But the Packers overcame a handful of injuries, a sub-par day from their Pro Bowl quarterback, and an unexpected change under center for the Eagles that almost led to a stunning comeback. Ultimately, Green Bay held on for a 27-20 season-opening victory at Lincoln Financial Field when the defense stopped Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick on fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 42-yard line with under two minutes left.
“Finally,” linebacker Nick Barnett said of getting a win here. “We’ve had a lot of heartbreaks on this field. Fourth-and-26, a lot of other different situations. It feels good to leave this field, finally, with a win.”
The Packers not only erased 48 years of bad history – nine straight losses in Philly since 1962, including that infamous 2003 playoff game with the fourth-and-26 conversion – but proved at least for now they have what it takes to pull a game out when things start to go a little haywire.
Running back Ryan Grant left the game with an ankle injury, the defensive line was down to two healthy members and a third in Cullen Jenkins playing with a broken hand, and Vick suddenly reverted to prime form when pressed into duty, running for 103 yards, throwing for 175 and nearly bringing the Eagles back from a 17-point hole in the fourth quarter.
“It was gutty,” receiver Donald Driver said, echoing a comment made by Head Coach Mike McCarthy after the game as well. “It wasn’t one of those things where we went out on offense and put up 45 points and made it look easy. It was a tough one. We knew it was going to be tough.”
For a while it didn’t look like it would be that stressful.
After a slow start that included an interception and three sacks on the Packers’ first three drives, the offense found its rhythm by scoring on four straight possessions spanning the end of the first half and start of the second. In the final two minutes of the second quarter, the Packers put up 10 points, as Driver caught a 6-yard touchdown pass and Mason Crosby set a franchise record with a 56-yard field goal as the clock expired for a 13-3 halftime lead.
The Packers carried that momentum into the second half when Charles Woodson forced a fumble from Eagles running back Eldra Buckley on the opening possession of the third quarter. Tramon Williams recovered, and the offense capitalized with a 62-yard TD march. Stepping in for Grant, Brandon Jackson (18 carries, 63 yards) and John Kuhn combined to rush for 35 yards on the drive, with Kuhn scoring from 3 yards out to make it 20-3.
The teams then traded touchdowns on the next two possessions. Vick, taking over in the second half for starter Kevin Kolb (concussion), showed what was to come in the fourth quarter by scrambling for 31 yards to set up a 12-yard TD run by LeSean McCoy.
“It threw a curveball in the game with him coming out there,” Barnett said.
It certainly did, because Kolb had managed to produce just 49 yards of offense for the Eagles in the first half. He was sacked twice and nearly intercepted twice before linebacker Clay Matthews caught him from behind late in the first half and his head hit the turf hard. Even with Vick’s first full possession ending in the fumble, the Eagles offense put up 124 yards on its first two drives of the second half, more than doubling the first-half total.
But the Packers quickly restored their margin to 17 as Jordy Nelson returned the ensuing kickoff out to midfield and the offense needed just four plays to score. Greg Jennings hauled in a perfectly thrown 32-yard TD for a 27-10 lead with 1:56 left in the third.
That was the last hurrah for the offense, however. On their next three possessions, the Packers gained a measly 11 yards with a three-and-out, a third-down interception by Rodgers, and a drive that picked up just one first down before ending in a punt.
“I played terrible,” Rodgers said. “Probably about as bad as I can play, so that’s a good thing (that we still won). Gotta get better. Missed a lot of throws … that I make in my sleep, so I’m disappointed about that.
“It’s disappointing as a quarterback playing the way I did because I felt like we could have put a lot more points on the board and given our defense more of a break.”
Rodgers finished 19-of-31 for 188 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 73.1 rating. That efficiency rating is the second-lowest for Rodgers in his last 21 regular-season starts. The struggles late were especially costly on third down, as on Rodgers’ last three third-down throws he was incomplete twice and picked off once.
“We have to extend series in the football game, especially at that particular time,” McCarthy said. “Our defense was on the field way too much in the second half. We’re short defensive linemen and we’re playing against a very mobile quarterback. That was a tough, gutty performance by our football team.”
With Rodgers sputtering, Vick was bringing the Eagles back, scrambling and throwing his way to a 72-yard touchdown drive. He hit Jeremy Maclin for a sliding 17-yard TD catch to make it 27-17, and then, after the turnover, he drove the Eagles to the Green Bay 5. But the defense stopped a shovel pass cold and Vick threw incomplete on third down, leading to a field goal and a 27-20 score with 5:43 left.
That proved to be a big stop, as the Eagles got one final chance with 4:13 left but needed a touchdown. Vick overcame two sacks to set up the fateful fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 42, and out of the shotgun he ran a quarterback draw. The Packers were prepared for it, and Matthews stuffed Vick in the hole for no gain, sealing the victory.
“To end the game on fourth-and-1 with a quarterback in the backfield who has a number of different options, that’s a big play by our defense,” McCarthy said.
And a big win, all things considered, to start the season.
“You can always build on wins,” Woodson said. ‘We showed some toughness.”