GREEN BAY — The Chicago Bears proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the injury-ravaged Green Bay Packers.
Now coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers just have to hope they have enough healthy players to field a competitive team when they return to action on Oct. 8 at Dallas.
Despite playing with a ramshackle offensive line and losing their two top running backs and one of their top receivers to injuries during the game, the Packers blew out the Bears, 35-14, Thursday night at Lambeau Field — and did so with the help of four Chicago turnovers, three of which led to touchdowns.
“We’re 3-1. The downer part is when you see your teammates getting hurt. That’s tough,” Rodgers said afterward. “But there’s a lot to be proud of tonight with the way the offensive line battled, the defense dominated the line of scrimmage, four turnovers, and the way we executed in the red zone.
“We’ve got a lot of good film to look at, a lot of places to grow, but also a lot of stuff to be proud of — 3-1, first quarter of the season over, with now an impending tough trip down to Dallas in 10 days.”
With starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga out and their top three backup options at tackle — Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs and Don Barclay — all on injured reserve, the Packers cobbled together an offensive line with left guard Lane Taylor at left tackle, Lucas Patrick taking Taylor’s spot at left guard and Justin McCray starting his second NFL game at right tackle.
“The protection was really good,” Rodgers said. “We (gave up) two sacks, both probably coverage sacks. That was pretty impressive, those guys. A fantastic job. Really proud of Lucas. I’ve kind of been in his corner for a long time — I just enjoy his approach, his attitude, the way he plays. Justin at right tackle did a fantastic job. And Lane, the versatility there, never really having played left tackle before, to come out and play so well … just really proud of those guys.”
The Packers then lost starting running back Ty Montgomery to broken ribs on the opening series, lost No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams to a knee injury during the second quarter and saw wide receiver Davante Adams leave the stadium in an ambulance after a wicked helmet-to-helmet hit by Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan during the third quarter. Inside linebacker Joe Thomas also was lost to an ankle injury.
The Packers were already playing without defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) for the second straight week and without veteran cornerback Davon House (quadriceps). Outside linebacker Nick Perry played with a large protective cast on his right hand after missing Sunday’s win over Cincinnati following surgery.
Despite the injuries, the Packers stand at 3-1 with a weekend off to recover before back-to-back road games at Dallas and at Minnesota.
“We knew we were get in a grind of a game,” McCarthy said. “The turnovers were huge for us, especially the points off of turnovers. (And) I thought Aaron was exceptional. Just the game that he had played tonight and just to stay patient, course, especially the way we were able to run the ball early.
“We’re 3-1. We took a step as a football team today.”
The Bears won the opening coin toss and deferred, giving the Packers the ball first. Rodgers & Co. gladly accepted and drove 75 yards in 10 plays en route to a 5-yard Rodgers-to-Adams touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Montgomery did much of the heavy lifting initially (five carries, 28 yards) and Rodgers got the ball out quickly with short drops and decisive throws, including a 12-yarder across the middle to Randall Cobb and a 26-yard catch-and-run by tight end Martellus Bennett.
Then, on Chicago’s first offensive snap, outside linebacker Clay Matthews hit quarterback Mike Glennon high, jarring the ball loose. Linebacker Jake Ryan recovered at the Chicago 3, and three plays later, Rodgers zipped a quick 2-yard touchdown pass to Cobb for a 14-0 lead.
“That’s kind of what Mike wanted to do,” Rodger said of running the ball early. “We wanted to get those (offensive line) guys, set their pads early, get some downhill runs and Ty did a good job of sticking it in there and really good opening drive for us. Normally we defer. They won the toss, and to just go down and take the ball and score and then get a nice quick turnover and score again — obviously that changes the complexity of the game right away.”
Said Matthews: “To be able to force that turnover and get the ball back within the 10-yard line and put points on the board, really it changed the way Chicago wanted to run their offensive game plan. Obviously (they’ much success with the run game, but being down 14-0, it’s tough to stick with that ground-and-pound with their two talented backs. … As a defense, we wanted them to go to a passing game.”
Chicago’s ensuing possession also ended in a turnover when center Cody Whitehair rocketed a shotgun snap off Glennon’s knee when the quarterback appeared to be stepping forward to make a protection call. The ball caromed to linebacker Blake Martinez, but the Packers were unable to capitalize and went three-and-out on their next series.
The Packers extended their lead to 21-0 after safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix registered their first interception of the season when Glennon overthrew an open Markus Wheaton inside Green Bay territory. On the next play, Rodgers stepped up away from pressure and launched a 58-yard completion to Jordy Nelson, who took the ball down to Chicago’s 2-yard line. The ball carried 44 yards in the air, Rodgers’ longest throw of the season according to ESPN Stats & Information.
On the next play, third-string running back Aaron Jones scored from 2 yards out.
The Bears finally got on the board with 8 seconds left until halftime, when Glennon found an open Kendall Wright against Packers cornerback Damarious Randall for an 11-yard touchdown. Randall was benched after that and was replaced by Josh Hawkins to start the second half. At some point, Randall left the Green Bay sideline, and a team spokesperson said he was not injured.
The Packers extended their lead to 28-7 when Rodgers hit Nelson for a 4-yard touchdown after Trevathan’s illegal hit on Adams. Rodgers then threw his fourth touchdown pass of the night on the next drive — after Glennon was intercepted by safety Kentrell Brice — to make it 35-7. Rodgers finished his night 18 of 26 for 179 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions — with just two sacks — for a passer rating of 128.0. Backup Brett Hundley mopped up thereafter.
“This was a big character win for us. We thought it was going to be before the game with the lineup we were putting out there on the offensive line — basically four guards and a center,” Rodgers said. “I’m really proud of the way they battled. And then, that’s just kind of what’s been going on with us – a lot of injuries.
“It’s just been a next-man-up and it’s been a no-excuses policy. We don’t make any excuses. The next guy up’s got to play and play well. And they’ve been doing it.”