Maybe this will be a new year.
The Packers, outplayed by the Bears for almost all of Sunday night's Week 1 showdown at Lambeau Field, got the fourth-quarter comeback that escaped them time and again last season in a stunning 21-15 victory.
Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings with a 50-yard touchdown pass with 1:11 remaining to send a jolt through the venerable stadium hosting the NFL's longest-running rivalry, and Al Harris provided another bolt of lightning with a game-clinching interception on Chicago's ensuing play from scrimmage. With the Bears having burned all of their timeouts, the game was over.
"It gives us a lot of confidence," Jennings said. "We had confidence going into this game, but at the same time, we hadn't won the close games, so this was a huge momentum booster that we can win the close games. Last year, if you can recall, we didn't win the close games. That's what cost us this season. This year, we're off to a good start. We don't like close games, but if you're in a close game, you've got to win it. We got it done today."
Chicago drove to the go-ahead field goal, giving it a 15-13 lead with 2:28 remaining. The Packers, 0-for-7 in games decided by four points or less last season, got the ball at the 28-yard line to start their do-or-die drive. A run by Ryan Grant and a completion to Jennings moved the ball to the 41 at the two-minute warning.
After a drop by Jordy Nelson and a 9-yard scramble by Rodgers set up third-and-1 from midfield, Rodgers executed a perfect play-action fake, and Jennings toasted Nathan Vasher for the touchdown.
The Packers needed only a field goal to win because a worn-down defense rose to the occasion by forcing the Bears to settle for a field goal after getting first-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
The Packers led 10-2 at halftime, thanks almost entirely to a big-play defense that pressured Jay Cutler into three interceptions. The last of those was returned by Tramon Williams 67 yards, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Ryan Grant.
The Bears held a 161-104 edge in yards in the first half, with right tackle Allen Barbre getting beat like a drum in his first game as a starter. And when left defensive end Adewale Ogunleye wasn't being a nuisance in the Packers' backfield – he had two sacks, three tackles for losses and five quarterback hits in the half alone -- safety Danieal Manning was running a perfectly timed blitz off the right offensive edge to sack Rodgers for a safety to make it 3-2.
After the free kick, the Bears faced a third-and-8. Cutler threw a horrible pass that was intercepted by Williams, setting up a Grant run by John Kuhn and Donald Lee for a 10-2 lead.
What else besides Rodgers to Jennings for the winning score?
"Well, we were in a short-yardage situation that they actually played Cover 2 coverage," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But we felt it was an excellent opportunity to get some protection off the full fake. It was an excellent route by Greg and Aaron did a great job with the throw. So, it was a big-play opportunity that we felt was the time to take the shot and they did a great job executing it."
This won't go in Rodgers' personal hall of fame – not after absorbing four sacks, nine quarterback hits and taking a safety – but his touchdown pass to Jennings could be a breakthrough moment if he becomes one of the game's elite quarterbacks.
Four: The Packers intercepted Cutler four times, and all of them were huge. The first was by Nick Collins after the Bears reached the Packers' 31-yard line in the first quarter. The second was by Johnny Jolly, of all people, on third-and-goal from the Packers' 8 in the second quarter. The third was by Williams, with his 67-yard interception return to the 1-yard line setting up the game's first touchdown. And the fourth was by Harris, a game-sealing pick with a minute remaining.
"It was pretty simple what happened tonight," according to Bears coach Lovie Smith. "Anytime you have four turnovers, you normally aren't going to win the football game, especially against a good Packers team."
The other things you need to know
- Starting safety Atari Bigby sustained what McCarthy called a sprained knee. There were no other noteworthy injuries.
- Even with the 50-yard touchdown, the Packers were outgained 352-226. The Bears held an 18-12 edge in first downs and a six-minute advantage in time of advantage.
- Here's a critical stat. In two goal-to-go situations, the Bears failed to score a touchdown.
- The Packers and Bears are tied for the NFL lead with 50 opening-game wins. The teams have met in 21 openers. They are 10-10-1.
- The Bears had forced at least one turnover in 25 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL.
- Minnesota won at hapless Cleveland 34-20. With Brett Favre tying an NFL record by making his 270th consecutive start, Adrian Peterson did the heavy lifting by rushing for 180 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
- New quarterback, new coach, same old Lions. Detroit lost at New Orleans 45-27, behind Drew Brees' six touchdown passes. No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford completed 16-of-37 passes for 205 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.