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