Packers open 100th season with improbable win

Rodgers returns from injury, leads second half comeback
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By Morgan Rode sports@newmedia-wi.com

The first half of the Green Bay Packers opening game looked like a replay of last season. The second half provided a preview of just how dangerous Green Bay could be with Aaron Rodgers at the helm.

Rodgers returned from a first half left leg injury to lead the Packers to a comeback 24-23 win over the Chicago Bears to open their 100th season on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Rodgers connected with wide receiver Randall Cobb for a 75-yard touchdown pass for the game-winning score with just over two minutes remaining.

In the mind of the All-Pro quarterback, it wasn’t a matter of if the team could come back but rather when the comeback would be complete.

“Walking out the second half,” Rodgers said of when he knew the team was going to win. “And when I got the ovation (jogging back onto the field), at that point, I said, ‘We might as well win this thing.’”

Chicago’s defense set the tone early, with newly-acquired pass rusher Khalil Mack taking over the second quarter and helping the visitors out to a stunning 17-0 halftime lead.

During the ugly first half, Rodgers was injured after being sacked just over five minutes into the second quarter. Rodgers was taken to the locker room and did not return in the half.

In his stead, backup quarterback DeShone Kizer turned the ball over twice, including an interception returned by Mack that had fans voicing their displeasure and booing the team off the field and into the locker room.

The booing changed to a thunderous roar for Rodgers when he returned to the field to start the third quarter.

By the time Rodgers hit the field again, the Bears had pushed their lead to 20. A gimpy and less mobile Rodgers led Green Bay to a field goal on its first drive of the second half before the Packers’ defense forced a key three-and-out. Rodgers then captained the hosts to a touchdown, connecting with Geronimo Allison on a perfectly thrown ball in the back right corner of the end zone.

After Green Bay’s defense forced another three-and-out, Rodgers again led a touchdown drive. He passed the ball on all five plays on the 75-yard drive, connecting with Randall Cobb twice and Devante Adams three times, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to trim the deficit to three.

The Bears slowly worked the ball down the field on their drive, draining the clock in the process. After a successfully challenged play moved Chicago back six yards and put more time on the clock, Green Bay’s defense finally forced a field goal.

Left with 2:39 on the clock, Rodgers was confident he could put together one last drive to complete the comeback. It took Green Bay just three plays to go 75 yards, as Rodgers found Cobb after a couple of incompletions.

“Aaron Rodgers was remarkable. I just can’t tell you how proud I am of him and if you have to go through the halftime, frankly, walking out of the tunnel, I was prepared to go with DeShone (Kizer),” coach Mike McCarthy said.

Chicago had one final shot to win the game, but again the Packers defense stepped up and forced a turnover on downs. Green Bay was able to burn the rest of the clock from there.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Rodgers said. “After it was decided that 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. We put together four scoring drives.”

“I can’t say enough about our football team. I thought that the adversity that was overcome goes toward a tremendous start because that’s frankly that’s all it is,” McCarthy said. “It’s one win. It’s a big win because it’s a division game and it’s a home game. Great atmosphere tonight, hopefully we come out of this game healthy, and we’ll get back in here tomorrow (Monday) and get ready to move forward to the Vikings.”

After the dismal first half, Green Bay ended up with 76 more total yards than Chicago when the final whistle blew. Much of the damage the Packers did on offense was because of Rodgers, who completed 20-of-30 passes for 286 yards and the three touchdowns.

Cobb finished with nine receptions for a career-high 142 yards, while Adams pulled in five passes for 88 yards and Allison tallied five catches for 69 yards. Rodgers connected with new tight end Jimmy Graham just twice for eight yards, and the Packers finished with just 69 rushing yards, 15 of those coming on a first half scramble by Rodgers.

All eyes will now be on Rodgers and the injury diagnosis that’s assessed to him. Rodgers did say he believes he will take the field when the Minnesota Vikings come to Lambeau Field for a pivotal NFC North showdown next Sunday.