Final Score: Packers 21, Bears 15
Following a miserable first half that had Bears fans wondering what exactly the front office traded for in the offseason, Jay Cutler started to figure it out in the second half and managed to give the Bears a 15-13 advantage with under three minutes to go in the game – Robbie Gould's second field goal of the evening, a 21-yarder, did the honors. But the secondary was the biggest question mark for Chicago entering Week 1, and it finally came back to bite them in the deciding moments. On 3rd and 1, Aaron Rodgers got the DBs to buy a play-action fake before hitting Greg Jennings perfectly in stride for a 50-yard touchdown dagger, and the two-point conversion afterward from Rodgers to Jennings made it a 21-15 Green Bay advantage.
Three first-half interceptions couldn't damage Cutler's confidence, as he completed 9 of his 14 throws after intermission and recorded his first TD pass in a Bears uniform: a gorgeous 36-yard deep fade to a speeding Devin Hester down the right sideline. But with 1:11 left on the clock and an opportunity to steal a victory over a division rival on the road, Cutler wasn't up to the task of directing a game-winning drive. His first pass was intercepted by veteran corner Al Harris, putting an end to a frustrating night for everyone connected to the Chicago organization.
It doesn't get much easier for coach Lovie Smith and Co. in Week 2, as the Super Bowl champion and 1-0 Steelers visit Soldier Field.
3rd Quarter Update: Bears 12, Packers 10
After moving the chains on fourth down with a 1-yard sneak up the middle, Cutler fired a deep fade down the right sideline on the very next snap and connected with Devin Hester for a 36-yard touchdown strike. Later in the stanza, Robbie Gould booted a 47-yard field goal to give Chicago its first lead of the ballgame – a feat considering how bad the offense looked for a while. Cutler appears to have calmed down, completing five of his six throws after intermission.
Former starter Hunter Hillenmeyer has seen more action on defense than originally anticipated, early in the game with the Bears utilizing a four-linebacker look when the Packers only have one wideout on the field, later because Brian Urlacher sustained a wrist injury and will not be back tonight – Hillenmeyer has taken over in the middle. But Lovie Smith has called a wonderful game so far on defense, evidenced by four sacks of a pretty elusive passer in Aaron Rodgers. Rookie safety Al Afalava continues to impress, being credited unofficially with four tackles and one of those sacks through three quarters.
Heading into the final 15 minutes of action, it's a low-scoring affair at Lambeau Field with the Bears somehow holding moving out to a 12-10 advantage.
2nd Quarter Update: Packers 10, Bears 2
Veteran Adewale Ogunleye looks up to the task so far in Green Bay, sacking Aaron Rodgers not once but twice in the first quarter and making his presence felt in the backfield even when he's not putting the QB on the turf. The nickel blitz was used often during the preseason and continues to be a weapon in Week 1, as Danieal Manning got a free run at Rodgers and brought him down in the end zone for a safety. Now for some bad news: Pisa Tinoisamoa's knee injury is serious enough to sideline him for the remainder of the game, so he will not return.
Offensively, rookie Johnny Knox didn't wait nearly as long as Earl Bennett did to make his first reception in a Bears uniform, busting loose down the right sideline and reeling in a bomb from Jay Cutler that went for 68 yards. Unfortunately for Chicago, just two plays later, Johnny Jolly came up with a magnificent interception stepping in front of a red-zone screen pass from Cutler to Matt Forte – Cutler's second INT of the night. He would fire No. 3 on his next possession, launching a pass carelessly down the middle of the field into the waiting arms of Tramon Williams, who returned it all the way to the Bears' 1-yard line.
Don't start reminiscing about the good old days of Kyle Orton just yet, but three picks in the first half isn't what this fan base was looking for in the season opener – the Packers lead 10-2 at intermission.
1st Quarter Update: Bears 0, Packers 0
On the second play from scrimmage in the season opener, Tinoisamoa injured his knee and was taken to the locker room for further evaluation. Nick Roach, who got destroyed in last season's game at Lambeau Field in that 37-3 embarrassment, is back out there at strong-side linebacker with the starting unit. And then for some unexplained reason, Nathan Vasher is still starting at right cornerback, leaving Zack Bowman on the sideline even though he was arguably the best player on the roster throughout the offseason program and the first week of training camp – granted, he's still coming back from that bad hammy.
On the other side of the football, Earl Bennett finally made his first career catch, about 17 months after being selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, an 8-yarder from Jay Cutler in front of Al Harris. But Cutler played with fire the first time he drove the Chicago offense across the midfield stripe and was nearly intercepted by Tramon Williams, finally getting burned when he threw into coverage yet again and got picked off by Nick Collins to halt a potential scoring drive. The play-calling was heavily slanted toward the passing game in the first frame, with Cutler throwing 10 passes and Matt Forte only getting four carries.
After one quarter or action in one of the best pigskin palaces in the country, we've got a scoreless tie between the Bears and Packers.
Pregame Notes: Rivalry Game in Week 1
Coach Lovie Smith and Co. look a little differently in 2009 than they did back in '06, most notably at the game's most important position since Jay Cutler now lines up under center instead of Rex Grossman, and Sunday will be the first installment of what should be a dynamite rivalry to watch in the NFC North for the next several years: Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers. Would you have believed back then that Brett Favre, who was on the wrong end of that 26-0 shellacking, would be on his third organization just three years later?
On the other side of the football, most of Smith's major contributors remain intact and will be charged with leading Chicago back to the upper echelon of defensive units in the NFL. Tackle Tommie Harris isn't the same player anymore because of all the injuries he's been forced to endure, but linebacker Lance Briggs is in the prime of his career and fellow LB Brian Urlacher may be on the verge of a bounce-back campaign. The secondary, however, is riddled with question marks and might have to make due without corner Charles Tillman, who is still rehabbing from a pair of offseason surgeries: first his shoulders, then his back.
It's about 50 degrees warmer than it was the last time the Midway Monsters made their way to Wisconson, so sit back, relax and let Bear Report tell you what's really going on from inside the Lambeau Field press box.
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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
JC's Gameday Blog: Bears vs. Packers
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