Aaron Rodgers said it was a “gutsy call.” His smile suggested he had other adjectives in mind. “I’ll stick with gutsy,” he said.
It was the play of the game and it lifted the Packers to a 23-10 win over the Packers’ NFC North rivals to the south, the Chicago Bears. When the story of this season is written, the fourth-and-26 play that produced a shocking touchdown for the Packers will likely be included in a chapter entitled, “What if?”
The Packers led by only 3-0, though they had dominated the action. With 1:56 to play in the half, Mason Crosby was lining up an apparent 44-yard field goal attempt, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy had other plans. He felt his team needed something dramatic.
Holder Tim Masthay flipped a pass to reserve tight end Tom Crabtree, and 27 yards later Crabtree was in the end zone. It’s a play that rescued a half of domination that might’ve largely gone wasted. It’s a play that gave the Packers the lift it needed to continue their domination of the Bears into the second half.
“We were looking for a certain look from the Bears and they gave it to us,” McCarthy said of the strategy that went into his decision to attempt a fake field goal play on fourth-and-26 from the 27. Twenty-five yards wouldn’t have worked. Crabtree almost had to go the distance. He did. Amazing!
“You have to score on that,” Rodgers said, still smiling.
In a week when much of the football world was predicting a disastrous 0-2 start for the Packers, McCarthy, Crabtree and a rejuvenated Packers defense turned the tide. As much as this win will be remembered for Crabtree’s heroics, it will also be remembered for the resurrection of the Packers defense.
Thursday’s win is arguably the defense’s finest performance in two years. The Packers sacked Jay Cutler seven times and intercepted four of his passes. By game’s end, Cutler was wearing the same look of his frustration he wore after the Packers forced him to the sideline in the 2010 NFC title game.
“We want to play great defense. The team is known for offense. Frankly, I’ve always wanted to be known for defense. I’ve always stated that,” McCarthy said. “Clay was off the charts. That defense really flew around tonight. We got kicked in the ass four days ago.”
The Packers defense rallied around its opening-day failures. At a time when critics were saying, “Same old Packers defense,” the Packers used Thursday night’s platform to counter, “This is not last year’s defense.”
It’s a win that resembles none of last year’s 15. The Packers’ calling card, its passing game, struggled through a continued bout of the dropsies; it did not carry the Packers to victory, as it did 15 times last season.
On this night, the Packers won with defense, a strong running game and sensational special teams play, including Crabtree’s excellent moment and Mason Crosby’s three field goals, which included a clutch 54-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Had he missed, the Bears would’ve taken possession of the ball in excellent field position, trailing only by 10 points.
As much as the defense deserved to be celebrated, so did the emergence of the Packers’ running game. Cedric Benson pounded out 81 yards. He was the star of the early going, forcing the Bears to respect the run.
“They were about 90 percent cover two. We had to run the ball,” Rodgers said. “They’re very soft in the secondary … keep everything in front of them. We’d like to move the ball a little more effectively.”
The Packers would’ve moved the ball more effectively had they caught the passes they dropped. Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley had big drops in the first half that killed scoring drives that might’ve pushed the game out of reach early.
Fortunately, the defense came to the rescue. Isn’t that a change?