As the NFL enters its 100th season, it was only natural that they turned to its most historic rivalry to kick things off as Soldier Field played host to the 199th battle between these two legendary franchises. In a preseason dominated by talk of rookie head coach Matt LaFleur’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers, it was the Packers defence that took centre stage on opening night.
The Packers offence could only muster minus 12 yards in the opening quarter as Rodgers completed just 2 of his first 5 passes for 5 yards. The Packers first three drives all resulted in three and outs and the first two were ended on sacks by the constantly disruptive Roy Robertson-Harris and Leonard Floyd. In a quiet first quarter where both teams looked rusty, the only points managed came from a field goal from new Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro. His 38 yard strike sailed through the middle of the uprights and received an almighty roar from the home crowd, undoubtedly still haunted by the heartbreaking manner in which their season ended last time out on the now infamous ‘double doink’.
It took until the second quarter for the Packers offence to come to life, as Rodgers completed 4 straight passes for 74 yards. The highlight play came on a 47 yard strike to the impressive Marquez Valdes-Scantling and was capped by an 8 yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham. It was trademark Rodgers as he caught the Bears with 12 men on the field and, knowing he had a free play, lobbed the ball to his 6-7 tight end who beat safety Deon Bush in the end zone.
The Bears offence, led by Mitchell Trubisky, looked very rusty and out of sync throughout the first half, illustrated by 6 possessions ending in five punts and that one Pineiro field goal.
The second half started with the Bears reaching the Packers 33, but after a three and out Matt Nagy opted to go for it on fourth and ten rather than go for the 51 yard field goal. Trubisky scrambled but only managed 3 yards and the ball got turned back over to the Packers. The Packers’ offensive struggles resurfaced in the third quarter, failing to find any rhythm and repeatedly missing assignments in the run blocking game. It was late in the third quarter by the time Aaron Jones managed his best run of the night, a 9 yard dash. However, things were not any better for the Bears offensive unit. Early in the fourth quarter, they were called for three straight penalties, resulting in an inexplicable 1st and 40.
The Packers offensive line couldn’t find any sort of consistency, resulting in a very quiet night on the ground for Jones and the running game. Rodgers did manage to find a rhythm again in the fourth quarter though as he connected with Trevor Davis and Robert Tonyan to set up Mason Crosby for a 38 yard field goal, extending their lead to 10-3. The Bears reached the Packers 16 on their final drive of the game, but just as they threatened, Trubisky’s pass intended for Allen Robinson was thrown into double coverage and picked off by former Bear Adrian Amos in the end zone to kill their hope of forcing overtime.
Both teams’ starters had seen very little action in the preseason and it showed. Rodgers was largely off with his accuracy, regularly looking uncomfortable in the new offence that has been installed by LaFleur. It is clear that patience is going to be key as the players settle into the new system.
The Packers offensive line was on edge throughout, but it must be remembered that is not without reason – the Bears defence was ranked first last season and looks primed to retain that spot this season. They are still clearly a Super Bowl calibre D, as they held the Packers to a measly 2.1 yards per carry on the ground and harassed Rodgers all night. They tallied 5 sacks even though the Packers managed to contain Khalil Mack, with Leonard Floyd and Roy Robertson-Harris both very impressive.
Despite an impressive performance, the defence had the wind taken out of its sails by a struggling offence. Allen Robinson was a bright spot for that unit, finishing with 102 yards receiving on 7 catches. David Montgomery showed flashes of why the Bears have raved about him all preseason too. But ultimately, Mitchell Trubisky simply wasn’t good enough on the night. He completed 26 of 45 passes for 228 yards, regularly throwing into double coverage. So much so that he was lucky to only be picked off once, although that interception was a killer end zone pick that summed up his night. In another worrying sign, Trubisky was called for multiple delay of game penalties. As good as their defence was, you won’t win many games with a failing offence.
The major plus point for the Packers was their defence, a unit that has regularly let them down over the years. On a night when the offence looked rusty and out of sync, the defence was sharp, stout and stingy, giving the Cheesehead faithful reason to be positive about the season ahead.
New additions Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith were all impressive and Jaire Alexander silenced Tyler Gabriel throughout, showing that he can make a second year jump and build on his impressive rookie campaign. Darnell Savage also impressed on debut, showing lightening quick closing speed. All in all, Mike Pettine will be delighted with his defensive performance, as he outcoached Matt Nagy and held the Bears to only 3 points.
On NFL opening night, the Monsters of the Midway showed up emphatically. But they were wearing green and white.