The Game: At Chicago Bears. The oldest rivalry in football is a little fresher these days, as both teams enter week three with matching 2-0 records. First place in the NFC North - and the title of last undefeated team in the NFC - is on the line. The Bears much hyped offense, led by last year's goat Jay Cutler, is complementing their usually stingy defense (which hasn't been that stingy the last few years, either). Pardon me for not entirely buying the Bears, but they're definitely improved.
Things That Excite Me: While the day of the game is a slight annoyance, it's always exciting to be playing in prime-time. The Packers offense has been explosive, and I know they want to make some big plays under the lights. That said, the Packers' run game - which has been maligned the last two weeks - has had a lot of success against the Bears the last few years. If they're going to win, it'll be because they make big plays in the run game.
Things That Worry Me: The Bears are playing over their heads, and loving it. The Packers haven't put together a full game yet, and some of the stars can get a little overconfident at times. I mentioned last week that they tend to overlook games at times, and I still worry this could be that type of game. Against a good team, that's a problem.
Also, the Packers' offensive line still needs to come together, and All-Pro DE Julius Peppers could eat either 34-year old Chad Clifton or Rookie Bryan Bulaga alive.
First Quarter: The Bears got the ball to start the game, and put together a decent opening drive. The Packees broke down on a couple third downs - tight end Greg Olson beat linebacker Brandon Chillar on a short route once and Charles Woodson got called for pass interference against Devin Hester. Woodson made up for his mistake with a good third down blitz the next time out, and the Bears' Robbie Gould missed a 49 yard field goal - barely - on the next play.
The Packers passing game picked up right where it left off last week, with solid completions to Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, and James Jones on the first drive, taking them into the Bears' red zone. Aside from a nice stop on a run play by mega-millionaire Peppers, the Bears defense didn't put up much of a fight before the Pack took a time out on first and goal, and came back on-field with a quick TD pass over the middle to Jennings to take a 7-0 lead.
Mental errors cost the Packers on the ensuing kick-off, as linebacker Desmond Bishop - a summer-time warrior who's yet to make an impact in season - was offside on the kickoff. The Bears second return - assisted by some poor tackling by the Packers - gave the Bears great field position at their 43 yard line. Another penalty gave the Bears a first down two-plays later - a facemask by Clay Matthews on Cutler - and the Bears were right back in Packer territory. Thankfully, 2009 Cutler reared his head, overthrowing a long pass into the arms of reserve safety Derrick Martin; an interception that gave the Packers the ball back and killed the Bears' second drive.
The Packers couldn't capitalize on the turnover - though James Jones made a valiant effort on a third down WR screen - and punted to the Bears as the quarter neared its close. Cutler fired again on the Bears' first play, hitting Hester for a first down as the quarter ended. (7-0, Packers lead.)
Second Quarter: The Packer defense continued to bend, but not break, early in the second. Cutler beat the whole defense scrambling for a first down on another third down lapse, but Cullen Jenkins ended the Bears' next set of downs with a big third down sack. The offense took the ball back and controlled it for a large portion of the quarter, but another penalty - this time a holding on guard Daryn Colledge - in the redzone stalled the drive. Rodgers forced a couple of passes on the following plays, and the Packers were forced to settle for a Mason Crosby field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
The Packer defense held again, giving the ball back to the offense. Rodgers and company would be stalled again, and punter Tim Masthay made the biggest mistake of the first half on fourth down. Masthay's line drive punt gave Bears return specialist Devin Hester plenty of time to gain speed, and the return set up the Bears with great field position for their two minute offense. Receiver Johnny Knox beat the Packers for a good gain to get the Bears in the red zone, and Cutler's third down pass to Olson - who beat Chillar for the second time on third down for the Bears' first touchdown, cutting the lead to 10-7 with 31 seconds left in the half. Jordy Nelson put together a great return to give the offense a chance as the half ended, but Rodgers' hail mary pass as time expired was intercepted by Lance Briggs to send the game to halftime. (10-7, Packers lead.)
Third Quarter: The Packer offense took over to start the second half, and looked sharp on a nearly nine minute drive. But, another miscue in the red zone - this time a holding penalty on Josh Sitton, pushed the team back. Rodges connected with Finley on a third down touchdown plays later, only to have that play also negated by a holding call against veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher. The Packers were forced to settle for a field goal attempt from 37 yards out, but Peppers blew up the Packers line, coming through Sitton and Bulaga to block the Crosby kick. The Bears took over and quickly made a move downfield. The Packers defense seemed out of sync on this drive, which saw the Bears get to the one yard line where receiver Earl Bennett was ruled down - correctly - on a third and goal pass from Cutler. The Bears refused to kick, going for the touchdown on fourth and goal. Cutler threw a quick out to backup tight end Desmond Clark, and the wobbly pass bounced off Clark's hands incomplete. The Packers escaped unscathed, and the offense took over on the one yard-line.
After consecutive false starts by Tauscher - which didn't cost the Packers any yards, but were annoying - Rodgers completed a quick pass to Finley to get out of the Bears endzone. Another inexcusable penalty followed, as the team was called for Delay of Game - meaning they didn't get the play off in the required amount of time - on third and one, creating a third and six play as the fourth quarter started. (10-7, Packers lead.)
Fourth Quarter: On third and six from the Bears' 4, Rodgers missed an open Donald Driver behind the Bears' defense, and the Packers were forced to punt. Masthay - trying to compensate for his first half mistake - boomed a huge 57 yard punt. The problem is, he out kicked his coverage - and Hester had an open lane to run the kick back for a Bears touchdown. After the extra point, the Bears took their first lead at 14-10.
The Packers offense came back on the field with determination, using a series of short passes to get downfield quickly. The most impressive play of the drive occurred when running back John Kuhn followed a sea of blockers on a pitch play that took the Packers into first and goal territory, carrying defenders for a 18 yard gain. The Packers were held to another third down after rookie tight end Andrew Quarless (playing because Finley had left due to an injury - he would return later) just missed Rodgers' second down pass. Rodgers, whose ankle had been turned on an illegal hit earlier in the drive, came out on third down and couldn't find any of his receivers on the play. Thankfully, he still had a little bit of mobility, and beat the Bears to the pylon for a rushing touchdown; giving the Packers a 17-14 lead.
On the Bears' offense's next play, Cutler was hit and lobbed a ball over the middle that was intercepted by linebacker Nick Barnett. However, the hit on Cutler - by undrafted rookie Frank Zombo - was deemed roughing the passer because helmet-to-helmet contact occurred. The penalty - a fifteen yarder and an automatic first down - is correct within the NFL's rules, but only goes to show how the NFL rule makers have designed the game to protect the passing game. More on that later.
After another personal foul - this time on Nick Collins, who threw a Bear to the ground after the play was over, the Bears were in field goal range. The Packer defense held again, but Gould's kick tied the game at 17 with just under four minutes to play.
The Packers started their final drive with a couple of good plays, but Rodgers threw a first down pass away and was called for intentional grounding while avoiding a sack. This set up a 2nd and 20 play which would be the Packers' undoing. Receiver James Jones, fighting to gain extra yards after a short catch, fumbled the football, which rolled right next to the sideline before Bear corner Tim Jennings dove on it. Mike McCarthy foolishly used a challenge to see if Jennings had stepped out of bounds recovering the ball, but it was clear that the play was correct as called. This cost the Packers a time out which they could have used later.
The Bears looked ugly again as their offense came back on the field, and a holding call gave them their own second and 20. But a Cutler pass down the seam to Olson beat Chillar a third time (and Chillar even was flagged for interference as the pass was completed), and gave the Bears a first down in deep field goal range. The Bears weren't going to settle in there, and Cutler took another shot downfield.
This play, above any other in recent memory, had me ready to attack the television. Rookie safety Morgan Burnett was covering Bennett deep, and got inside position, looked back, and turned around playing the ball. Bennett initiated contact with Burnett - who was simply standing in one spot, not attacking the receiver - and couldn't get past him as Collins swooped underneath to intercept Cutler's pass inside the 10 yard line. But, the referee stepped in - and penalized Burnett for pass interference.
At this point it was incredibly clear that the Packers didn't deserve to win the game, but this play could have changed the tide. However, this completely terrible call, gave the Bears first and goal with under two minutes to play. McCarthy stubbornly refused to let the Bears score - wasting his remaining time outs and all but four seconds of game time in the process - and the Bears kicked a go ahead field goal to take the lead. After a series of laterals failed on the ensuing kickoff, the game was final. The Packers had succeeded in beating themselves. (20-17, Bears win.)
- The Packers' pass rush did a great job of pressuring Cutler, who literally gave the ball to the Packers four times. Unfortunately, one potential interception was dropped, and two were negated by penalties that prove the NFL has little interest in allowing defensive players to make plays.
- Aaron Rodgers was gutsy and efficient.
- Zombo - aside from the roughing penalty that I've already addressed - was an adequate fill-in for the injured Brad Jones.
- Where do I even begin? Oh yeah, PENALTIES. 18 penalties against the Packers were enforced, which is a franchise record. That means that, in 91 years, the Packers have NEVER played a less disciplined football game.
- The offense continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Three holding penalties in the red zone, Jones' fumble (at least his third costly fumble against the Bears in his 4 year career), and no running game whatsoever. Yet, the Packers were not stopped by the Bears once in this game - each possession was ended by their own mistakes.
- The punting game was a major liability, obviously. 14 of the Bears' 20 points occurred due to it.
- Charles Woodson - Where are you? No turnovers forced through three games for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
- As I mentioned, Aaron Rodgers played flawless football. I do wish he was allowed to take a couple more shots down field, but he made the most out of what was given to him. His TD run was an amazing play.
- Scott Wells was the only Packer offensive lineman to NOT be penalized. That's good enough for me.
- And, lastly, I have to give credit to Morgan Burnett - because I honestly believe that there's not a planet in the galaxy on which what he did on that crucial play should have been called pass interference. The referees took a game saving play away from him and Nick Collins.
Sometimes, you just don't deserve to win a football game. The Packers seemed to dominate most aspects of the game, but they weren't smart enough to do things right and didn't want to win as badly as the Bears did. Considering the expectations for the team this year, this is an absolutely heartbreaking development. On the other hand, it's plenty early in the season - and there's a lot of time for them to correct their mistakes. Whether McCarthy can get them to fix these errors - and he hasn't shown the ability to over the past five seasons - will determine whether or not the 2010 Packers are an actual Super Bowl contender. They sure as hell didn't look like one tonight.
Next Week: The Packers head back home to face 0-3 Detroit. While the Lions have looked improved this year, injuries have set them back again. Hopefully the Packers can refocus during this short week, and put together a better effort for that game.