GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers finally revealed their new makeup for the 2022 season. It just took a week longer than expected.
A week after losing a flat opener, the Packers established their identity in a 27-10 win against the Chicago Bears. The Packers were more physical than their NFC North rival on both sides of the ball.
It took a slow start to get rolling. The Bears marched 71 yards on an opening touchdown drive, taking a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. After that, the Packers rattled off 21 straight first-half points, giving them a comfortable lead.
The Packers needed to win Sunday night, putting last week’s stinker of an opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings behind them before a tough Week 3 trip to the 2-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They might have learned some things about themselves along the way.
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The Aaron Jones Show
This is not your Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings or Donald Driver offense. It’s been a long time since the Packers’ best playmaker was a running back, not a receiver. Save for 2015, when Nelson tore his ACL and Eddie Lacy was still in his young prime, it hasn’t happened since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008. The biggest difference Sunday night was simple: Matt LaFleur made much more of an effort to give the football to his best playmaker. Jones had just eight touches last week, and they were productive with 76 yards (9.5 average). He had more than eight touches in the first half alone Sunday, finishing with 15 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown. Jones added three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. The Packers will need to be judicious with Jones in the first half of the season – AJ Dillon also had 15 carries for 50 yards – and not wear him out before December. As many times as possible, they need Jones leading the way like he did Sunday night.
Rookie receivers still up and down
Romeo Doubs caught only one pass Sunday night, but it showed why the fourth-round rookie needs to get targets even early in his first season. Doubs took a screen 20 yards on second-and-28, setting up a manageable third down. On that next play, Rodgers completed a 9-yard pass to Randall Cobb in the middle of the field, moving the chains. The drive ended with an 8-yard touchdown run from Jones, opening a 17-7 lead. Christian Watson also flashed some potential, using his speed to take a jet pass 9 yards. It wasn’t a flawless night for the rookies. Watson mistimed his jet motion in the second half, knocking a Josh Myers snap as he crossed the formation to force a fumble the Packers recovered. Through the expected growing pains, both rookies appear to have enough talent to justify the requisite patience during their development.
Flipping the Bears’ script
Luke Getsy, the former Packers quarterbacks coach and first-year Bears offensive coordinator, dialed up an impressive opening script. The Bears marched 71 yards on seven plays for a touchdown on their opening drive, taking their only lead of the night at 73. After that, the Packers defense allowed nothing. The Bears gained just 10 yards on their next five possessions, including four three-and-outs. The other drive ended because the first-half clock expired. It might have taken a bit for the Packers defense to play as advertised all training camp, but it finally reached that level. Once it did, the Packers defense consistently tilted the field. They only allowed one scoring drive after the Bears’ first possession, although there was a big moment at the goal line in the fourth quarter.
Defining, early-season moment for defense
Up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Packers defense had a defining moment in its early season. The Bears had crossed into the 10-yard line on third-and-goal when rookie inside linebacker Quay Walker chased down quarterback Justin Fields from behind short of the pylon. On the next play, the Bears needed about 12 inches on fourth-and-goal. The Packers defensive front that was much heralded all offseason was up to the task, stuffing Fields on a sneak. First-year Bears coach Matt Eberflus challenged the ruling on the field, but there was no definitive goal-line angle showing a touchdown. It was the type of stand Packer’s defenses of the past were too often incapable of making. This one might be different.
Injured reinforcements Jenkins, Lazard give a lift
As important as Jones was carrying the Packers offense, a pair of reinforcements didn’t hurt. Pro Bowl offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins and top receiver Allen Lazard returned from injury to make their 2022 debuts. Jenkins started at right tackle and, through some occasional rust, played well. He didn’t give up a sack, and plugging their best run blocker on the right end of the line made a difference opening lanes for Jones and Dillon. Lazard caught a touchdown in the first half on a 5-yard slant, picking up where he left off last season. Lazard had five touchdowns in the final five regular-season games last year, and now one in his first game this fall. His familiarity with Rodgers will be important as Rodgers acclimates to the rookies.