Khalil Mack had a strip-sack and pick-six in the first half of his Chicago Bears debut Sunday, and Aaron Rodgers went to the locker room on a cart.
The Green Bay Packers faced a nightmare scenario.
It didn’t matter, as Rodgers shook off a knee injury in the second half and led the Packers back from a 17-0 deficit for a 24-23 victory in the season opener at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
“It would have taken something really catastrophic to keep me off the field in the second half,” Rodgers said.
The catastrophe hit Green Bay in the first half in the form of Mack and a strong Bears pass rush.
Mack, the highest-paid defensive player in league history, had a strip-sack of Rodgers’ replacement DeShone Kizer in the red zone, then intercepted a Kizer pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown and 17-0 lead.
The Packers still trailed late in the third quarter 20-3 when Rodgers found Geronimo Allison for a 39-yard TD pass. He threw a 12-yard TD to Davante Adams with 9:01 left. The capper came on a short pass that Randall Cobb turned into a 75-yard TD play with 2:13 left for a 24-23 lead.
The knee didn’t hurt as much then, as when Rodgers left on a cart after Roy Robertson-Harris’ second-quarter sack.
“I just felt something in it,” Rodgers said. “I was having a hard time putting weight on it. Doc and I had a conversation then. I had a test. I told them I was going back.”
The Bears’ 17-point lead was their biggest at halftime in Lambeau Field in 70 years, but the Packers owned a 21-3 edge in the fourth quarter to ruin Matt Nagy’s debut as Chicago’s coach.
“I don’t know what type of injury he had,” Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said of Rodgers. “It seemed like he was wobbling around on one leg throwing and finding ways to make completions.”?
The Packers went to shorter passes in the second half to avoid a Bears pass rush that produced four first-half sacks.
“We just kind of let them get into a little rhythm,” Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “They took advantage of it.”
Rodgers finished 20-for-30 for 286 yards after throwing for 13 yards on 3-for-7 in the first half.
“He’s special, we all know that,” Nagy said. “So, you’ve just got to tip your cap to him. Man, what a hell of a competitor. The guy is out there playing injured and comes back and fights.”
Trubisky completed 23-for-35 for 171 yards, and the Bears offense failed to get into the end zone after Trubisky’s 2-yard TD run capped the first drive. They settled for three Cody Parkey field goals, including the last one for a 23-17 fourth-quarter lead.
“We moved the ball early and we moved the ball throughout the game, we just weren’t finishing in the red zone and finishing in critical times,” Trubisky said.
The Bears had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter after Parkey’s final field goal, but Fuller dropped what appeared to be a pick-six opportunity.
“Shoot there was a lot of other plays in that game that could have affected the outcome,” Nagy said.
Trubisky had a 2-yard TD run to end the first Bears possession. The Bears had more than half their yardage on the first two possessions, and they failed on a final two-minute drill for the win when Trubisky was sacked on fourth down by Clay Matthews at the Bears 38.
“Our guys are going to be battle-tested,” Nagy said. “They understand that. We’re a young team that is going to learn from these situations.”
Mack finished with three tackles, a sack, interception, touchdown, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in his debut after a week of practice. It couldn’t prevent the Bears’ fifth straight loss to the Packers behind Rodgers’ heroics.
“I don’t really think much changed,” Mack said.” I feel like we let them make too many big plays down the stretch, especially when you talk about throwing deep. We can’t have that.”