Packers far from perfect in win over Bears
CHICAGO -- It was an oh-so-typical game for the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.
They outplayed the Chicago Bears right from the Greg Jennings-dominated opening drive, but made just enough mistakes to let their always-stubborn archrivals hang around, then nearly fell victim to a punt return in the final minute that was so deceptive it still has everyone fooled.
"That," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, "was the most incredible play I've ever seen."
Fortunately for the Packers, who seemed to send everyone on their active roster toward dangerous punt returner Devin Hester on the right, Johnny Knox's 89-yard dash down the unattended opposite sideline was nullified by a penalty, preserving a 27-17 victory and giving the defending Super Bowl champions a road victory over the team that finished ahead of them in the NFC North Division last season.
In the end, the game also was oh-so-typical of the start to the Packers' season.
They did some things really well, botched up enough things to give the opponent life and yet still won the game. Never the fastest of starters under coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers haven't done anything incredible so far, but they are 3-0 and, best of all, have yet to play really good football.
"It felt like we were out there for two games," McCarthy said. "It's tough to win on the road; it's even tougher to win division games on the road. It's early in the season. Our two targets were, No. 1, to win the game and, No. 2, to improve as a football team. What's exciting is we're 3-0. We have a ton of room for improvement."
That was apparent throughout the game. At times, the Packers dominated, with Rodgers throwing darts to Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley, the rebirth of halfback Ryan Grant and a defense that held the Bears to negative rushing yards until the fourth quarter.
At other times, Green Bay was Chicago's best friend. It seemed like the Packers should have been leading by three touchdowns at halftime, but they held only 17-10 lead due to lapses in a secondary playing its first game without injured Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. In the fourth quarter, Rodgers' interception and halfback James Starks' fumble gave the Bears life after they'd fallen behind by 17.
"You come to expect those things (against the Bears)," Rodgers said. "It's an interesting feeling in that locker room. I'm disappointed I threw that pick and I'm slightly in awe of that last special teams play by Chicago, which was incredible. But we just won a big division game against a rival on the road and I think there's a feeling of, we could have played a little bit better. It's fun to be 3-0, it's exciting coming to work with these guys, and we've got, I think, our best football still in front of us."
There was ample reason to believe in the Packers' growth potential after they put up their highest point total against the Bears in the last seven meetings. Grant and Finley showed what the Packers were missing last year when they were out with injuries. Grant looked fast en route to 92 yards on 17 carries. Finley, whose speed makes him the perfect antidote for the Bears' cover-2 defense, had 85 yards on seven catches, three of them for touchdowns.
The defense up front was superb, though Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz assisted by virtually ignoring the run for the second straight game. Safety Morgan Burnett took over Collins' role as the center fielder on defense and showed Collins-like range in securing two interceptions. And rapidly improving Jarius Wynn had two of the team's three sacks on Jay Cutler.
It wasn't perfect -- safety Charlie Peprah struggled in coverage and the run of penalties continued -- but there were stretches where the Packers looked like the team that roared through the playoffs last season.
"I think we're coming off being at the highest level and you don't come back and start the season at the same level you finished it," said Rodgers, whose passer rating topped 100 for the third straight game. "But I think we've got a chance to be a really good football team."
This is the sixth time since the NFL merger in 1970 that the Packers have started out 3-0. They made the playoffs after the first five, but there were no guarantees issued in the aftermath of the victory over the Bears.
"We're nowhere near hitting our stride as a team," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We have gutted out some tough wins, made some big plays when we needed to to win those games, so we feel good about that. But we've definitely got to get better."
If the Packers can do that, this season could turn into something incredible.
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