“That [Bears] defense is gonna give a lot of teams struggles,” Rodgers said in an on-field postgame interview with NBC. “They’re a very talented team. I had a couple real bad throws. We were off, out of sync at times. But we’ve got a defense.”
LaFleur is known for his ability to coach offense. He was hired by the Packers as part of the league-wide search for clones of Los Angeles Rams Coach Sean McVay, the youthful offensive mastermind who had his team in the Super Bowl last season. LaFleur coached with McVay with the Washington Redskins and for McVay for a season in L.A. He is charged in Green Bay with getting Rodgers back to a league-MVP level of play and with getting the Packers back into the postseason after two straight non-playoff seasons that led to predecessor Mike McCarthy’s ouster.
But LaFleur is 1-0 as an NFL head coach not because of anything his offense and Rodgers did, but because he was wise enough to retain defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, from McCarthy’s coaching staff. The Green Bay defense was superb Thursday night as the Bears scored only on a first-quarter field goal by their new kicker, Eddy Pineiro.
“Obviously,” LaFleur said at his postgame news conference, “we’ve got a lot of room from improvement from the offensive side of the ball. ... I can’t tell you how proud I am, though, of the effort we gave and to come out of here with the victory.”
The Bears won last season’s NFC North title because then-rookie head coach, Matt Nagy, pushed along the development of young quarterback Mitch Trubisky and their defense was dominant following the preseason trade for pass rusher Khalil Mack. The Chicago defense looked every bit as overwhelming Thursday night, sacking Rodgers five times.
But Trubisky and the Bears could do next to nothing on offense.
“Obviously unacceptable,” Nagy said at his postgame news conference. “It starts with me. ... We’re gonna fix it. Our guys know that.”
Trubisky threw an end-zone interception to Packers safety Adrian Amos, formerly of the Bears, with Chicago driving toward a possible tying touchdown and extra point with just less than two minutes remaining. The Bears got the ball back deep in their own territory with 1:33 to play but went nowhere.
The two teams combined for 17 punts, eight of them by the Bears. Trubisky was sacked five times and threw 45 passes, while the Bears had only 15 rushing attempts. Tarik Cohen had no carries, although he did have eight catches. The pass-heavy approach was not effective.
“Three points is ridiculous,” Nagy said.
Rodgers threw a second-quarter touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham in an 18-for-30, 203-yard passing performance. That four-play touchdown drive by the Packers in the second quarter came after they had minus-12 yards of total offense during a first quarter in which they had three possessions and didn’t manage a first down. The offense never really got going. Kicker Mason Crosby provided a fourth-quarter field goal and the defense did the rest.
This kind of football is to be expected during an era in which NFL teams, more than ever, keep their front-line players safely on the sideline during the preseason. The first few regular season games become, in effect, the preseason that the starting players didn’t have. Offense is about timing and precision, and offenses spend the early portion of the regular season catching up to defenses.
Rodgers was supposed to play two preseason games but was a late scratch from a game in Baltimore because of back tightness and was withheld, along with other Packers starters, from a game against the Oakland Raiders in Winnipeg because of safety concerns about field conditions.
So it shouldn’t be overly alarming that Rodgers and the Packers struggled on offense Thursday, especially against a defense as good as Chicago’s. Even with those offensive struggles, the Packers were able to send an opening-night message that their defense just might be good enough so that Rodgers doesn’t have to do it all. He has help.
LaFleur kept Pettine and the Packers, uncharacteristically, spent freely in free agency to bolster their defense. Thursday’s early returns were promising.
“We kept saying in the huddle, ‘Hey, let’s pick our defense up. Let’s just get one drive together,’ ” Rodgers told NBC. “We were backed up. We finally put together a drive, got a field goal out of it. But it didn’t matter. Those guys, Mike Pettine and his staff — unbelievable job. It’s fun to watch. That was an incredible performance. I’m really happy for Matt, his first win as a head coach. We’ll get better. It’s a long season. That’s a great defense and we’ve got to get a lot better on offense. But I’ll say it again: We’ve got a defense.”
FINAL: Packers 10, Bears 3
The football was far from elegant on opening night of the 2019 NFL season. The offenses of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears looked like they were stuck in the preseason. But one touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a solid performance by the Green Bay defense were enough for the Packers to prevail, 10-3, Thursday evening at Soldier Field.
Trubisky throws interception: The Bears finally got their offense going. But as they moved toward a possible tying touchdown and extra point, Trubisky threw an end zone interception to Amos, formerly of the Bears. The interception came on a third-and-10 play from the Green Bay 16-yard line. (Packers 10, Bears 3 with 1:58 left in the 4th quarter)
Packers add field goal: The Packers stretched their lead to 10-3 with a 39-yard field goal by kicker Mason Crosby with a little more than five minutes remaining. LaFleur opted against a fourth-and-two gamble from the Chicago 21-yard line after a 10-yard scramble by Rodgers on third and 12. LaFleur put the game in the hands of the Green Bay defense, which has been terrific all night. (Packers 10, Bears 3 with 5:15 left in the 4th quarter)
Bad challenge by LaFleur: The NFL regular season’s first interference-related instant replay challenge came by LaFleur, and it was a bad one. LaFleur challenged a non-call on a catch by Chicago’s Taylor Gabriel, seeking to have offensive pass interference called for the lightest of push-offs. LaFleur lost his challenge, but no matter. Gabriel was called for offensive pass interference — for a far more blatant push-off, drawing a flag on the field and not requiring a replay review — to negate a 50-yard catch later on the drive. The Bears faced a first-and-40 predicament from their own 27-yard line after that penalty, and ended up punting. (Packers 7, Bears 3 with 11:48 remaining in the 4th quarter)
Fourth-down gamble fails for Bears: The Bears have done very little on offense, and the fans at Soldier Field have demonstrated their displeasure with occasional boos. Chicago had a good scoring chance late in the third quarter after quarterback Trubisky’s 27-yard completion to running back David Montgomery produced a first down at the Green Bay 33-yard line. But the Bears’ drive fizzled from there. They had their second delay-of-game penalty on the possession. Coach Matt Nagy left his offense on the field on fourth and 10 from the 33, opting against a 51-yard field goal attempt, but Trubisky’s scramble came up seven yards short of a first down. The Packers take their 7-3 advantage into the fourth quarter in what has been a less-than-compelling night of football. (Packers 7, Bears 3 at end of third quarter)
Packers squander third-quarter chance: Points are scarce tonight, and the Packers squandered a third-quarter opportunity to add to their 7-3 lead. A 38-yard pass interference penalty called on Chicago linebacker Roquan Smith (and not challenged by Nagy) gave the Packers a first down at the Chicago 35-yard line. On third and five from the 30, Rodgers scrambled for a first down, recovering his own fumble at the end of that run. But that first down was negated by a holding penalty called on the Packers. They were pushed back further by a third-down sack of Rodgers and ended up punting. (Packers 7, Bears 3 with 10:51 left in 3rd quarter)
HALF: Packers 7, Bears 3
The Packers lead, 7-3, after a first half dominated by the defenses. Rodgers had a first-half passer rating of 101.5 for the Packers after connecting on 13 of 20 throws for 137 yards and a touchdown. But Green Bay did little on offense other than a four-play drive at the beginning of the second quarter resulting in Rodgers’s touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. The Bears, however, did even less against Green Bay’s defense. The Bears managed only 98 yards of total offense in the half and scored only on a first-quarter field goal by Pineiro. LaFleur, perhaps sensing that it’s shaping up as a defense-first night, went the conservative route late in the first half. The Packers left their offense on the field on a fourth-and-four play from the Chicago 46-yard line about a minute before halftime, but never snapped the ball and ended up punting. LaFleur’s decision to retain Pettine as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator is looking good so far. There were a few boos from the Soldier Field crowd directed at the Chicago offense very late in the first half.
Rodgers-to-Graham TD puts Packers in front: The Packers offense suddenly sprung to life in the second quarter. After totaling minus-12 yards on three first-quarter possessions, the Packers suddenly went 74 yards on four plays in 1 minute 35 seconds, and scored a touchdown. Rodgers had completions on all four plays. He connected with wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 47 yards to get the drive going, and he found Graham with an eight-yard lob for the score. Now it’s Chicago’s turn to get something going on offense. (Packers 7, Bears 3 with 13:08 left in the 2nd quarter)
Packers have minus-12 first-quarter yards: The Green Bay offense had its preseason in the first quarter, apparently. The opening quarter of the NFL regular season is done, and the Packers managed minus-12 yards of total offense. Green Bay had the ball three times, and went three plays and out and punted all three times. Rodgers was sacked twice. Yes, the Chicago defense is good. But is it really that good? Rodgers said during the week that the fact he didn’t play at all during the preseason would not be the reason that the Packers struggled on offense in the opener, if they struggled. There’s room to wonder at this point. (Bears 3, Packers 0 at end of 1st quarter)
Bears actually make a field goal: The Bears’ kicking misadventures ended their 2018 season courtesy of Cody Parkey’s “double-doink” miss against the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round of the NFC playoffs, and their search for a reliable kicker was the biggest story of their offseason. Parkey’s replacement, Pineiro, thrilled the crowd at Soldier Field by connecting on a 38-yard field goal to give the Bears a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter. The celebration was somewhat short-lived, as Pineiro sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. The Packers need to get something going on offense. Before Pineiro’s field goal, Green Bay went three plays on offense and out and punted for the second straight possession. The Chicago defense is dominating so far. (Bears 3, Packers 0 with 4:09 left in the 1st quarter)
Slow start on offense for Green Bay: Everyone was waiting to see how Rodgers would fare in LaFleur’s offense. One possession into the regular season, the answer is: not so great. The Packers, after receiving the opening kickoff, went three plays and out against Chicago’s celebrated defense and punted. Rodgers was sacked on third down on a play on which the Packers also were called for holding. The Bears crossed midfield on their opening drive but also punted. (Packers 0, Bears 0 with 9:39 left in the 1st quarter)
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