GREEN BAY – Roughly two weeks before signing the richest contract in NFL history, Aaron Rodgers spoke about what he might be able to accomplish once the deal was done.
“If something does get done, it’s fantastic. It’s great,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said. “Then, I’d think about that I can finish my career here – hopefully. And that changes the down-the-line stuff. The legacy stuff can be even more important.”
On Sunday night, in a stunning 24-23 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, Rodgers added to his legacy – in dramatic fashion.
After leaving the field on a cart with what appeared to be a serious left knee injury during the second quarter, the Packers’ $134 million man returned after halftime and was virtually perfect in leading his team back from a 20-0 deficit. He did it by completing 17 of 23 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns – including the go-ahead 75-yarder to Randall Cobb with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game – for a passer rating of 152.7 after the injury. A perfect passer rating is 158.3.
“This will be one I definitely smile about,” said Rodgers – smiling as he said it. The win matched his biggest comeback as the Packers’ quarterback, having also led the team back from down 20-0 in his unforgettable Hail Mary win at Detroit in 2015.
“This is what we’re paid to do. We’re paid to deal with injuries and play through them. That’s the measure of a teammate – what are you willing to put on the line for our team? And for me, it’s a no brainer. Being out there is special. The ovation from the crowd lifts you up.
“This will definitely go down as one of my favorite memories, especially in this rivalry – and we’ve had some fun ones. Those are special moments to me, with the tradition and history of this rivalry. When you play here, you know how special is to play here.”
But victory seemed quite impossible as Rodgers rode to the locker room in the passenger seat of a medical cart with 9 minutes, 12 seconds left until halftime and the Packers down, 10-0. While Rodgers ended up missing only two second-quarter offensive series, it must’ve seemed like an eternity to the crowd of 78,282 inside Lambeau Field and the millions watching on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast.
“That’s what rivalry games look like,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Aaron Rodgers was remarkable. I just can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
The Green Bay Packers kicked off the 2018 regular season with a stunning comeback victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
It all began when Bears defenders Roy Robertson-Harris and Khalil Mack had converged on the Packers’ two-time NFL MVP quarterback, with Rodgers getting caught beneath them. Robertson-Harris wound up landing on Rodgers’ left knee with much of his 294 pounds of body weight, and Rodgers immediately reached for and clutched the knee – the same one in which he’d torn the anterior cruciate ligament as a high-schooler in Northern California.
In the moment, the outcome of the 100th season opener in Packers history didn’t seem to matter much.
After nearly 10 minutes in the blue sideline medical tent, Rodgers emerged, walked gingerly to the cart parked nearby, and sat down dejectedly in the passenger seat, while athletic trainer Nate Weir and team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie rode in the back. As he was driven to the locker room, Rodgers shook his head, pulled the brim of his baseball cap down low and rubbed his knee – as television cameras zoomed in on his eyes, which appeared red around their edges.
“I was in a lot of pain,” Rodgers said. “You want to walk off the field on your own, but when I put a little weight on my leg, it was definitely painful. At that point I wanted to wait and let Doc give it a quick check. We went under the famous blue tent and decided we needed to get some more testing done back up here. Once I realized I wasn’t going to injure it any more …”
Away he went. When halftime ended, there was Rodgers, first walking and then jogging out of the tunnel he’d just entered on a cart. Once he reached the Packers’ sideline, he called for a warm-up ball and began playing catch with Cobb and backup quarterback DeShone Kizer. After the Bears got the ball to start the third quarter and drove for a field goal that made it 20-0, Rodgers went to work.
On his first drive, a 46-yarder that ended in a field goal, Rodgers threw on his very first play, completing an 8-yard slant to Davante Adams. But the drive stalled just shy of the Bears’ red zone, when a third-and-9 pass over the middle to tight end Jimmy Graham fell incomplete and Rodgers didn’t get the free play he thought he had, forcing the field goal.
“I was a little ticked off that we didn’t catch them with 12 (men on the field) there and we had to kick the field goal,” Rodgers confessed.
After the defense forced a punt, Rodgers went to work. After being pressured into an intentional grounding penalty, he hit Geronimo Allison with a 15-yard laser across the middle on third-and-14 to keep the drive going. Two more completions to Allison, a 10-yard strike to Cobb and an 8-yarder to Ty Montgomery as he was being tackled as he threw set up an exquisite 39-yard strike down the right sideline to Allison, who reeled in the picture-perfect throw in the back right corner of the end zone to make it 20-10.
And when the defense got another stop, Rodgers turned it into more points – this time with a 51-yard catch-and-run by Davante Adams leading Adams' 12-yard touchdown to make it 20-17.
“The protection was really good,” said Rodgers, who had been 3 of 7 for just 13 yards and been sacked twice before his injury – but was never sacked after it. “Obviously being more of a statue back there, I had to deal the ball on time. But the protection was really good and the guys made plays.”
While the Bears appeared poised to ruin the feel-good story by grinding out the final 9 minutes of clock, the Packers defense – with the help of McCarthy’s replay challenge to save a timeout and some time on an out of bounds call – forced the Bears to settle for a field goal with 2:39 to go.
Three plays and 26 seconds later, Rodgers was hitting Cobb for the game-winner, a 75-yarder that Cobb caught at the Green Bay 36-yard line and sprinted the rest of the way.
And by night’s end, Rodgers was walking up the tunnel, left fist high in the air, a wide smile creasing his face.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Rodgers said. “After it was decided I was going to come back, I knew it might give us a little jolt. We just had to play a lot better football in the second half – and we did.”