While it lacked the dramatic overtime excitement of the previous week’s win over Cincinnati, the Packers’ Thursday Night Football game against the Bears felt even more eventful.
There were the players and coaches locking arms in a sign of unity, with some fans in the stands doing likewise, while many others chanted "U-S-A!" before the national anthem, a sign that last week’s sociopolitical-sports turbulence would continue. There was a 45-minute weather delay between the first two quarters, due to lightning, and heavy rainfall during parts of the second half. There was Green Bay’s (continuing) epidemic of injuries, including one suffered on a brutal hit by a Chicago defender that saw Davante Adams stretchered off the field and sent to the hospital.
And, oh yeah, there was the Packers forcing four turnovers, Aaron Rodgers throwing four touchdown passes and the home team beating the bumbling Bears, 35-14, at Lambeau Field on national TV.
The result this time between football’s oldest rivals never really seemed in doubt. Green Bay was up 14-0 six minutes into the game, en route to a rout that gave the franchise a 95-94-6 edge over Chicago, its first lead in the all-time series since 1933.
But it wasn’t the rare weather delay, the ruthless helmet-to-helmet hit, the Packers’ domination or even the Color Rush uniforms that stood out most. The story of the game was quick slants, out routes and dynamic playcalling on offense, and those familiarly near-forgotten takeaways on defense.
Playing yet again with a ramshackle offensive line – the Packers were without starting offensive tackles David Bahktiari and Bryan Bulaga, and all three backup tackles are on injured reserve – head coach Mike McCarthy established the run game early, then utilized a game plan creatively designed with short passing plays that got Green Bay receivers open quickly in space and kept Rodgers mostly upright.
The efficient quarterback, who finished 18 of 26 for 179 yards with four scores and a 128.0 passer rating, found the end zone with Adams (on a slant), Jordy Nelson (on a quick out and an uncovered fade) and Randall Cobb (on a masterful fake-flat inside slant route).
Finally seeming to recognize the need to adapt the playbook to his injury-decimated situation, McCarthy went back to the 2011-12 offensive well with those trusty, basic route combinations, expertly executed against a disorganized Chicago defensive backfield. It also helped that Green Bay’s defense, which recovered two fumbles and had two interceptions, gifted the offense superb field position for three drives that resulted in touchdowns.
"We knew we were going to get into a grind of a game. The turnovers were huge for us," McCarthy said afterward.
In addition to Adams, who reportedly was conscious and had feeling in all of his extremities at the hospital, starting running back Ty Montgomery suffered broken ribs in the first quarter, backup running back Jamaal Williams left the game with a knee injury and linebacker Joe Thomas did not return after hurting his ankle. The Packers were already playing without Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bulaga (ankle), as well as key defensive veterans Mike Daniels (hip) and Davon House (quad).
"This was a big character win for us," Rodgers said. "It's been a next-man-up, no-excuses policy."
After an up-and-down first three weeks, with uninspiring and inconsistent performances against Seattle, Atlanta and Cincinnati, Green Bay wasn’t making any excuses against the Bears at Lambeau Field. They were, by far, the better team Thursday night and they deserved to win the game. Before the Packers begin their much-needed 10-day break, let’s take a look back at their big victory over Chicago.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson led a group of pass-catchers that excelled when Rodgers and the Packers needed them. Nelson had four catches for a team-high 75 yards and two touchdowns, stretching the field and also producing in the red zone. Nelson’s 58-yard reception in the second quarter was the longest completion by Rodgers this season, traveling 44 yards through the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Cobb caught all four of his targets for 44 yards and a score, while Adams added two catches for 13 yards and a hard-fought touchdown. Also encouraging was the play of tight end Martellus Bennett, maligned a bit this week for his relatively slow start and dropped passes. Bennett caught six of the seven balls thrown his way against Chicago, including a 26-yard long gain on third down on the Packers’ first scoring drive.
Damarious Randall had a rough night. He started the game at cornerback for the Packers, and finished it in the locker room, before the contest had ended, though not because he was injured. The third-year corner had five tackles against Chicago, including one for loss – he’s been a willing tackler this season – but was beaten badly and often by wide receiver Kendall Wright, who had four catches for 51 yards and an easy touchdown.
Randall was apparently benched to start the second half, with Josh Hawkins replacing him – and playing well, breaking up a few completions – and didn’t seem too happy about it, sitting next to the injured House, while his teammates cheered from the sidelines. Later, Randall was nowhere to be found, having exited the field, and afterward McCarthy responded to it by curtly saying, "Actually, that’s an internal matter that we’ll keep internal and we’ll work through that." Often lost, frequently burned and seemingly always with his hands in the air after allowing a big completion, it’s hard to see how the declining Randall bounces back from this.
Clay Matthews didn’t stuff the stat line, but he made his presence felt. The star linebacker, who started opposite the club-handed Nick Perry, had a strip-sack on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage, hitting quarterback Mike Glennon and forcing a fumble that teammate Jake Ryan recovered on the Chicago 3-yard line. The Packers scored three plays later to take a 14-0 lead.
Matthews’ sack also had historical significance, as it was the 75th of his career, moving him past Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for the all-time franchise record. Matthews finished with three tackles, and the attention Chicago paid him helped fellow linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Blake Martinez to make big plays.
(Mike McCarthy isn't renowned for his play-calling, having fired and then rehired himself for that role in the past, but he does still call the plays. Here we rate his coaching performance, on a score from one to 10 McCarthy heads.)
Hey, we know we’re not always kind to Mac in this space – when you’ve got Aaron Rodgers, how do you not score 100 points a week? – but we have to give credit where credit is due. McCarthy called a helluva game Thursday night, starting with the three straight run plays – reports are that Montgomery injured his ribs on the first one, so suggestions that McCarthy ran him too much and got him hurt are unfair.
As noted above, the short passing game – just like we noted it did last year! – opened up Rodgers’ intermediate and long throws, and lent some unpredictable diversity to the Packers’ offense. You don’t need to run a flea-flicker to run an imaginative offense; the old Donald Driver and Greg Jennings slants seem to still work just fine. Against a divisional rival in a game that gave Green Bay the all-time record advantage – by the way, McCarthy is now 17-7 vs. Chicago – we bestow eight McCarthy heads.
The Bears still suck.
Martellus Bennett should play left tackle (uttered Thursday by this writer, on the radio). Just get Bakhtiari and Bulaga healthy, and have newly signed Ulrick John ready to go.
"It wasn't intentional. I was just trying to hustle to the ball, you know, do my job. Unfortunately, he ended up hurt, and I'm sorry about that. I'll reach out to him, try and send him a message … because we play a physical game, but you never wish that on anybody." – Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan on his hit on Adams
"It was just a scary moment. To see him go down like that, it was really scary. … I don't think people realize the courage it takes to take the field, especially after a play like that." – Randall Cobb on the play
"The news I was given on Davante, everything looks positive. That's a great sign." – Mike McCarthy on Adams
This was the Packers’ most complete performance of the season. And don’t scoff just because it was the Bears, who impressively beat Pittsburgh last week. Defensively, Green Bay was opportunistic, finally resembling the bend-don’t-break units from 2009 to 2013 that made a living off turnovers. Packers defenders talked all week about getting more takeaways, and Glennon proved as generous an accommodator as Jay Cutler in providing them.
Offensively, Green Bay overcame a makeshift offensive line and injuries to two running backs and an important wide receiver. Also encouraging was McCarthy’s well-scripted gameplan, Rodgers’ decisiveness and the pass-catchers’ performance. It was a crisp, critical display for a group that needed to feel unstoppable again.
What else is there but the injuries? Broken ribs aren’t a season-ender, and Montgomery’s a tough dude, but it’s hard to imagine him returning in less than three weeks, given the pain and damage. That’s a significant loss, because no NFL running back had played more snaps in 2017 than No. 88, and no Packers skill position player had touched the ball more during the first three games of the season.
Even the 10-day layoff until its Week 5 game may not be sufficient to heal Green Bay’s maladies. Getting Bakhtiari, Bulaga, Daniels and House back would help a lot, but it’s unlikely Montgomery or Adams – two of the team’s most vital offensive players – will be healthy by next Sunday.
The Packers slogged, struggled and hobbled through the first quarter of their season, emerging with a 3-1 record about which they can feel good. This team has not played anywhere near its best football, and has endured a number of major injuries, but – heading into Sunday – sits in first place in the NFC North.
On Oct. 8, Green Bay travels to Dallas to face the Cowboys (currently 2-1) at 3:25 p.m. on FOX.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.