But Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had his own Veteran’s Day tribute Sunday night. He dropped six first-half bombs on the Chicago Bears’ defense, which tied an NFL record for touchdowns in a first half, to put Green Bay up 42-0 on their way to a 55-14 blowout.
Coach Mike McCarthy isn’t sure if it’s the best he’s seen Rodgers play, but he definitely appreciates the frequency at which he’s been asked the question this season.
“I like the fact that I have to stand up here and answer that question a lot,” McCarthy said. “I’m going to have to wait until I’m sitting on that porch thinking back, but he was right on tonight and his statistics at halftime, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that. He played a great game.”
When told Rodgers was one touchdown away from the NFL single-game record of seven, McCarthy seemed legitimately surprised.
“Was that right?” he said after joking that if he had known they could’ve set the team record for most points scored, he would’ve kicked a field goal on the final possession.
But Rodgers definitely knew. Peyton Manning and Nick Foles tied the mark last season, also held by Joe Kapp, Sid Luckman, Y.A. Tittle, George Blanda and Adrian Burk. When asked if he was hoping to join that record-breaking club when he took the field to start the third quarter, he smiled and said only, “We were just trying to score.”
Green Bay got the ball to start the second half, but Randall Cobb was unable to hang on to a low pass on third-and-10 and Tim Mathsay came on to punt for the first time in two games against Chicago. After Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin blocked a Bears punt with his foot, Rodgers had another chance for the record with a possession starting from Chicago’s 8-yard line. But on third-and-goal from the 2, his pass to Cobb sailed out of bounds. But his performance was already one of the greatest posted by a Packers quarterback.
In the first half, Rodgers was 18-of-24 for 315 yards and a quarterback rating of 156.2. His six first-half touchdowns tied Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica, who tossed six in the opening half against Buffalo on Oct. 19, 1969. And the six total touchdowns tied Rodgers for tops in franchise history with himself (vs. Houston, Oct. 14, 2012) and Matt Flynn (vs. Detroit, Jan. 1, 2012). Rodgers also became the first quarterback to throw 10 touchdowns with zero interceptions against an opponent in a single season.
“It was a good win for us,” said Rodgers, who came out of the game after two third-quarter possessions. “We did a lot of good things on offense. Scored on all of our possessions there in the first half minus the turnover. We got into a rhythm early; Mike did a good job mixing things up. The key for a night like tonight is the offensive line, barely got touched all night. I was able to move around and extend plays but also throw the ball on time without taking any shots. When you have a night like tonight, protection-wise, you should have a good night throwing the football.”
Rodgers’ barrage began barely 3 minutes into the game. After leading Green Bay down the field, he capped a 12-play drive with a 1-yard missile to tight end Brandon Bostick, who dragged across the end zone as the least likely target in a three-tight end package.
Packers safety Micah Hyde stepped in front of Bears tight end Martellus Bennett for an interception and 9-yard return two plays into the Bears’ ensuing possession, and Rodgers went back to work. Just four plays later, he found another tight end, Andrew Quarless, for a 4-yard score. Rodgers rolled out to his right before firing back to the middle of the field, with his laser to Quarless beating safety Chris Conte.
Aside from resurrecting the tight end position in back-to-back possessions, nothing seemed historical about Rodgers’ dominance. At least not yet. But then the second quarter started and Rodgers dialed up Jordy Nelson for a 73-yard score against a busted coverage.
“We could see that, based off of they were trying to check into Cover-2, and I think all but two of the guys got it,” Nelson said. “So, some of them were playing Cover-2 and some were playing one-high. We’ll take those when you can get them.”
Nelson streaked down the sideline, catching the ball at the Bears’ 40-yard line. As safety Brock Vereen came from the other side of the field, he overran Nelson, who broke to his left and ran in for the score. It was Rodgers’ NFL-record 16th touchdown pass of 70 or more yards. It was also Nelson’s 13th touchdown of 50 or more yards, which leads the NFL since 2010. But the dynamic duo weren’t done yet.
After a three-and-out by Chicago, Rodgers found Nelson for a 40-yard strike down the right sideline, as Nelson turned and backed into the end zone after cornerback Tim Jennings passed him off at the line and safety Ryan Mundy failed to get over in time.
“There’s not a target on the field he can’t hit,” McCarthy said. “He has the ability to throw it as deep as he needs to, he’s got a big-time arm and, more important, he’s got the athletic ability to get in space and make those throws. And Jordy’s such an excellent route runner with his timing and, when he does get the ball in the open field, he’s so dangerous.”
With 12 minutes left in the first half, suddenly a 28-0 lead started to look like a historic blowout to a Lambeau Field record 78,292 fans – and any television viewers who stayed tuned in to yet another lopsided Sunday night game.
Touchdown No. 5 was a screen pass to running back Eddie Lacy, who started out to his right behind guard T.J. Lang, then cut across the field for a 56-yard score. Randall Cobb thought he had the record breaker after a long pass interference call gave Green Bay first-and-goal at Chicago’s 7-yard line, but he’d fumble trying to stretch for extra yards. He’d get another shot after Julius Peppers had a strip-sack of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and responded with a one-handed grab from 18 yards out right before the half ended.
“Unbelievable,” Cobb said of his quarterback’s performance. “For him to do that, and to do it in the first half, is remarkable."
As the quarterback clinic unfolded, Cutler could only look on, his expression only slightly more sour than usual. He finished with 272 yards, one meaningless touchdown, two interceptions – one of which Casey Hayward returned 82 yards for a score -- was sacked three times and fumbled once. Including the playoffs, Green Bay has won nine of their last 10 meetings with the Bears, the only loss occurring last year, when Rodgers exited the game with a collarbone injury.
“It’s not easy to do this every week,” Rodgers said. “We put a lot of time in, we all do, and we prepare to be successful. There’s a high expectation on our players based on the number of checks that we do and the game plan every week to have creative input but to also make the game plan work, so it’s tough to go out and execute like that, but that’s what happens when everybody kind of works together and believes in each other. We love these types of performances but it’s not easy.”
On Sunday night, it just looked that way.