Coming off a rough day in Kansas City and with two players filling new spots, the Packers offensive line was considered the biggest question mark heading into Sunday night’s game.
It provided some emphatic answers in helping beat the Chicago Bears, 35-21.
The adjusted line, with T.J. Lang at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith taking Lang’s customary spot at left guard, did not allow a sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 33 drop-backs (29 pass attempts, four scrambles) against Chicago’s formidable front four.
OK, so there was one meaningless sack of backup QB Matt Flynn for a one-yard loss late in the game after Rodgers departed. But with all due respect to Flynn, it’s the hits on Rodgers this season that have been troubling, and the press box statisticians credited the Bears with just one hit on Rodgers all night.
“Definitely big for us today to go pitch a shutout in the sack category,” Lang said. “We took a little bit more pride protecting Aaron. The past couple games we knew he was getting hit way too much.”
Rodgers was sacked four times last week in Kansas City, the fourth time this season he absorbed four sacks in a game. Sunday night’s goose egg in the sack category was a first for Rodgers since Week 7 of last season, or 28 starts ago.
With 17 one- or two-sack games since then, there had been plenty of solid work in between. But it was last week’s performance in particular that was getting a lot of scrutiny because it factored significantly in the Packers’ only loss, and the line – even a somewhat makeshift one – was looking to bounce back.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of talking (during the week),” Lang said. “Everybody understood the urgency level we had to have to win those one-on-one battles and keep him clean, because he can make a lot of big plays when he’s not getting touched, as he did today.”
Rodgers took advantage of the pristine protection to throw a career-high five touchdown passes, tying a franchise record. His 142.7 passer rating was his third highest this season and fourth above 140.
“Execution and finish,” center Scott Wells said of the key to holding Julius Peppers and the Bears’ other pass-rushers at bay. “I think guys stayed on their guys through the whistle, which was really emphasized this week, and the guys that shuffled around did an excellent job of working on skills this week and making sure they were focused and doing it the right way.”
As for the shutout, don’t think the linemen didn’t know that when Rodgers threw his fifth TD pass on the second snap of the fourth quarter for a 35-10 lead, he had yet to be sacked.
“We were aware of it, yes,” Wells said with a smile.
Rodgers’ receiving corps rebounded similarly in its second contest without top gun Greg Jennings. After a game of drops and struggles getting off Kansas City’s press-man coverage, the receiving quartet of Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb combined for 14 receptions, 216 yards and four scores.
Nelson and Jones led the way with two touchdown receptions apiece, the first two-TD game of Jones’ career. Nelson topped the list with six catches for 115 yards, including a superb 55-yard touchdown on that patented play-action bootleg bomb that has worked for a handful of TDs to various receivers all season.
“We just executed,” said Nelson, who now has 12 TD catches on the season and went over 1,000 yards in a season for the first time. “It’s nothing we haven’t done all year besides last week. Last week it was something different every play that went wrong and we weren’t able to get in a rhythm.”
Sunday’s rhythm didn’t come right away, as the Packers had three straight three-and-outs after an opening TD drive. But beginning with the two-minute drill to end the first half, the offense scored touchdowns on four straight drives to blow the game open.
Jones started the onslaught with a 32-yard catch-and-run on the second snap of the two-minute drill, setting up his own 2-yard TD, and the big plays followed in the second half from all the sources. Ryan Grant busted a run for 24 yards, Nelson had his 55-yard TD, Cobb had a 19-yard catch, Driver had an 18-yard grab, and Nelson added a 25-yarder on a back-shoulder throw.
“James made a big play,” Nelson said. “You need one of those in the two-minute drill to get you down the field and get you in position for at least a field goal, and then if you get a touchdown, it’s icing on top. It got us going and got us points on the board.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Bears