Late TD pass lifts Packers past Bears in opener
Aaron Rodgers finally has his signature game-winning drive, throwing a 50-yard rainbow to Greg Jennings with 1:11 remaining to give the Green Bay Packers a come-from-behind, 21-15 victory over the division rival Chicago Bears in Sunday night’s NFL season opener.
Rodgers began 2009 with a bang, proving he can pull off the kind of late-game fireworks his predecessor, Brett Favre, once was known for in Packerland. Rodgers had a productive first season as a starter, but earned some criticism for coming up short at the end of several games last season.
“I was thinking, ‘We’re due. We’re due for one good drive,’ ” Rodgers said. “I told the guys, ‘Just give me one drive.’ ”
Rodgers’ big throw ruined the debut of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who had a career-worst four interceptions and finished the game 17-of-36 for 277 yards with a touchdown for his new team.
“There were a lot of failures,” Cutler said. “We’ve got to go back and look at it. I think we’re still going to be a good football team. There’s no need to panic.”
The Bears lost a big game to their division rivals and lost several key players to injury. Brian Urlacher left with a wrist injury in the third quarter after fellow linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa left in the first half with an injured knee. Backup cornerback Trumaine McBride also injured a knee, and tight end Desmond Clark left with a back injury.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher dislocated his wrist, and no timetable has been set for his return.
“It’s pretty simple what happened tonight,” Smith said. “Any time that you have four turnovers, you’re normally not going to win the football game, especially against a good Packers team.”
With the Packers trailing 15-13 and facing third-and-1 at the 50-yard line, Rodgers faked a handoff and heaved a rainbow of a throw deep to Jennings, who ran in for the go-ahead score. Rodgers found Jennings again for a 2-point conversion.
“This was our chance to show that we can finish ballgames, we can win the close games, and we got it done,” Jennings said. “We didn’t get it done all game, but when it came down to it, when it counts and when it counted, we got it done.”
It’s another boost for the confidence of Rodgers, who appears to have the full support of Packers fans after the messy divorce between Favre and the Packers led to a trying 2008 and disappointing 6-10 record.
Replicas of Rodgers’ green No. 12 jersey dotted the grandstands Sunday night. and fans booed loudly as highlights of Favre’s new team, the division rival Minnesota Vikings, were shown on the stadium video board at halftime.
“It was important for us to get a win like this tonight,” Rodgers said. “It’ll definitely build our team character.”
Rodgers finished 17 of 28 for 184 yards on an otherwise off night for the Packers’ offense. But the Packers’ new-look 3-4 defense put Cutler under pressure and forced him into poor decisions.
After throwing three interceptions in the first half, Cutler settled down to lead Chicago to a touchdown and a field goal in the third quarter, giving the Bears a 12-10 lead.
But the Bears’ head-scratching fake punt attempt early in the fourth quarter—they apparently were trying to catch the Packers with 12 players on the field—gave the ball back to Packers deep in Chicago territory, and Mason Crosby hit a 39-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 13-12 lead with 10:10 left.
Smith took the blame for the fake punt, but wouldn’t say specifically who called it.
Cutler answered with a drive for a 21-yard field goal by Robbie Gould that gave Chicago a 15-13 lead.
PACKERS 21, BEARS 15
First downs 18 12
Total net yards 352 226
Rushes-yards 31-86 22-76
Yards passing 266 150
Punt returns 2-15 2-14
Kickoff returns 5-124 4-124
Int.-returns 0-0 4-129
Passes 17-36-4 17-28-0
Sacked-yards lost 2-11 4-34
Punts 4-49.5 6-44.7
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 3-25 6-45
Time of possession 33:03 26:57
Chicago 0 2 10 3—15
Green Bay 0 10 0 11—21
GB—FG, Crosby, 52, 8:18. C—Safety, Manning, 5:52. GB—Grant, 1 run (Crosby kick), 4:36.
C—Hester, 36 pass from Cutler (Gould kick), 10:14. C—FG, Gould, 47, 3:51.
GB—FG, Crosby, 39, 10:10. Chi—FG, Gould, 21, 2:35. GB—Jennings, 50 pass from Rodgers (Jennings pass from Rodgers), 1:11.
RUSHING—Chicago: Forte 25-55, Cutler 3-16, Wolfe 3-15. Green Bay: Grant 16-61, D.Wynn 3-8, Rodgers 3-7.
PASSING—Chicago: Cutler 17-36-4-277. Green Bay: Rodgers 17-28-0-184.
RECEIVING—Chicago: Bennett 7-66, Hester 4-90, Knox 2-82, Clark 1-23, McKie 1-8, Olsen 1-8, Wolfe 1-0. Green Bay: Jennings 6-106, Driver 4-39, D.Lee 3-8, Hall 1-11, D.Wynn 1-8, Finley 1-6, Grant 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Green Bay: Crosby, 49 (WL).