Column

The One-Legged Man In A Butt-Kicking Contest

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin—It was a brilliant night for an epic comeback. My emotions were as mixed as the drinks I’d slapdashed together during the Bears regular season-opener. Half the time I was elated, the other half, I drank to calm the nerves.

This would not turn out to be a good time to quit drinking.

Going into Lambeau Field, the odds stacked up against Chicago. They would fold early and lose by seven or more points. The oddsmakers — per usual — were as full of crap as a kid with pica.

The Bears weren’t supposed to win. Not in Lambeau, and certainly not any time during the Aaron Rodgers era. But by halftime on Sunday, Sep. 9, Chicago posted 17 points to the Packers goose egg. One of the highest paid players in the NFL had connected on only 3-of-7 passes for a measly 13 yards.

That’s it.

Oh, and Rodgers also came out of the game with an undisclosed injury to his left knee in the second quarter.

Mitch Trubisky’s first half fared better than his counterpart. He threw 11-of-14 passes for 109 yards and chalked up a passer rating of 99.1. Trubisky also ran in a 2-yard touchdown, scoring the Bears first points of 2018.

New head coach Matt Nagy and his fun, high-octane offense marched through the first 30 minutes. It’s a safe bet that Nagy planned, plotted and most of all revised his gameplan. Whatever the case, the Bears came out and torched Green Bay in the first half.

Newly acquired Khalil Mack was nothing short of dynamite before halftime. He earned a sack, forced a fumble then recovered it, and later intercepted a pass he returned 27 yards for a touchdown. Over the first two quarters, the Bears netted 160 yards, gained eight first downs and put up 17 points. The Packers netted 71 yards, gained four first downs and were shutout.

Though nothing could quite compare to Aaron Rodgers going down in the second quarter. Lambeau Field fell into a thunderous silence. Worried eyes watched him lying on the ground, writhing in pain as he grasped his left knee. A few minutes more, Rodgers limped off the field and into the medical tent. More tension-filled minutes crawled by as an anxious crowd waited for him to reappear. It was something he did obligingly, but not quite how Green Bay fans imagined it. Instead of steeling himself for another drive, Rodgers staggered over to the medical cart and left the field.

Cameras captured him in-frame as the cart passed by. His eyes blue and vivid, darting about the crowd, trying not to connect with anyone. This top-tier gladiator had been forced from the Coliseum floor.

For an injury.

Backup quarterback, DeShone Kizer, came in for Rodgers, completing 4-of-7 passes for 55 yards with an interception.

Goodbye, Green Bay.

Cheeseheads began boarding the ‘Let’s-Go-Home-Express,’ by the droves as halftime slogged along. I even thought of channel surfing myself, but the Bears were doing good? Against Green Bay at Lambeau, no less. How could I turn my back on that?

A thought slivered through the Packers fanbase — Where does the season go from here? Right before stepping into sheer darkness, a light began shining as halftime ended. Rodgers stood on the sideline there with Green Bay, in a baseball hat, looking out toward the field.

Could it be?

Could Green Bay really be putting Aaron Rodgers back in action?

Why would he come back? Was it because of the Bears-Packers longstanding rivalry? Did he owe it to the team and fans to keep pushing? Shouldn’t he, after all, didn’t he sign a huge contract worth $134 million? $100 million of that guaranteed. Or was it love of the game that sent him back out of the tunnel?

I don’t know the answer to that, but the Bears fanatic in me wishes he would’ve just stayed back there.

Legions of cheeseheads counted off five minutes and 46 seconds from the third quarter. Then they watched the score go 20–0 on a 33-yard field goal by Bears kicker, Cody Parkey. After that, Rodgers shambled forth under boisterous waves of cheers befitting a king.

Much to the delight of Green Bay, and Chicago’s dismay, Aaron Rodgers formed a huddle. He was back. But there was something all-together unsound about him.

The discernible limp in his gait had gotten worse. His knee began to swell and that stiffened the mobility in his left leg enough to keep him from bending it more than a few degrees. Even so, Rodgers proceeded to dismantle Chicago in five total series.

Nothing premeditated; purely spontaneous.

Chicago was done in by Rodgers’ arm and correct reading of coverages and open widows. The Bears showed some unmistakable signs of inexperience and ineptitude. This game heralded Green Bay’s first time to ever come back and win after trailing by 17 plus, going into the fourth quarter.

So, there’s that. Glad Chicago could help you out Green Bay.

Writing about this as a Bears fan is brutal. As a football fan though, it borders the sporting miraculous. It was truly remarkable watching a one-legged man steamroll a team the way Aaron Rodgers did.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Green Bay found a way to canonize him after that showing. Saint Aaron, patron of passing while injured.

To me, I’d mentally place Rodgers’ performance somewhere in the upper echelons of my sports memory. Possibly next to the 2001 World Series. Game Seven. Luis Gonzalez comes up and hits a little flare off Mariano Rivera that eclipsed Derek Jeter’s outstretched glove. It’s what sent Jay Bell home to win it over New York. I didn’t jump out of my seat like I did when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees, but I couldn’t tear my eyes off the TV either.

That being said, Chicago was still ahead 20–0 when the Packers got Aaron Rodgers back. The Bears knew they were going to win, had to win, all Chicago knew it. How could they not? And if you asked a Packers fan to tell the truth about this game at that particular point, they’d say the same. And, Aaron Rodgers had played so poorly before the injury that he wasn’t very recognizable to fans or the scoreboard. Add it all up, and the valid opportunities for Green Bay to make headway in this contest seemed long lost.

These opinions turned out to be precisely that: Opinions.

Green Bay’s only drive of the third quarter went 12 plays, gaining 46 yards as they capped it off with a field goal.

Big whoop!

Chicago had added another field goal by the time the Packers put a positive number on the scoreboard. It was 23–3 and the Bears still held a 20-point lead, with roughly 18-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game.

From that moment on, Aaron Rodgers — on one stable leg — took the game by storm. The Packers tore down the field, scoring three touchdowns on three consecutive series, placing Green Bay up, 24–23.

Chicago’s second-half woes mounted as they garnered a grand total of two field goals in the second half. Khalil Mack utterly disappeared down the stretch. Possibly due to missing all preseason and not being in peak physical condition.

Saying the Windy City Bears doth blowed in the second-half would be an understatement. Chicago was coasting on a big lead they never expected to be questioned. And when the unbelievable happened, they couldn’t answer.

It wasn’t just Mack that went M.I.A., the Bears entire defense gave up 299 net yards during the second-half. Rodgers accounted for most of those yards, throwing 17-of-23 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns.

The most damning drive Chicago allowed went three total plays, ending in a 75-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Hard to stomach. It was to be the series that drove the final nail into the Bears coffin.

Chicago had two minutes and 13 seconds to go 82 yards for a touchdown after an 18-yard kickoff return. Or, they could get to Green Bay’s 40-yard line for a very long field goal try. The two bright spots on Chicago’s last drive were penalties on Green Bay. Trubisky connected only 2-of-7 passes and then disastrously fumbled while getting sacked.

That was all she wrote.

The Packers took a knee as everyone at Lambeau, and the 22-million in TV land, watched the final 58 seconds tick away. Anyone watching near the end of this game stood slack-jawed and wide-eyed. It was the only recourse after what we’d seen.

Once the shock and awe wore off, Bears fans curbed their emotions towards anger and began pointing fingers. Packers fans erupted in jubilation as Aaron Rodgers made his way through a sea of post-game handshakes. He finally arrived in front of NBC’s, Michele Tafoya.

“I’m playing next week,” Rodgers said as the cheering and applause kept up.

“It would have had to take something really catastrophic injury-wise to keep me off the field in the second half,” Rodgers said. “I had a hard time putting weight on it. Doc and I had a conversation, we did the tests, and I told him I was coming back.”

“I’m really proud of our team,” Rodgers continued. “After it was decided I was going to come back, I knew it might give us a little jolt. We just had to play a lot better football in the second half, and we did.”

This game was atrocious in the sense that Chicago had it in the bag and let it go to hell with one quarter remaining.

Predictable.

Mid-season form already.

Bears fans, like me, suffer from perpetual Stockholm Syndrome. We are oppressed by our captives, but can’t seem to find or want a way out.

Though not everything fits perfectly into one bag.

Some Bears showed up when their names were called. Jordan Howard kept the run game alive for Chicago with 82 yards, and Allen Robinson II caught 4 passes for 61 yards. Roquan Smith did a hell of a lot in eight total snaps, hammering out 3 tackles and a sack. In fact, on his first NFL play, Smith shed two blocks and fought his way to sacking DeShone Kizer from the blindside.

The show, though, belonged to Aaron Rodgers — and deservedly so.

What Rodgers accomplished on one leg, was arguably one of the best sports performances since the dawning of this millennium.

Oxymoron. Healthy, Rodgers gunned a football that couldn’t hit a barn. Injured to the point where he could barely walk, he puts up video game numbers.

The tale of two quarterbacks:

RODGERS: 20-of-30 for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns.
TRUBISKY: 23-of-35 for 171 yards; 7 rushes for 32 yards and a touchdown.

Trubisky played it ultra-conservative, showing happy feet when he felt the pressure coming. Most scrambles and throwaways were opted for too soon. Trubisky averaged 4.9 yards per pass, got sacked four times and coughed up that fumble on Chicago’s final drive.

I went back and combed through his 2017 stats. Turns out, Trubsiky averaged 6.65 yards per pass his rookie year. Matt Nagy’s newly implemented RPO/Wing-T/West Coast scheme is designed to plow through a ton of short yardage plays, before airing one out. At least that’s what we saw in Week One.

Chicago’s scheme is also designed to utilize Trubisky’s speed and agility, hence all the RPO plays. If the Bears stay the course, Trubisky’s average yards per pass will be very low all season. This system doesn’t call for many deep routes. Rollouts, waggles, QB reads, and some option plays are what’s likely in store for Bears fans this go-round.

Matt Nagy has gone on record asking fans to stick with it. Trubisky and the offense have to learn the plays before they can execute them to perfection. For that matter, Matt Nagy has to learn to be a head coach, not just an offensive coordinator.

I’m not one to lead Nagy toward the guillotine any time soon. I’m accustomed to hardship — as all Chicago fans are. I can deal with some truly terrible losses, as long as they are making progress.

Barely throwing the ball past the line of scrimmage is not going to win ball games. Never has; never will.

After losing to a quarterback with a banged-up leg, the Bears are 0–1 heading home to face off against Seattle, Mon., Sep. 17.

I won’t soon forget this event, mostly because I couldn’t write a story that focused solely on Chicago. It was really about Aaron Rodgers executing one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

The excitement and drama were high in the season-opener for Chicago. I have no problem with emotional toying if the Bears win.

But they didn’t.

Fans expect better, on both sides of the ball, once the Seahawks roll into Soldier Field.

Bears 23; Packers 24

 

Feature Photo: Field Level Media

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