017.
The defense ultimately wore down and didn’t take advantage of a game-ending gift when Fuller dropped a surefire interception, but there were flashes of a playoff-caliber front seven.
It’s at least something to build on after Rodgers stunned his rivals again.
The Bears open their home slate in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, while the Packers will face another divisional foe at home in the Minnesota Vikings.