GREEN BAY— Here are three thoughts from the Packers' improbable 24-23 comeback win over the Bears on Sunday night.
1. As if we needed any more proof, Aaron Rodgers confirmed once again that he is indeed superhuman. I talked to five Packers players postgame and all of them said they had no idea Rodgers would return to play in the second half after he injured his knee in the second quarter. At halftime, with the Packers trailing the Bears 17-0, backup quarterback DeShone Kizer gave a rallying speech to his offense, asking the unit to trust him and to not look too far ahead in the game, but take things brick by brick. And then… Rodgers came jogging out of the tunnel behind the team. “He was in the back as we came out and we heard the crowd, and we were like, ‘Oh, there he is,’” tight end Lance Kendricks said in the postgame locker room. Though he was essentially playing on one good leg, Rodgers was renewed in the second half. The offense adjusted to his limited mobility and he played exclusively from shotgun or pistol formation instead of under center. He wanted to play it safe with his knee and avoid any unnecessary drop backs. Before Rodgers hurt his knee after getting sacked by Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, he was 3-for-7 for 13 yards, no touchdowns and a 45.0 passer rating. After his return, he went 17-for-23, 273 yards, three touchdowns and improved to a 130.7 passer rating. "That's why he's the GOAT," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. Several Packers players agreed this was the loudest they’ve ever heard the crowd at Lambeau Field. Another fun stat: This is only the fifth time in Packers’ 100-year franchise history that they won a game after facing at least a 20-point deficit.
2. Khalil Mack is who we thought he was. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early on Sunday that Mack and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith would be limited in Sunday night’s game, but Mack played the majority of the Bears’ defensive snaps. Even though he missed the entire preseason, Mack made his presence known quickly. Mack strip sacked Kizer with the Packers in the red zone. On the following drive, he picked the backup signal-caller off and ran it back 27 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears up 17-0. Kizer was hit mid-throw and sent the ball wobbling directly into Mack’s hands. At the time, with Chicago owning the scoreboard and the momentum, it was the kind of game-changing play worth his $90 million contract. Green Bay’s offensive line adjusted in the second half and did a better job shutting Mack down. Right tackle Brian Bulaga, Mack’s regular matchup, said there were several plays of the first half that he wants back. At halftime, he racked his brain with what Mack had done that worked against him. He wouldn’t go into specific details, but said he had switched up his technique, certain hand movements and set points to try to stop Mack. “He’s the total package defensive end,” Bulaga said at his locker. “You have to be able to counter what he is doing and on the fly make adjustments... I worked technique a little better than I did in the first half. Not better, but different technique than what he was able to counter a few times in the first half.” After Mack’s disruptive performance in the first half, the Bears have to be happy with their decision to spend so much on him.
Mack wasn’t the only Chicago player on the defensive side of the ball who shined. Defensive end Akiem Hicks was triple-teamed, and broke free to sack Rodgers and force a fumble. Smith was limited, but sacked Kizer for a loss of nine yards on his very first play. Mack missed the sack by a hair, and Smith came up after to finish the job. This defense will be fun to watch.
3. In a refreshing change from recent seasons, Chicago unleashed an NFL offense that looked like it was actually conceived in this century. Head coach Matt Nagy’s offense was a step ahead of Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit during the first half, because Nagy employed several different formations and personnel groupings to put stress on the defense. From full-house backfields to empty sets, the Bears were able to keep the Packers guessing. On a goal-line play on the first drive where Trubisky ran it in for the touchdown, Chicago had left tackle Charles Leno Jr. lined up as the slot receiver. "We knew they were going to do some crazy stuff to keep it simple; tackle over, lineman out at wide receiver spots, three guys in the backfield," Green Bay linebacker Blake Martinez said post-game. "We had to get adjusted and I think that first couple drives we were trying to do too much."
Last season, quarterback Mitch Trubisky was on a short leash because the team had an abysmal group of receivers and an uninspired offensive scheme (Bears fans will probably never forget the Panthers game where Trubisky completed a grand total of four passes). On Sunday night, Trubisky was able to show off his arm with a couple 30-yard bullets to receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson. Robinson gives this offense a dimension it lacked because he’s capable of making contested catches. On Trubisky’s longest completion of the night, Robinson ran a fade route from the slot, and was closely covered down the right sideline by Green Bay rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander, but was still able to come away with the catch. The offense seemed to play more conservatively in the second half with mostly short passes, including one questionable third-and-two throw with 2:47 left and the Packers without a timeout. Even though this game goes in the loss column for Chicago, this offense showed a ton of potential for the rest of the season.