CHICAGO – It wasn’t technically a Hail Mary, but the best Hail Mary team in football last season was at it again on Sunday.
There was more to it, though.
All the circumstances surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ dramatics in the Packers’ 30-27 walk-off victory over the Bears were strangely familiar.
The venue was Soldier Field, where he completed fourth-and-8 for 48 in 2013.
The injury was a bad calf, which didn’t slow him down in leading the Packers to the NFC title game in 2014.
And a 60-yard pass in the final half-minute with the game, and possibly the Packers’ season, in the balance? The prayer at Ford Field in 2015 was 61 yards.
“We fiddled around there on the first two plays,” Rodgers said, referring to the lead up to the third-and-11 bomb, as though it was planned all along.
That was as good as it gets for Packers-Bears, maybe just a tiny notch below the 2013 finish for the division title.
According to some stats floating around the internet late in the game, apparently neither team had ever come back from down 17 or more points to win in the history of the rivalry, and that’s now still intact after meeting No. 194 tied up the all-time series.
It’s a nice footnote, but what the Packers really accomplished on Sunday was finally finding their ground game for the stretch run.
Ty Montgomery’s performance was stunning, the way he broke free for plays that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. That’s what game-changing backs do, and Montgomery now proved he is one.
His 16 carries for 162 yards, coupled with Christine Michael’s 42-yard touchdown jaunt, gave the Packers 226 rushing yards, their most since last December vs. Dallas (230).
“This was surprising today,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think we expected to rush for over 200 yards. We had confidence in Ty and wanted to get him a number of touches, but this was definitely unexpected in the best way possible.”
Any doubts about the converted receiver being able to take the pounding of a feature back have disappeared.
“He’s a strong guy,” Rodgers said. “People don’t understand how built he is. He’s a compact, 220-pound guy who has good quick twitch, and he also has a really good stiff arm.
“He gets lots of yards after contact, and that says a lot about his ability to make something out of sometimes not much.”
Similarly, Rodgers did far more than even he expected while dealing with his bum calf. Right from the first drive of the game, Rodgers’ mobility in the pocket was a noticeable asset, and though he waited until the second half to really cut loose on a full-out scramble, he did what he had to.
McCarthy called his outing, which statistically won’t stand out at 19-of-31 for 252 yards and an 87.0 passer rating, “exceptional” given the minus-4 wind chill amidst everything else.
“It’s tough when you don’t practice,” McCarthy said. “It’s tough when you play a division opponent for a second time. To be able to manage the game plan and roll with the punches, I thought he did a great job.”
Rodgers feels he got out of the game “no worse for wear,” using both sideline heat and adrenaline to do more than originally planned.
The plan wasn’t to need heroics after taking a 27-10 lead with a dominant third quarter, but the same way this Packers team got up off the mat after four straight losses, it bounced back to throw a haymaker when the Bears clearly had them on the ropes.
“I think we have a lot of grit as a team, and we stick together in adverse situations,” Rodgers said. “There wasn’t any finger-pointing after 27-10 turned into 27-27, from either side.
“We just knew we had to go out and make something happen.”
What can they make happen from here on out? Who can wait? Two more wins means a division title and a home playoff game.
“It’s fun to be standing here at 8-6,” Rodgers said. “We all know what 4-6 felt like. That was tough. We were playing badly, taking it on the chin, rightly so, from the media.
“But we stuck together. I’m really proud of the guys.”
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