CHICAGO—A career year for receiver James Jones continued on Sunday.
The sixth-year receiver recorded the first three-touchdown game of his career, catching all of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ TD passes in a 21-13 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field.
Jones is the second Packers receiver with a three-TD game this season. Jordy Nelson also had a hat trick in Houston back in Week 6.
But with Nelson out with a hamstring injury and the Bears matching top cornerback Charles Tillman against Greg Jennings, Jones and Randall Cobb were the key targets for Rodgers. Chicago’s No. 2 corner, Tim Jennings, was out with an injury, leaving Kelvin Hayden and D.J. Moore against Jones and Cobb.
“He was just throwing to the open man, that’s it,” Jones said of Rodgers. “There was no game plan to attack a certain DB or anything like that. He was just throwing to the open man.”
Jones finished with five catches for 60 yards, and he raised his TD total for the season to a career-best 12, which currently leads the league. He leads the Packers by a wide margin in that category now. Cobb is next with seven.
“James made the plays when they were there to be made,” Cobb said. “When we get in the red zone, he has a knack for the end zone. He finds a way to make the play.”
Meanwhile, Cobb notched a career high of his own with 115 receiving yards on six receptions. His previous career high had been 102 yards, which he achieved twice this year.
Combined with 35 return yards on the day, Cobb closed to within nine yards of the franchise record for all-purpose yards in one season. He now has 2,241 net yards in 2012, just shy of the record set by running back Ahman Green in 2003 (2,250).
Jennings finished with 50 yards on four catches and moved into seventh place on the franchise’s all-time list for receiving yards with 6,372. He moved past Max McGee (6,346) on Sunday.
Rookie six-pack: Casey Hayward’s second-quarter interception gives the rookie cornerback a team-high six picks this season, and his teammates are certainly impressed.
“He’s got a chance to be in Hawaii this year,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said.
Added fellow lineman Mike Neal: “He’s got sticky hands, The ball hits him in the hands and he just goes with it.”
Bears QB Jay Cutler hit Hayward right in the hands in the second quarter on what appeared to be a route mixup with the receiver. Hayward made the easy grab and returned it to the Chicago 26-yard line, setting up a TD in the final minute of the first half that gave the Packers the lead for good.
Green Bay doubly capitalized by taking the opening kickoff of the second half the length of the field for another TD, stretching the lead to 21-7. The Packers deferred their choice after winning the opening coin toss, and when they do that the hope is they can score right before halftime and again right after the break.
Hayward’s interception set it all up.
“Now you’ve made a 14-point swing,” center Jeff Saturday said. “It’s tough for teams to come back from that. It worked out for us.”
Still struggling: After appearing to snap out of his funk with a string of solid field goals the past couple of weeks, kicker Mason Crosby had another rough day, going 0-for-2 against the Bears with misses from 43 (wide right) and 42 yards (left upright).
After the first miss, Head Coach Mike McCarthy passed up a field goal try from 44 to go for it on fourth down on the opening drive in the third quarter, and the Packers converted on their way to a TD. Then in the fourth quarter, leading 21-10, Crosby got the second try from 42 and clanked it off the post.
Crosby is just 50 percent on his field goals (12-for-24) since starting the season 5-for-5. He has missed at least one field goal in each of the last eight games, though his misses the previous two games before Sunday were from 50-plus.
“Bro, you’ve got to keep going,” said Saturday, when asked what advice he might give Crosby. “We’re going to need it. You can’t worry about it now. It’s in the bag now. Just come back out, work hard this week and when you get the chance, make it. We all know ‘Mace,’ we know he’s working hard. Just a tough stretch, man, we all go through it as players.
“I told him on the sideline, ‘Look man, keep your head up, we may need you to make one here in just a minute.’ He didn’t back down and said, ‘I’ll be there.’”
Injury update: The only injury reported after the game was to tight end Tom Crabtree, who left with a hamstring injury.
Additional coverage - Dec. 16