Aaron Rodgers brought the Packers back late in the fourth quarter, heaving a 50-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings with 1:11 remaining to give Green Bay a 21-15 victory over the Chicago Bears in the season opener Sunday night.
Facing third-and-1 at the 50-yard line, Rodgers faked play action and heaved a rainbow of a throw deep to Jennings, who ran in for the go-ahead score. Rodgers found Jennings again for a 2-point conversion.
“It was important for us to get a win like this tonight,” Rodgers said. “It’ll definitely build our team character.”
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Rodgers finished 17 of 28 for 184 yards for the Packers, and his big throw ruined the debut of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who had a career-worst four interceptions and finished the game 17 of 36 for 277 yards with a touchdown for his new team.
“There were a lot of failures,” Cutler said. “We’ve got to go back and look at it. I think we’re still going to be a good football team, there’s no need to panic.”
The Bears lost a big game to their division rivals and lost several key players to injury. Brian Urlacher left with a wrist injury in the third quarter after fellow linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa left in the first half with an injured knee. Backup cornerback Trumaine McBride also injured a knee, and tight end Desmond Clark left with a back injury.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher dislocated his wrist, and no timetable has been set for his return.
“It’s pretty simple what happened tonight,” Smith said. “Any time that you have four turnovers, you’re normally not going to win the football game, especially against a good Packers team.”
After throwing three interceptions in the first half, Cutler settled down to lead Chicago to a touchdown and a field goal in the third quarter, giving the Bears a 12-10 lead.
But Chicago’s head-scratching fake punt attempt early in the fourth quarter gave the ball back to Packers deep in Bears territory, and Mason Crosby hit a 39-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 13-12 lead with 10:10 left.
Cutler answered with a drive for a 21-yard field goal by Robbie Gould to give Chicago a 15-13 lead. Rodgers got the ball back at the Green Bay 28 with 2:28 left and quickly drove the Packers to midfield, where he made the decisive throw to Jennings.
“It definitely boosts his confidence,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
McCarthy noted that Rodgers’ performance came after a less-than-ideal performance by a revamped offensive line that gave up four sacks.
“He had a rough night,” McCarthy said. “He was hit a bunch. Our pass protection was not what we were looking for.”
Rodgers generally had a successful first season as a starter last year, but was criticized by some fans for not coming through in some key late-game situations – although the Packers often were put in bad positions by an inept defense.
That wasn’t a problem Sunday night as Green Bay got steady pass rush pressure out of its revamped 3-4 alignment under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, forcing Cutler to scramble out of trouble all night. Cutler made plenty of trouble for himself from there, making poor decisions under pressure.
For all the pregame discussion about Cutler’s arrival in Chicago after an offseason trade from Denver, and the potential potency of Green Bay’s offense in Rodgers’ second year as a starter, few would have guessed the score with less than six minutes left in the first half: Packers 3, Bears 2.
After Mason Crosby hit a 52-yard field goal earlier in the second quarter, Bears safety Danieal Manning came through the Packers‘ line untouched to throw Rodgers down in the end zone for a safety.
But the Packers finally found the end zone just before halftime – thanks in large part to Cutler’s third interception of the half.
Scrambling to avoid pressure, Cutler unleashed a lazy pass over the middle with no apparent Bears receiver in the area. Packers nickel cornerback Tramon Williams – who whiffed on a pair of potential interceptions earlier in the half – returned the ball 67 yards to give the Packers first-and-goal on the 1. Ryan Grant found the end zone on the next play and Green Bay took a 10-2 lead.