GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers, who was carted to the locker room in the second quarter with an injured left knee, returned for the second half and rallied the Packers from a 20-0 deficit to stun the Chicago Bears 24-23 on Sunday night.
“This is what we’re paid to do,” Rodgers said. “We’re paid to deal with injuries and play through them. That’s what everybody is doing and will be doing throughout this season. That’s the measure of a teammate, is what are you willing to put on the line for your team? And, to me, it’s a no-brainer. Being out there is special. The ovation from the crowd lifts you up, gives the energy, the momentum of the game, and you feel the tide turning. It’s special. This will definitely go down as one of my favorite memories, especially in this rivalry. When you play here, you know how special it is to play here, but you know how special this rivalry is. This will be one I’ll definitely smile about in 10 years.”
Rodgers, who was injured when defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris fell on him with about 9 minutes to go in the second quarter, was simply sensational. He was just 3-for-7 for 13 yards before suffering an injured left knee about 20 minutes into the game. During the second half, he was 17-of-23 for 273 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. His second-half passer rating was a perfect 158.3 until he chucked a pass deep into the Green Bay night to burn off the final seconds.
Trailing 17-0 at halftime, coach Mike McCarthy’s game-winning adjustments weren’t made with Rodgers’ comeback on his mind. In fact, McCarthy didn’t know Rodgers was going to play until, “I walked out of the tunnel.”
The Bears tacked on a field goal to start the second half before Rodgers jump-started the comeback.
First, Mason Crosby hit a 42-yard field goal. Then, a minute into the fourth quarter, Rodgers’ threw a perfect deep ball to receiver Geronimo Allison, who used a subtle push-off on top cornerback Kyle Fuller to haul in a 39-yard touchdown pass. Less than 5 minutes later, Rodgers threw a quick pass to Davante Adams, which the receiver turned into a 9-yard touchdown to bring Green Bay within 20-17 with 9:01 to play.
“Aaron Rodgers was remarkable,” McCarthy said. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am of him. Just a tremendous performance. Exclusively with the no-huddle there in the second half and the two-minute drive, it was just priceless. It’s the best thing we do. It’s the best thing he does.”
After back-to-back three-and-out possessions, the Bears’ offense finally got going. A 14-play drive that devoured six-and-a-half minutes off the block resulted in a 32-yard field goal by Cody Parkey. That made it 23-17 with 2:39 remaining.
Rodgers needed only seconds to put the Packers in front. One play after Fuller dropped an interception, Rodgers faced a third-and-10 from the 25. He threw a dart over the middle to receiver Randall Cobb, who was stunned to see nothing but green grass when he turned upfield. He ran the final 64 yards for a 75-yard touchdown to put the Packers in front with 2:13 remaining.
“You’ve seen it time and time again. That guy’s a warrior,” Cobb said. “He goes out and he competes and he fights and he gives his everything he has every opportunity he can. I love seeing the fact that he came back out there and played the way that he did in the second half.”
Chicago was given new life when linebacker Clay Matthews was called for roughing the passer on a fourth-down incompletion, but the Packers clinched the victory on Nick Perry’s strip-sack on a fourth down with 58 seconds to go.
Green Bay is playing its 100th season of football. For the first time, it rallied from a deficit of 17-plus points in the fourth quarter.
The Bears dominated the first half. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s 2-yard touchdown on Chicago’s opening possession gave it a 7-0 lead. Then, it was the Khalil Mack show. After Rodgers exited, Mack had a sack-strip of backup quarterback DeShone Kizer. On the next possession, Robertson-Harris blew up a screen, which Mack intercepted and returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
“You prepare all offseason for the first game of the season, so I wanted to come back and made an impact,” said Mack, who was acquired in a trade with Oakland last Saturday. “But you want to win these games. That is the only thing on my mind. I hate losing.”
Trubisky finished 23 of 35 for 171 yards, Jordan Howard rushed for 82 yards and Allen Robinson added four catches for 61 yards in his first regular-season game since tearing an ACL in last year’s opener while a member of the Jaguars.
The loss spoiled Matt Nagy’s debut as coach as he tries to revive a franchise coming of four consecutive last-place finishes.
“Of course it stings,” he said. “I want our guys to feel that. They understand. I want our coaches to feel it. We talked about finishing and we didn’t do that, but I will say this: I’m really proud of our team. I’m proud of our guys. They did a lot of good things tonight. We are going to learn from it. It is a long season. You’ve got to give credit to Green Bay. Obviously, 12 (Aaron Rodgers) coming back into the game, he showed who he was. Again, I’m proud of our guys. We’ve got to grow from this.”
Rodgers missed most of last season with a broken collarbone suffered in Week 6 at Minnesota. Next Sunday, the Packers will host the Vikings.
“As long as there are no major issues,” Rodgers said. “I’ll keep playing.”