Aaron Rodgers. That is all.
For a few blissful moments, fans of the Chicago Bears found themselves in a most unfamiliar position: watching their beloved team executing with confident ease on the offensive side of the ball, and brutal ferocity on the defense. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was dealing, new acquisition Khalil Mack was even more fearsome than imagined, and when Chicago went up 20-0, visions of the playoffs began dancing in Bears fans’ heads.
And then Rodgers got carted back to the locker room, and the air went out of Lambeau Field … and out of honorable Bears fans, too, who didn’t want to win that way. And then Rodgers returned to the game and led the Packers to 17 unanswered points, and ended up with the ball with just over two minutes left, down by six … and if there was a Bears fan alive who felt comfortable at that moment, they were lying to themselves.
Rodgers, who has a claim on being the greatest quarterback of all time, took two snaps to get his bearings … and then located Randall Cobb for a stellar, monumental 75-yard touchdown reception that put Green Bay ahead by a single point, 24-23, with 2:13 remaining.
Finishing 20-of-29 for 286 yards and three touchdowns, Rodgers turned in a performance no one saw coming, not after he crumpled under the withering assault of Mack and had to leave the field shortly before the half on a cart. Lambeau Field held its breath, and when Rodgers limped out after halftime, clearly not anywhere close to 100 percent, the second-guessing began in earnest: why put him in for a blowout loss? Why risk worse injury? What could possibly happen?
What could happen, what did happen, was Aaron freaking Rodgers.
If you’re not in the Greater Chicago area, you can look at this loss and say, hey, it could have been worse. Trubisky looks like a legit NFL quarterback, and Mack and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith are going to be a lethal quarterback-crushing combo all year long.
And yet. You don’t just shake off losing after holding a 20-point third-quarter lead and a 17-point fourth-quarter one, especially not when your team is just taking its baby steps back toward legitimacy.
Even so, Chicago has plenty of good signs. Trubisky looked unstoppable in the first half and, well, at least competent in the second. He didn’t capitalize on a fortunate fourth-down penalty against Green Bay’s Clay Matthews with under two minutes left that would have ended the game, but he spent most of the night giving Chicago something it hadn’t had in nearly a decade: hope. Finishing 23-of-35 for 171 yards, he showed flashes of excellence, and against anyone other than Rodgers, that would have been enough.
And then there’s Mack, who was a force of nature. The top highlights of his night: a walloping, line-shattering attack on Rodgers and a pick-six of DeShone Kizer, who relieved Rodgers after he suffered the leg injury. The Raiders exacted a high price for Mack, but the way that he played Sunday night, Oakland might not have asked for enough.
As good as the Bears played in the early stages, though, this game belonged to Rodgers. This was one of the finest of his career, and even though he might well suffer from the injury to his leg down the road, this was a monumental victory by one of the NFL’s greatest ever.
Rodgers wasn’t giving up much to NBC’s Michele Tafoya after the game, noting only that he had a knee injury that got better. “It’s the Bear-Packer rivalry,” he said, “so it would have had to take something really catastrophic, injury-wise, to keep me off the field in the second half.”
As for his prospects for being ready against Minnesota, Rodgers didn’t hesitate. “Oh, I’m playing next week,” he said, and given how Sunday night went, you can bet your house on that.
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