Make no mistake about it.
It is a one way street.
Either the Packers offense is that bad, or the Bears defense is that good.
Granted, it could be a simple case of jitters and miscues for a unit that spent most of the offseason watching the second and third teams compete for roster spots, but tonight neither team looked on track when taking offensive snaps.
In a game billed as a duel between star QB’s Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, this contest did not flop, but it did not wow fans in the manner intended.
Both signal callers were bullied for much of the game, rarely able to get into a rhythm due in large part to revamped schemes by both organizations that set out to emphasize pressure.
The gameplan for both teams was to get to the quarterback, so the sacks and hurried throws had to impress most defensive enthusiasts.
Luckily for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers proved to be a much more patient leader all game long, most of all when it counted, once the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter.
Coming off a promising 2008 campaign, Rodgers had led the Packers to all of two (2) comeback victories, both of which came against the winless Lions, one of the worst teams in league history.
So even if most fans and perhaps Rodgers himself had wished for a blowout win over a hated rival, it was nice to see the young QB deliver a knockout punch after listening to critics say he had no chops for crunch time.
Green Bay lost seven games last year by four points or fewer, and much of that blame was placed on the shoulders of their new franchise QB, even though he put his team in position to win late during several of those contests.
The issue last year was not Rodgers, who finished in the top 10 in overall ratings. The issue was not with the offense, which averaged 350 yards and 26 points per game. The issue was defense, and their general inability to close out opponents.
Such was not the case this fine evening.
The Packers redesigned their schemes to fit new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, one of the most well respected defensive minds in all of football. Capers 3-4 alignment was key to the Packers improving on a near bottom ranking and enabled them to be a lot more aggressive towards an opposing offense.
They showed flashes of brilliance during the preseason, and looked like they had been playing in the 3-4 for 10 plus years after a drubbing of Arizona in preseason week three.
The preseason is still the preseason, and this is the regular season.
Not much difference in the stats however.
The Packers frustrated and battered Jay Cutler, forcing four interceptions, three of which occurred in the first half alone.
Though they only had two sacks, the Pack showed plenty of poise getting around blockers and disrupting most anything the Bears tried to get past them. Chicago’s two top receivers from a year ago, Matt Forte and Greg Olsen, combined for one reception and eight yards.
Matt Forte accounted for 32 percent of Chicago’s total yards last season.
The Packers rejuvenated D held him to 55 total yards.
Utter dominance on defense did not translate into momentum on offense, as Green Bay faced similar struggles.
Aaron Rodgers had very little time to throw, was sacked five times, and barely completed half of his passes.
Usually one of the more accurate young passers in the game today, Rodgers was held to 17/28 for 184 yards and a score. While that score came on a late pass to Greg Jennings for the go ahead touchdown, many of his stats were accumulated on drives ending in punts or long field goals.
Dropped passes also hampered the Packers O, as Donald Driver seemed to forget how clutch his hands have been for the last decade. Jordy Nelson as lost a pair of seemingly catchable balls, leaving Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy scratching their heads.
Ryan Grant showed flashes, but for the most part was unimpressive with a 3.8 yards per carry average. He has still yet to live up to the final eight games of the 2007 season, wherein he rushed for nearly 1000 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
For most of the first three quarters, very little offense ensued for either team. Jay Cutler threw three interceptions, and probably could have thrown five if not for drops by the Packers defense.
Aaron Rodgers and co. were very ineffective, really only accounting for three points on offense.
After the Bears gained a safety and the Pack scored following an interception returned to the goal line, the halftime score stood at 10-2. Some shootout.
The third quarter saw Jay Cutler take advantage of some good protection from his o-line as well as some sloppy coverage from the secondary, and brought the Bears to 10-9 after an easy touchdown pass to speedster Devin Hester.
Chicago then settled for a field goal to close out scoring for the third quarter, and that lead to a pretty incredible finish.
Following a very strange 4th and 11 call by the Bears to fake a punt, the Packers found themselves at the Bears 30 yard line, already in field goal range. Unfortunately, Rodgers was unable to produce a first down, so the Pack settled for a 13-12 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth.
Packers fans everywhere were surely concerned after a very controversial call on cornerback Al Harris that gave the Bears new life after a tipped pass by Charles Woodson, but a great stand by the defense held the Bears out of the end zone and made the game a very manageable 15-13 with 2:35 remaining.
Enter Aaron Rodgers, exit ghosts of squandered leads past.
Starting from his own 28 yard line and with all three timeouts, Rodgers set out to silence his critics yet again.
He threw a nice comeback pass to Jennings, and then watched as Nelson dropped a pass near the first down marker. On second down, Rodgers scampered for nine yards, and was denied a late flag even though two defenders hit him after he had already slid.
Then, as the Packers discussed what to do with their 3rd and 1 play, McCarthy and Rodgers decided on a conservative play action pass to tight end Donald Lee, hoping to catch the Bears off guard, drain some clock, and try to move in for the winning field goal.
Fate would have it another way, unfortunately for the Bears.
Rather than grant the Packers a neat little pass to the flat and a short gain, the Bears entire defense bit on a play action fake to Ryan Grant, then Rodgers rolled out to hit Jennings for a 50 yard touchdown.
The Packers were successful on the two point conversion as well, though it would matter very little as the Bears could still beat them with a touchdown of their own.
As it would turn out, Rodgers might as well have taken a knee on the conversion attempt.
From his own 38-yard line with no timeouts and a six-point deficit, Jay Cutler dropped back, read the coverage, cocked his canon arm, released the ball, and watched in horror as he realized he had thrown to the wrong team yet again.
Al Harris stepped in front of Cutler’s pass, and was denied a trip to the end zone only because Cutler himself shoved him out of bounds.
Two kneel downs later, Rodgers probably found breathing much easier.
Final score: Green Bay 21, Chicago 15.
And so it goes that on a night filled with defensive dominance mixed with offensive miscues, Rodgers and his offensive teammates found a way to fill in the blanks late in the game, and for at least one week, have silenced critics that questioned whether their defense could cause as much problems as they had in the preseason, as well as could Aaron Rodgers perform when it counted.
For week one of 2009, it is a resounding YES, YES.
Make no mistake about it.