This “mini-bye” weekend, Aaron Rodgers might need that scotch to numb the soreness in his right arm.
In what will go down as one of the most pass-happy of the 193 games in the NFL’s oldest rivalry, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback threw 56 passes - completing a team-record 39 of them - in a 26-10 victory over the Chicago Bears (1-6) at Lambeau Field.
Really, the Packers (4-2) had no other choice than to wing it.
“We knew this was going to be a different ride tonight,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “We obviously came into the game definitely leaning towards the pass. I mean, that was the plan, just look at our lineup and that definitely reflected that. My goal was to run it 25 times today and I think we were slightly under that, but Aaron did an excellent job managing the game.”
Hours before Thursday night’s kickoff, it was announced that running back Eddie Lacy (ankle) was placed on injured reserve, with backfield-mate James Starks (knee) already sidelined for what is expected to be several weeks. With fullback Aaron Ripkowski the only other back on the active roster, the Packers scrambled on a short week of preparation for help.
On Tuesday, general manager Ted Thompson traded for Kansas City Chiefs running back Knile Davis. On Thursday, he promoted rookie Don Jackson from the practice squad. While both made their Packers debuts against the Bears, it was clear the game plan needed to be wide receiver-dominated. After all, the Packers were the deepest at that position with seven players (six active against the Bears).
Rodgers threw 30 passes in the first half. Though he gave multiple looks to deep shots down the field, he completed 19 of those passes at just 5.0 yards per attempt. At halftime the Packers led 6-3, their offense looking as punchless as it had been for most of this season.
But a Leonard Floyd sack-fumble of Rodgers, recovered in the end zone for a touchdown on the first series of the second half, helped turn the tide. It lit a fire under a frustrated Rodgers. The Packers trailed 10-6 and went almost exclusively to their sub-packages on offense the rest of the way using “receivers” Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb in the backfield (Jackson left the game with a hand injury). They looked almost like a version of the run-and-shoot offense and finally got some much-needed tempo going.
The Packers scored touchdowns on three straight long drives - exploiting matchups with the Bears’ backup cornerbacks while Jordy Nelson (one catch in four targets) was covered by nine-year veteran Tracy Porter - to take command.
The final numbers were staggering:
-- Accounting for 293 of Rodgers’ 326 passing yards, Cobb, Montgomery and Adams combined for 34 catches. The Packers became the second team in NFL history to have three players catch at least 10 passes in a game.
-- The Packers nearly doubled the Bears in time of possession (39:36 to 20:24)
-- The Packers had 81 offensive plays to the Bears’ 45.
-- The Packers had 32 first downs (most for the team in a game since 1983) to the Bears’ 13.
-- The Packers had 59 dropbacks compared to 21 called running plays.
The abnormal pass-to-run ratio stressed an offensive line that held up well despite missing guard T.J. Lang for a stretch in the second half due to a hip injury.
“That’s what we needed to do today based off personnel and things like that,” said center J.C. Tretter. “We’ll take the win anyway we can get it. If we need to throw the ball 70 times or run the ball 70 times, we just need to do it.
“We were ready for it,” he continued about the game plan. “It’s just one of those things. You do whatever’s asked of you. The game plan was normal, nothing different. We understood what could happen and it ended up working for us.”
The Packers used a similar offensive strategy last season, against a depleted secondary, in a home game against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 15. They lost that day, 18-16, with Rodgers throwing a career high in attempts (61) but much less effective in the short passing game. Adams caught 10 passes in 21 targets that game and Cobb five in 10.
Could Thursday night’s game for the Packers’ offense be something to build an identity around?
“It’s one game. It’s a one-game victory,” said McCarthy. “And that’s really the reflection of how you’re playing for a season. You do what you have to do. You play the way you have to play. We have the ability to run it as much as we need to, the ability to throw it as much as we need to.
“Frankly, we cut things back. We didn’t carry a ton of volume scheme-wise into the game and just really focused on the execution and did the things we needed to do.”
Rodgers is both optimistic and realistic on the style of play, at least in the short term.
“This is how we're going to have to play until we get Knile up to speed and Don up to speed,” he said. “I’m really proud of Ty. I thought he played great tonight. He made a lot of plays. The short passing game is like an extension of the running game in games like tonight when you’re going with a lot of four-receiver packages with Ty back there. I’m really proud of the way he played. There’s a lot to build on.”