Sure, it's been nine months since the Packers sent the Detroit Lions to 0-16 infamy. But now, all that talk about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers not being able to deliver in the clutch and win the big game can be put on the shelf for good.
It's a new season. More importantly, it's a new outcome, with Green Bay's come-from-behind, 21-15, win over the Chicago Bears. And as for a big game, a season opener against an ancient division rival on national TV definitely met the criteria. After Chicago took a 15-13 lead on Robbie Gould's 21-yard field goal with 2:38 remaining, it was up to Rodgers and the offense to do what they were unable to do on seven occasions last year – march down on the field and put up the winning points.
After calling a timeout on a planned third-and-1 run to Ryan Grant at the 50-yard line because receiver Greg Jennings had lined up on the wrong side, Green Bay came up with an even better call. Rodgers ran a play-action pass that saw Jennings run a skinny post past cornerback Nathan Vasher, who stumbled while giving chase. Jennings hauled in the deep spiral in stride at the 15-yard line and coasted into the end zone. His goal-line catch on the two-point conversion capped the scoring.
Proceed to remove monkey from back.
"It gives me confidence, obviously," Rodgers said. "I don't think I've ever lost confidence in myself and my abilities, but when you have some struggles and you make some throws you want back late in games, it's good to start a season out and be in a situation where you're called upon and expected to perform late in the game."
Better late than never.
Lambeau Field erupts after the Rodgers-to-Jennings touchdown. Morry Gash/AP
Through three quarters, Rodgers' play – like that of the rest of the offense – was surprisingly poor. If anyone needed a reminder about not putting too much stock in preseason performance, this was it. The offensive juggernaut of August was replaced by a September shadow. They couldn't run, couldn't pass protect and Rodgers looked erratic in overthrowing receivers Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson and underthrowing James Jones. He was also caught for a safety by the Bears' Daniel Manning, who blitzed off the right edge and chased Rodgers down as he rolled to his right trying to avoid him.
That play, in particular, brought back ugly memories of Rodgers getting hit for two safeties last year at the Metrodome. As for that hated neighbor to the northwest, it was hard to avoid the specter of their new quarterback – especially as Rodgers struggled. Brett Favre's best plays on Sunday afternoon might've been handing off to Adrian Peterson, but he still mustered 110 yards and a touchdown as Minnesota beat Cleveland 34-20. Those meager stats were more than Rodgers had totaled through three quarters against Chicago. Of course, a win is always the most coveted stat of all.
Favre drew a loud chorus of boos when he appeared on the Lambeau Field replay screen during highlights from around the league. He was portrayed at his indecisive best during that new Sears commercial in which he can't decide to purchase a flat screen television, and even the Packers' press box announcer had a Freudian slip when he referred to Rodgers as Favre after a play in the second half.
But any thoughts of the Packers' former signal-caller were purged from the mind with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter. What a difference one beautifully thrown 50-yard touchdown pass can make.
"It felt good, man," Jennings said. "The performance we gave as an offense, I know guys are frustrated about that. But anytime you come out on top against a division rival, it's huge. It's a huge win. It just shows we're a complete team. We got tested out there on offense, and then the defense closed it out. That's what Mike (McCarthy) has been emphasizing – we're a defense-orientated football team. Defense first, and they shut it down for us today."
When Jennings talks of "shutting it down," he's referring to his defensive mates picking off Bears quarterback Jay Cutler a whopping four times. Rodgers may have had trouble finding his rhythm and timing against an aggressive Bears defense called by none other than head coach Lovie Smith, but at least he wasn't throwing the ball to the guys in the other jerseys. Especially when it mattered most.
"I was thinking, ‘We're due for a good drive,'" Rodgers said. "But I just told the guys, ‘Hey, just give me one drive.' Up front, I just went to the lineman and said, ‘Hey, let's just protect this one drive. Give me some time and we're going to go down and score.'"
Maybe Rodgers said the same thing, or some variation thereof, last season. Maybe he said it each of the seven times they came up short. But this is a new season. And when given the opportunity, Rodgers provided a new outcome … a winning one.