GREEN BAY — Six days after Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy officially anointed Ty Montgomery a running back, the Packers’ budding weapon on offense put together a game for the ages.
In the fifth-coldest game in Soldier Field history, a sleeveless Montgomery carried the ball 16 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday afternoon, propelling the Packers to 226 rushing yards and a 30-27 win over the Chicago Bears.
With veteran James Starks out with the concussion he sustained in a car accident this past week, the Packers’ running game fell on the shoulders of Montgomery and recently acquired Christine Michael.
The cold conditions – 11 degrees at kickoff with a minus-4 wind chill – was one obvious reason to get the ground game going, but the backfield was even more critical for the offense with quarterback Aaron Rodgers dealing with a calf injury.
Montgomery, who converted from receiver in-season, helped lessen the load with a 123 rushing yards in the first half alone, including a 61-yard gain on the Packers’ second offensive series.
“Ty had a heck of a game,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He’s worked his tail off to be in this situation. Obviously it’s not ideal for you to be at this level of football and then switch positions in the middle of a season. To take that head on, it shows you the kind of person he is.”
The 61-yard gain – the longest by a Packers running back this season – came on what initially looked like a doomed play on the Packers’ first offensive snap of the second quarter.
However, Montgomery broke through two would-be tacklers and found space up the sideline. It was one of three carries that the 6-foot, 216-pound running back broke for at least 25 yards Sunday.
Montgomery started lining up in the backfield during the first month of the season as a change-of-pace option for the offense. However, injuries to Eddie Lacy and Starks resulted in him playing more over the past three months.
After a breakout performance against the Bears at Lambeau Field – nine carries for 60 yards – he demonstrated a lot of patience to double up on the production during Sunday’s rematch.
“Honestly I felt like half of Ty’s runs, he was just breaking tackle after tackle,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “It seemed like we didn’t really have to block anybody in order for him to squirt out of there. It’s just a huge day for him. He’s a guy who’s gotten better every single week.”
While Lang credited Montgomery for breaking tackles and earning extra yards after contact, the second-year running back threw the praise back at the offensive line for giving him the necessary lanes to break a big play.
Montgomery also lauded Michael for the four carries for 45 yards he provided in relief, the bulk of which came on a 42-yard touchdown run that gave Green Bay a 27-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.
“It’s always important to have a running game. It helps the pass game and the play-action,” Montgomery said. “I was glad it worked out. C-Mike, he came in and did a great job with the opportunities he had. The O-line was blocking, the perimeter guys were blocking. It was a great day on the ground.”
Montgomery’s first career 100-yard day allowed him to surpass Lacy as the Packers’ rushing leader this season. He’s registered 60 carries for 390 yards and three touchdowns for a robust average of 6.5 yards per carry.
The Packers jumped all the way from 23rd to 15th in the league rushing rankings with the 226-yard day. That’s exactly the type of production the Packers are looking for in December, especially in the wake of Rodgers’ injury.
As good as Sunday’s showing felt, Green Bay knows next week’s matchup with Minnesota will be another significant test for the ground game.
“That’s the production we’ve been looking for and striving for,” Lang said. “The challenge now is stay consistent with it and keep it up. We’ve proven that we can do it today against a very good defense. We’re going to have to rely on it here on out, especially with Aaron kind of limited in his movement back there. We have to make sure our run game is very effective week after week.”
Four more: The turnovers kept coming for the Packers’ defense in Chicago.
A week after forcing six takeaways in last Sunday’s 38-10 win over Seattle, the Packers generated turnovers on four consecutive drives in the second and third quarter against the Bears.
After defensive back Micah Hyde nabbed an interception on an attempted Hail Mary at the end of the first half, veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers earned a strip-sack and recovery of Chicago quarterback Matt Barkley on the first play of the second half.
Peppers now has 7½ sacks on the season, second-most on the team behind Nick Perry’s eight. It also marked his 25th sack as a member of the Packers, whose offense then took over at the Green Bay 16.
“That’s what ‘Pep’s’ been doing his whole career,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “It’s not surprise to me because of the way he practices. He doesn’t practice like he’s a longtime vet. He practices like a young guy, still hungry, still grinding.”
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix then ended the Bears’ next two offensive series with interceptions, both of which came on overthrown passes from Barkley.
The Packers’ offense scored 17 total points on the three third-quarter turnovers. It was the first time the Packers have recorded four or more takeaways in back-to-back games since Weeks 12-13 of the 2009 season.
“We’re getting it done the field and we just have to keep capitalizing,” said Clinton-Dix, who also had a two-interception game last month against Indianapolis. “We find ways to make plays when we need to make them and it happened.”
The Bears’ offense rallied for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and had a chance to potentially take the lead until Hyde deflected a pass intended for Chicago receiver Cameron Meredith.
Chicago then sent on kicker Connor Barth for the 22-yard field goal. While it tied the game at 27, it also opened the door for the Packers’ offense to get the win after Jordy Nelson’s 60-yard reception.
“That’s a big, big play for us,” Burnett said. “That was just as big as Jordy’s deep ball. That was a big play by Micah; that was a third-down stop. That saved it from being six points to only three, and then we went down and scored.”
Guard duty: T.J. Lang and Lane Taylor exited the game during the offense’s final drive after colliding on the second-down screen pass to Montgomery.
Taylor sustained a hip injury and returned. Lang stayed on the sideline, but said he should be OK in the locker room afterward.
“I hit right on the top of my head and felt everything go down my neck into my back,” Lang said. “It scared the hell out of me for a couple minutes, but I’ll be all right. It feels more muscular. I’ll do my treatment this week and be ready to go.”
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