CHICAGO – Sunday was a game of pick your poison for the Chicago Bears defense.
The Packers came out firing to receiver Greg Jennings, who had four of his career-high nine catches on the game’s opening drive.
That drive ended with a touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley, the first of his career-best three scores on the day.
Then as the game wore on, running back Ryan Grant was finding cutback lanes and returning to his old 1,200-yard rushing form.
The offensive trio was borderline dominant in Green Bay’s 27-17 victory at Soldier Field, accounting for 296 of the Packers’ 392 total yards and serving notice once again just how multi-faceted this attack is.
Finley was the game-breaker, so to speak, as three of his seven catches went for touchdowns. He gained 85 yards in all and said that’s the first three-TD game he’s enjoyed at any level of football. It was also just the second three-TD game in Packers history by a tight end. Keith Jackson caught three TD passes in the 1996 season opener at Tampa Bay.
“There’s really not too much you can do with the weapons we have and him playing like that, lights out,” Jennings said of Finley. “You want to take one thing away but you open up a can of other things.”
Jennings was opening everything up early, catching three straight passes on the game’s first drive and moving the chains with each one. He added a fourth catch on the opening drive and finished with 119 yards on nine grabs, topping his career best of eight catches, which he had accomplished six times, including three times in the playoffs.
Jennings and Finley both made their share of plays over the middle, where the Bears were trying to play their traditional “Tampa Two” or “Cover Two” scheme with two backup safeties. Craig Steltz and Brandon Meriweather were filling in for the injured Chris Harris and Major Wright, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers relentlessly attacked the middle through the air.
“We were definitely cognizant of that,” Jennings said of the Bears’ safety situation. “We did some different things, moved me inside, and we were able to work the middle of the field.”
The middle was so vulnerable that on the Packers’ final touchdown drive, after Finley caught a pass on the final play of the third quarter and tried to take himself out of the game to catch an extended breather, Jennings wouldn’t let him. Finley proceeded to catch a 15-yard pass on the first snap of the fourth quarter, moving the Packers into the red zone, and then two plays later he hauled in a 10-yard fade for his third TD.
“I was like, ‘Hey, no, get back in there,’” Jennings said of his message to Finley. “Afterward I told him, ‘That’s why you never take yourself out.’ We know he’s a great player. It’s just about making sure we can keep him on the field.”
Meanwhile Grant hadn’t been on the field as much in the first two games as he’d been accustomed to, seeing more of the running back snaps go to second-year man James Starks.
But on Sunday, Grant started strong with a 13-yard burst off right tackle on the game’s first snap, and he became the hot hand in the backfield. Here’s a rundown of his key runs:
Two carries for nine yards apiece on the second scoring drive that put the Packers up 14-0.
A 13-yard run on a field-goal drive late in the second quarter.
Runs of 14, 11 and 10 yards in a span of four plays on a field-goal drive in the third quarter.
And an 11-yard run early in the fourth quarter prior to Finley’s third TD.
Grant finished with 17 carries for 92 yards in all, his best numbers since late in the 2009 season, when he was finishing up his second straight 1,200-yard season. Most of his big runs came on cutbacks where he darted toward the backside almost immediately upon receiving the ball.
“One play I probably wasn’t supposed to cut back, but it worked out,” Grant said. “I’m reading the linebackers, with my steps and my position, and if they overrun, I’m just going to take what they give us. Some of the runs probably should have been front side, but as long as I have a good run they won’t say anything to me.”
Grant’s performance made up for a rough day for Starks, who had 11 carries for just five yards, plus a crucial fumble that kept the Bears alive in the fourth quarter. Grant wasn’t going to speculate on future playing time for either back, but he emphasized how important it is for the backfield to remain productive each week.
“The more balanced we are, the more balanced Aaron feels like we are, it gives him more confidence to do what he does,” Grant said.
The offensive trio of Jennings, Finley and Grant was certainly doing what it does best on Sunday, though nobody was saying he had hit his peak just yet.
“That’s the thing, I think all the players know that our best football is in front of us,” Finley said. “People say we’re playing like we’re in midseason form, but the people inside the locker room don’t think we’re in midseason form now. Our best football is ahead.” Additional game coverage - Packers vs. Bears