Josh McCown seized his opportunity to start by leading the visiting Bears to victory. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
With Monday night's game in the balance, the Chicago Bears embarked on a drive from their own 11 that ate up eight minutes and 58 seconds of the fourth-quarter clock, all but ending the Packers' hopes at a comeback win.
And yet, that grueling possession must have felt like little more than a blink of an eye for Packers' fans compared to the eternity they waited for Aaron Rodgers to reemerge from the locker room after leaving with a shoulder injury.
Rodgers eventually did make his way back to the Green Bay sideline -- but did so in sweats, his night done. The Packers, minus their leader, still rallied from a pair of deficits. They could not do so a third time with Seneca Wallace at the helm though, falling 27-20 in a game that might have a lingering impact on a jumbled NFC North race.
"Aaron's a huge part of our offense," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've been at this thing for how many years? This is something that's been built over time with Aaron as the centerpiece. I don't think it's realistic to put anybody in there and think he's going to run [the offense] the way Aaron runs it."
The reports after the game on Rodgers' situation were murky at best. McCarthy merely described the issue as a "shoulder injury" and said that Rodgers will need more diagnostic tests.
BURKE: Aaron Rodgers injures left shoulder early in game against Bears
Rodgers lasted all of seven plays before Chicago's Shea McClellin (whose only other career solo sack was of Rodgers in Week 2 last season) buried the Green Bay quarterback on a 3rd-and-8, driving his left shoulder into the Lambeau Field grass. Rodgers then spent a few moments on the bench talking to the Packers' training staff before jogging to the locker room.
In his stead stepped Seneca Wallace, for his first meaningful regular-season appearance since New Year's Day 2012. Just like that, a crucial NFC North matchup was down to backup QB vs. backup QB, with Josh McCown filling in for an injured Jay Cutler on Chicago's end.
McCown, who attempted 20 passes in a relief appearance last week, hit 22-of-41 attempts Monday for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Wallace, suddenly pressed into duty, finished with just 114 yards on 11-of-19 passing. He also snuffed out a Green Bay drive with an interception and ended the game by taking back-to-back sacks.
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"I'm a fan, I'm a quarterback fan, so anytime you see a guy get hurt, there's something about it that hurts ya," McCown said of the Rodgers injury. "But you obviously understand the nature of the game and the impact that player has on the game. When he's not on the field, your odds of winning probably increase."
McCown's own play -- and a gutsy call by first-year head coach Marc Trestman -- contributed to Chicago's win, too. Trestman showed his trust in McCown early, calling passes on the Bears' first six snaps. McCown rewarded that confidence with a brilliant 23-yard TD to Brandon Marshall early and what proved to be the game-winning toss to Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter.
Despite those scoring plays from McCown, the Bears still found themselves clinging for dear life to a lead in the fourth quarter. Up 24-20, they appeared ready to punt the ball back to Green Bay with 7:50 left. Instead, on his own 32-yard-line, Trestman sent the offense back on the field.
The gamble paid off, as Matt Forte shook an A.J. Hawk tackle in the backfield and secured a first down. Chicago then ran off another seven minutes before Robbie Gould hit a chip-shot field goal.
McCown also converted a key 3rd-and-6 on that drive, hitting Marshall across the middle for 11 yards.
"This means so much to our team because it's a division opponent, it's for the division lead," McCown said. "So it's special, I'm very thankful."
The Bears' victory created a three-way tie in the NFC North, with Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay all sitting at 5-3. Trestman's club hosts the Lions next Sunday in another important contest. Green Bay, meanwhile, will welcome Philadelphia to town ... but whether or not Rodgers takes the field is anyone's guess.
McCarthy, however, made it clear that if Rodgers has to sit, Plan B must be executed with far greater precision.
"Seneca needs to perform better, and hopefully he'll be able to do that with more practice," McCarthy said. "We need to do a better job in the passing game, third downs were something that held us back."
The Bears may sit on the opposite end of the spectrum. McCown was far from perfect in his first start since 2011, but he proved capable of moving the football. He may have to answer the call again in Week 10, if Cutler is not ready. (ESPN reported Monday night that Cutler is planning to play against Detroit.) But if this were McCown's lone start of the season, he did plenty to keep the Bears in the division race.
Can Wallace do the same if Rodgers' injury leaves him in the spotlight? The Packers would rather not find out.