GREEN BAY – The “Bears still suck” chant was in full force as the game clock signaled the two-minute warning Sunday night.
The Green Bay Packers offense was on the field, courtesy of cornerback Jaire Alexander’s impressive interception of a Justin Fields pass intended for Equanimious St. Brown, and ready to literally run out the clock. Two AJ Dillon rushes and an Aaron Rodgers kneel-down later and the Packers evened their record at 1-1 with a 27-10 victory over arch-rival Chicago.
With Minnesota’s loss Monday night, the NFC North features four teams tied at the top with 1-1 records. That’s possibly a first in division history.
“It’s always going to be a physical game when the Bears and Packers play,” former head coach Mike Ditka said Tuesday morning. “The Bears will play everyone tough to the final bell, but the Packers are a pretty solid football team and have a future hall of famer at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers makes a huge difference, but the Packers were able to run the ball effectively on Sunday night.”
Green Bay’s victory did not come easy. But the game’s final 2:18 was a microcosm of the contest. The Packers defense made a big stop and the offense ran the ball down the Bears throat.
After last week’s debacle in Minnesota, head coach Matt LaFleur told the media during the week that he would commit to the run and get the football into the hands of running backs Aaron Jones and Dillon. He made good on that promise—and it paid off handsomely.
Jones, behind of an offensive line bolstered by the return of tackle Elgton Jenkins, rushed 15 times for 132 yards (8.8-yard average) and caught three passes for 38 yards. His two second-quarter touchdowns—a beautiful 15-yard cutback run and the other an 8-yard screen pass propelled Green Bay from a 7-3 deficit to a 17-7 lead. The cushion increased to 24-7 with just 32 seconds left in the half on Rodgers’ 5-yard touchdown strike to Allen Lazard.
The emphasis on the run game definitely set up the pass against the Bears on a night Jones got the bulk of the touches.
LaFleur joked with the media in his post-game press conference.
“Yeah, I was kind of disappointed. . . what did he (Jones) have, 18 touches?” LaFleur said. “I anticipated more, but I’ll tell you what, Aaron Jones, he was absolutely electric. Every time I’d think he was going down, he’d somehow find a way and squirt his way through. He’s just a hell of a competitor and he’s a guy that just embodies everything that you’d want in a football player. The way he works, how selfless he is, how he cheers for his teammates, how he supports his teammates. They don’t make many like this guy. He’s one of a kind.
“We’re lucky to have a guy like that. It’s not a surprise to me that he was elected a captain. Just the way he treats everybody in this building. He’s so respectful. Just works his ass off and you know he’s a hell of a player too. He’s a guy that obviously we have to get the ball to each and every week. He just does an outstanding job.”
LaFleur said every week will be different in the workload between Jones and Dillon, depending on the game plan that week, their health, and the flow of the game.
“That’s always going to be the balancing act,” he said. “I think that could vary week to week. Certainly, we always call them 1A and 1A. AJ Dillon, he grinded out a lot of tough yards tonight.”
Dillon had 18 carries for 61 yards and also caught one pass for six yards. In front of his locker in the jubilant Packers locker room after the game, Dillon said he expected a physical game and more emphasis on the running game. And that the offense fed off the defense, especially after the goal line stand in the fourth quarter.
“In a rivalry game, especially with the Bears, you always strap up your chin strap, bring your lunch pail to work, one of those blue collar games,” Dillon said. “Our defense played their tails off. . . and we fed off their momentum. We (him and Jones) always want to do whatever we can do when our numbers called. . . we just want to help the team win. Aaron had a great game tonight.”
The Packers defense rebounded strongly from a dismal performance against the Vikings, holding Chicago to just 10 points and 11 first downs. The Bears scored a touchdown on Fields’ 3-yard run to cap a 7-play, 71-yard drive in the first quarter, but only produced a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter the rest of the game.
A turnover in the third quarter gave Chicago a chance to march to the Green Bay 1-yard line, but the Packers defense stuffed Fields on 4th-and-1 to keep it a two-score game and shift the momentum. LaFleur was pleased that his defense “regrouped” and played physical against their division rival at home. Though there still plenty of room for improvement after yielding 122 yards on 15 carries—a 8.1 yard average per carry—to David Montgomery.
“Ten points to an NFL offense is a great day,” Rodgers said. “And we should win every single one of those games.”
Rodgers continued to “own” the Bears—remember his comment to Chicago fans last season at Soldier Field—and had an efficient performance with 234 yards passing and a 131.1 quarterback rating. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns and distributed the ball to eight different players.
Today is the players’ off day, but the Packers will resume preparations for Sunday’s showdown with the Buccaneers and Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. The game will be televised at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in Western Wisconsin by FOX 25/48.