The highly anticipated Sunday night matchup between the Packers and their arch-rival, the Bears, left a lot to be desired for the first 58 minutes and 42 seconds. But low-and-behold, with the game on the line and a chance to win it, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers came through with a win in the waning seconds of the game.
The game-winning hookup between Rodgers and Greg Jennings was a message heard loud and clear across the NFL: this is not last season.
It’s amazing how much like last year the end of the game was shaping up to be. The Packers, with a slim lead deep into the fourth quarter, allowed the Bears to drive and kick the go-ahead field goal with just over two minutes to play.
The point difference was essentially the safety allowed earlier in the game, and a statistic reminiscent of last year’s struggles quickly shot into the forefront of every Green Bay fan’s minds: 0-7 in games decided by four points or less.
It was eerily familiar how this game had played out, one final two-minute drive to win the game. What was going to happen? A turnover on downs? An eventual Rodgers interception from a desperate heave into triple coverage? A successful drive into field goal range and a game-winning kick hooked right?
If one were to base their chance of success on a game-winning drive on the outcomes of last season, any of the answers above would be a reasonable guess.
However, on a third-and-one from the 50-yard line with just over a minute to play, the Packers emphatically separated themselves from last year’s identity.
Coach Mike McCarthy dials up the play-action pass, Rodgers fakes the handoff beautifully and lasers the ball downfield to Jennings who splits the double-coverage and eases in for the touchdown, the lead, and the eventual win.
As Lambeau Field simply erupts in exuberant cheer, Jennings takes a knee while Rodgers sprints the length of the field pointing to the sky. This was huge—huge for the fans, huge for the team, huge for Rodgers.
And let it not go unnoticed that the defense is not the same defense as last year, as they carried Green Bay through the full length of this Week one game. Dom Capers put pressure on Jay Cutler from the start to the very end. They picked off Chicago’s prized offseason addition four times and forced plenty of incompletions. Matt Forte was held to just over two yards a rush and Greg Olsen just a single reception.
Against a less mobile quarterback like the Bengals' Carson Palmer next week, the sack totals should look to climb from the two tallied in the Bears game Sunday night. And with the pressure of a season-opener at home against a tough divisional opponent like the Bears now behind them, the Packers’ offense should look to regain their preseason rhythm against a disheartened Bengals defense.
This win over the Bears, in the fashion they did it, answered more doubts about this team than a margin of victory of 21+ could have ever done.
When the game was on the line, when it really mattered, the team came through and won it, and by doing so, they made it abundantly clear.
This is not last season.