CHICAGO — On the second day of training camp, Aaron Rodgers faced myriad questions, and the ones you’d expect at the time.
He was asked about the state of the Green Bay Packers’ offense. About his relationship with Matt LaFleur, his first new head coach after 13 years betrothed to Mike McCarthy. And every other detail imaginable on that side of the ball pertinent to how Rodgers might have the chance to reinvent himself at age 35 and revive this team after back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990-1991.
Rodgers redirected the questioning, like looking off a safety. He wanted to talk about how for the first time in awhile the Packers’ defense might help the offense.
“That’s going to be important early, especially as we’re finding our rhythm on offense,” Rodgers said in late July, and boy, after watching Thursday night’s season-opening 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears, didn’t those words feel a bit like …
“Foreshadowing?” Rodgers said rhetorically after the game.
29 PHOTOSAaron Rodgers through his careerSee GalleryAaron Rodgers through his careerAaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers during a game between the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York on November 5, 2006. Buffalo won 24-10. (Photo by Mark Konezny/Getty Images)19 October 2008: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) with center Scott Wells (63) blocking prepares to throw a touchdown pass against the Indianapolis Colts in the second quarter. The Packers defeated the Colts 34-14. (Photo by Allen Fredrickson /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)13 December 2009: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks for a receiver during the Green Bay Packers 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears at the Soldier Field, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. (Photo by Christophe Elise/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.(Photo by NFL via Getty Images)ARLINGTON, TX – FEBRUARY 06:Jordy Nelson #87 and Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after a 29 yard touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates at the end of Super Bowl XLV where the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, February 6, 2011. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – FEBRUARY 08:Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers addressesthe fans at Lambeau Field during the Packers victory ceremony on February 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.(Photo by Matt Ludtke/Getty Images)LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 13:NFL player Aaron Rodgers and actor Justin Timberlake present the ESPY for Best Male College Athlete during The 2011 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws the ball downfield in second half action. The Colts defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-27 on Sunday, October 7, 2012, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Sam Riche/MCT via Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – DECEMBER 22:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers poses with a fan before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field on December 22, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.The Steelers defeated the Packers 38-31.(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)ST LOUIS, MO – AUGUST 16:Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers warms up prior to the preseason game against the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome on August 16, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri.(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – SEPTEMBER 14:Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers drops back to pass during the NFL game against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field on September 14, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.The Packers defeated the Jets 31-24.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) MIAMI GARDENS, FL – OCTOBER 12:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers walks up the field against the Miami Dolphinsat Sun Life Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 16:QuarterbackAaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts while looking to pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter of the game at Lambeau Field on November 16, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 30:Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots walks away from Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers after shaking hands following the NFL game at Lambeau Field on November 30, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Patriots 26-21.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)SEATTLE, WA – JANUARY 18:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers waits to run out to the field before taking on the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 22:NFL player Aaron Rodgers (L) and actress Olivia Munn attend the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.(Photo by Larry Busacca/VF15/Getty Images)SANTA CLARA, CA – OCTOBER 04:Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on from the sidelines during their NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)GREEN BAY, WI – OCTOBER 18:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to the sideline during a game against the San Diego Chargers at Lambeau Field on October 18, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.Green Bay defeated San Diego 27-20.(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – NOVEMBER 8:Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes during a NFL game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank Of America Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.(Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images) LANDOVER, MD – JANUARY 10: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers signals against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at FedExField on January 10, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 13:Actress Olivia Munn and NFL player Aaron Rodgers arrive at The 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 11:Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes during a NFL game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 11, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by John Capella/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images) GREEN BAY, WI – DECEMBER 04:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers stands on the field in the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field on December 4, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 15:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 15: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after a touchdown during the NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. The Packers defeated the Cowboys 34-31. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 12:NFL player Aaron Rodgers attends The 2017 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) breaks the tackle by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Damontre Moore (58) during the second half at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. The Packers won, 35-31. (Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 17:Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers warms up before their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 17, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)Up Next
He knew. He wanted us to know he knew, adding a sly smile for good measure.
Rodgers knew then and certainly knows now that things were not going to be operating at perfect precision this soon offensively, and especially not facing a Bears defense that roundly was hailed as the NFL’s best heading into the season.
Rodgers and LaFleur come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, but they’re not lost in translation. Thursday night’s offensive performance went from putrid early to mildly promising in the middle to ping-ponging back in between the two until the final gun rang.
And this is why Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst looks brilliant now, spending all that money and all those draft resources on the other side of the ball. With a healthy Rodgers, the thinking is that the Packers’ offense would find its footing at some point. So why not add ballhawking and instinctive defensive backs and a slew of fast, physical and fierce linemen this offseason? That was the plan, and through one week it’s looking pretty darned sharp.
What allowed the Packers to win Thursday was a defense that hit hard, hit early and overwhelmed the Bears at times with their closing speed and timing. And watching this defense — even if it was going up against a flawed Bears offense that outsmarted itself more than once in the game — creates the idea that the Packers can be contenders again.
“It was fun to watch,” Rodgers said after the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a performance like that. Lot of credit to Mike Pettine and his staff. But to those players, I mean, just an incredible effort.
“We didn’t do them a whole lot of favors with our performance on offense. But every time we needed a stop they came up with some really great plays.”
Early on, it was fair to wonder if the Packers’ lack of opportunism might come back to haunt them. Packers corner Jaire Alexander couldn’t haul in a catchable pass from the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky, and more egregiously, Kevin King flat-out dropped a pick that Trubisky seemed to gift them. There also were two Packers defensive penalties early, wiping out a fumble for lost yards and a third-down incompletion.
But after Rodgers led the Packers on the game’s only touchdown drive, the Packers locked down defensively. There was nose tackle Kenny Clark’s whipping of center James Daniels on a third-and-1 run for a loss of 2 yards. There were the four Packers sacks — all coming in long-yardage situations or third or fourth downs. Rookie safety Darnell Savage looked like a seasoned pro on more than one occasion.
And then there was the sweet revenge for Adrian Amos, the safety who was drafted by the Bears but allowed to sign this offseason with the Packers. Amos read Trubisky’s fourth-quarter pass with just under two minutes remaining and stepped in front of Allen Robinson for the game-sealing interception in the Green Bay end zone.
“They put a lot of pressure on [the Bears],” Rodgers said. “It looked like both the Smiths [Za’Darius and Preston], like they were in the mix a bunch.
“Just a dominant performance. It gives you a lot of confidence when you play like that on offense and win a game by a touchdown.”
And something the Packers haven’t had a lot of in recent years. Green Bay hasn’t ranked in the top 10 in either yards allowed or points allowed in the past nine seasons. The last time it did it won the Super Bowl.
The not-so dirty secret is that Rodgers wasn’t great Thursday — and he said that more than once — but he was good enough. The Packers’ defense more than made up for matters, similar to how the Bears’ defense carried Trubisky to a 12-4 mark and division crown a season ago.
Who is to say that can’t happen with Rodgers and the Packers this season? They’re going to face the Bears once more in the regular season, just about a month from now, and they likely won’t face too many more defenses of that caliber. Except, maybe, when they face off in their own practices.
The offensive missteps for Green Bay were not entirely awful. The penalties, the miscommunications, the pass-protection issues — it looked like a first-year head coach and play-caller receiving a baptism by fire against a flame-throwing defense early, but a lot of those details were cleaned up by game’s end.
But when you have a defense that, for one night so far at least, can play like that …
“I hold myself to a high standard, and I didn’t play great tonight,” Rodgers said. “But you watch a defense like that, and it gives you a lot of confidence about where this team can go in a game where most people thought we were gonna get probably trounced. To have them play that well and to win a game against the reigning NFC North champions, that’s gonna be a fun plane ride.”
Maybe a fun season, too, if the defense keeps it up and Rodgers and the offense just get a little better.
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