ANATOMY OF A COME­BACK

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With Rodgers’ re­turn in sec­ond half, Pack­ers win a thriller

Eras­ing a 20-point lead in the sec­ond half of an NFL game re­quires a lit­tle bit of luck and a lot of things to go right.

The Green Bay Pack­ers got enough of both on Sun­day night at Lam­beau Field.

Three touch­down passes from Aaron Rodgers, a ter­rific re­bound from Mike Pet­tine’s de­fense and a few mo­ments of good for­tune helped the Pack­ers erase a 20-0 lead and stun the Chicago Bears in their sea­son opener.

The 24-23 win marked the first time in the fran­chise’s long his­tory that the Pack­ers won a game af­ter trail­ing by 17 or more points en­ter­ing the fourth quar­ter, per the Elias Sports Bu­reau.

Rodgers was at his cold-blooded best af­ter re­turn­ing from a knee in­jury, and while the come­back wouldn’t have got­ten off the ground with­out his re­turn, the dis­sec­tion of a historic night re­quires an ex­am­i­na­tion of all parts.

No come­back ever truly be­gins with giv­ing up points, but the Pack­ers avoided digging them­selves an even big­ger hole to start the third quar­ter, hold­ing the Bears to a field goal af­ter rookie cor­ner­back Josh Jack­son blitzed off the left side and hur­ried Mitchell Tru­bisky into a throw­away on third down.

Cody Parkey came on and con­nected on a 33-yard field goal. Had the Bears scored a touch­down and made the score 24-0, maybe coach Mike McCarthy would have thought twice about bring­ing Rodgers back into the game. He wouldn’t get into the hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nario when asked Mon­day, but it’s pos­si­ble McCarthy would have re­assessed the risks and re­wards and sent DeShone Kizer back onto the field to start the sec­ond half. Score: 20-0.

Find­ing a spark

On the en­su­ing drive, Rodgers com­pleted five passes, fir­ing quick strikes left and right to get the Pack­ers on the move. An at­tempt to catch the Bears with 12 men on the field on third down failed. It forced an un­de­sired field goal at­tempt – at least in Rodgers’ eyes – from Ma­son Crosby, but the kick fi­nally got the Pack­ers on the board.

Hav­ing to set­tle for three points stung less when the Pack­ers de­fense de­liv­ered a quick stop on the next Bears pos­ses­sion. Out­side line­backer Reg­gie Gil­bert helped blow up screen passes on first and sec­ond down, and vet­eran Tra­mon Williams got the Pack­ers off the field af­ter three plays with an open-field tackle of a scram­bling Tru­bisky on third down.

One of the most un­der­rated plays of the game ar­rived on the next se­ries. Af­ter an in­ten­tional ground­ing penalty set up 3rd-and-14 at the GB 15, Rodgers de­liv­ered a strike over the mid­dle to Geron­imo Al­li­son. It cov­ered 15 yards and con­verted the first down. With­out the pickup, the Pack­ers would have been punt­ing from deep in their own ter­ri­tory, down 20-3 late in the third quar­ter.

Five plays later, Rodgers made the of­fense’s new lease on life count, launch­ing a per­fect deep ball into the cor­ner of the end zone for Al­li­son, who made a ter­rific catch against the cov­er­age of Bears cor­ner­back Kyle Fuller for the 39yard score.

Al­li­son wasn’t even Rodgers’ top op- tion on the play.

“Prince (Amuka­mara) had just come out of the game so I was think­ing about tak­ing a shot on the new cor­ner to Da­vante, but the cor­ner jumped out­side and the pro­tec­tion was good,” Rodgers ex­plained. “When I came back to it, it looked like Geron­imo was in good po­si­tion and I put a ball in that area, and watch­ing the re­play back, he does a great job with his hands kind of chop­ping that arm off and mak­ing a con­tested catch. That was a big play for us.”

The Pack­ers needed only 2:55 on the drive to score. Score: 20-10.

Clos­ing the gap

An­other quick three-and-out – de­liv­ered by a ter­rific read and tackle from safety Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix on an at­tempted throw­back pass on third down – got the Pack­ers of­fense right back on the field.

Once again, Rodgers didn’t need long to put the ball in the end zone. On the sec­ond play of the se­ries, Da­vante Adams got loose for a spin­ning, 51-yard catch and run, made pos­si­ble by a per­fect block in pass pro­tec­tion from run­ning back Ja­maal Williams, who was ready for the line­backer blitz.

“I could tell all their lineback­ers, they re­ally wanted to bull rush, but we were ready for it,” Williams said.

“We knew what they were go­ing to do and knew it was go­ing to be some hard hit­ting in the gaps, but we’re al­ways ready for the chal­lenge. We’re al­ways ready to go in there and put the lick on them.”

Three plays later, Adams juked his way past Amuka­mara on the out­side, us­ing a quick jab step in­side to trick the Bears cor­ner­back and clear the path to the end zone.

The Pack­ers knew they’d need yards af­ter the catch to move the foot­ball. Quick passes from Rodgers pro­vided chances for play­mak­ers like Adams in the sec­ond half.

“Some of the things we ad­justed to, just to get the ball in their hands and let them get to work,” McCarthy said. “It was a big part of our suc­cess in the sec­ond half.”

The scor­ing drive took 2:51 off the fourth-quar­ter clock.

Score: 20-17.

Lucky breaks set the ta­ble

Down three points with just over nine min­utes left, the Pack­ers needed at least one more stop to give Rodgers and the of­fense a chance to win the game. It took awhile – over six min­utes, in fact – but the stop fi­nally ar­rived.

McCarthy and the Pack­ers caught a cou­ple of breaks. His chal­lenge of the spot on a Jor­dan Howard run was a mas­sive vic­tory. It not only stopped the clock (re­plays con­firmed Howard stepped out of bounds), but also added 10 sec­onds back to the clock, moved the Bears back six yards and re­turned a time­out.

The as­sist went to Lam­beau Field’s re­play op­er­a­tors.

“The help of the re­play here at home was a great as­set there,” McCarthy said. “We were go­ing to call a time­out any­ways at that point be­cause of ex­actly where we were.

“The chal­lenge was a good chal­lenge and we got the time­out back and ob­vi­ously put plenty of time back on the clock.”

On 3rd-and-2 three plays later, the Bears tried to throw for the first down, but Tru­bisky’s short pass fell in­com­plete, once again stop­ping the clock with 2:42 left.

Credit Gil­bert, an edge rusher, for cov­er­ing speedy run­ning back Tarik Cohen on a wheel route on the piv­otal third down.

Pet­tine kept giv­ing Tru­bisky dif­fer­ent looks on im­por­tant downs.

“We ex­pected a lot of man on thir­dand-short and they came out and played a bunch of zone,” Tru­bisky said. “Credit to them for just mix­ing it up. A lot of our calls were built for man. Credit to them for com­ing up with those stops.”

Parkey’s short field goal made it 2317. Go­ing up six points against a red-hot Rodgers was ask­ing for trou­ble.

The Pack­ers got their big­gest break of the con­test on the first play of the next drive.

Rodgers at­tempted to hit Adams on a quick slant to open the pos­ses­sion, but Bears cor­ner­back Bryce Cal­la­han knocked him down while pur­su­ing Ran­dall Cobb to the flat and put Fuller in a per­fect po­si­tion to end the game on a pick-6. In­stead, Rodgers’ pass hit Fuller in both hands and fell harm­lessly to the ground.

“I had an op­por­tu­nity and I just needed to make the play,” Fuller said.

He didn’t, and the Pack­ers had new life. Again. Two plays later, Rodgers and Cobb stunned the Bears with an­other piece of magic.

On 3rd-and-10, Rodgers bought time in the pocket to his left, Cobb re-ad­justed his route back to the mid­dle of the field and the Pack­ers’ two-time MVP quar­ter­back de­liv­ered the per­fect pass – just out of reach of the div­ing Bears de­fender, al­low­ing Cobb to split the de­fense, weave around a few de­fend­ers and find the end zone for the go-ahead score.

Years of build­ing the con­nec­tion helped the two ex­e­cute the gamechang­ing score.

“Noth­ing’s easy in this busi­ness but the fa­mil­iar­ity, him kind of stop­ping his route there, once I kind of saw him put his foot in the ground and move it back to the left, I knew that was where the ball had to go,” Rodgers said.

The un­be­liev­able play harkened back mem­o­ries of Rodgers find­ing Cobb for the game-win­ning touch­down pass in the fi­nal game of the 2013 sea­son in Chicago.

Five years later, the Pack­ers had their first lead of the 2018 sea­son when Ma­son Crosby’s ex­tra point sailed through the up­rights with 2:13 left in the fourth quar­ter. Score: 24-23.

One fi­nal stand

The Pack­ers’ 20-point come­back could have been rel­e­gated to foot­note sta­tus with­out a fi­nal stop on de­fense. Pet­tine’s group de­liv­ered. Twice. The de­fense’s first fourth-down stop – high­lighted by Jaire Alexan­der’s pass­breakup – was wiped away by Clay Matthews’ in­ex­cus­able rough­ing the passer penalty. Al­though the Bears even­tu­ally had a first down near mid­field, the Pack­ers forced in­com­ple­tions on three straight plays be­fore out­side line­backer Nick Perry ended the game with a strip sack.

“That’s ad­ver­sity at its finest,” Perry said. “I think it shows a lot that this team is not will­ing to give up. We just pushed through.”

Rodgers said the de­fense was “fan­tas­tic,” and the stops “100 per­cent” kept the Pack­ers in the game. They sealed it, too, with the kind of late-game play Dom Capers’ de­fenses strug­gled to make in the fi­nal years of his ten­ure.

The fi­nal play of the come­back was Rodgers launch­ing the ball down­field to kill off the clock.

Soon af­ter, he raised two arms near mid­field and de­liv­ered an em­phatic fist pump – a fit­ting cel­e­bra­tion to cap off a historic come­back in the 197th meet­ing be­tween the Pack­ers and Bears.

ADAM WES­LEY / USA TO­DAY

Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers is taken off the field af­ter sus­tain­ing a knee in­jury in the sec­ond quar­ter against the Bears. The Pack­ers scored 24 points in the sec­ond half af­ter Rodgers re­turned in their 24-23 vic­tory.

MARK HOFF­MAN / JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Pack­ers wide re­ceiver Da­vante Adams finds the end zone, fin­ish­ing off a 12-yard touch­down catch in the fourth quar­ter.

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