GREEN BAY – After the night morphed from a potential blowout into needing a goal-line stand to prevent the 78,350 Lambeau Field faithful from wondering if their Packers would become yet another Week 2 comeback victim on a wild Sunday of NFL football, Aaron Rodgers said what everyone was thinking.
"We've got a big one next week, a tough road trip," the four-time MVP quarterback noted, referring to next week's matchup with Tom Brady and the 2-0 Buccaneers. "This was better than Week 1, but we've got to be better than this if we want to compete with Tampa."
Rodgers was referring in part to his own play, and in part to a pair of inexcusable mistakes that didn't allow the Packers to put away the Bears as soon as they should have.
Rodgers threw only six incompletions, but two early on really annoyed him. He felt he had Allen Lazard for an 18-yard touchdown strike on the game's opening drive, but his pass needed to be just a touch higher and further outside. He also fired one badly at AJ Dillon's ankles in the flat, though the offense still scored its first touchdown on that drive.
The more glaring mistakes came in the third quarter, first when Rodgers and Dillon botched a handoff exchange, for which the QB took the blame. Up 24-7, the Packers had a first down at the Chicago 28-yard line and stumbled just as they wound up for a knockout punch.
Then on their next drive, second-year center Josh Myers fired a shotgun snap on one instead of two, and it hit rookie receiver Christian Watson going in motion. Fortunately Dillon recovered to bouncing ball, but the play lost 13 yards and another chance to extend the lead was wasted.
The miscues marred what was otherwise a statistically overwhelming performance by the Packers in total yards (414-228), first downs (26-11), third-down conversions (5-1) and time of possession (37:15 to 22:45).
Those ugly plays will keep the players' attention this week as they prepare to face the Buccaneers, who are coming off a triumphant defensive slugfest against their NFC South rival Saints, a nemesis that's had their number in recent years. Tampa Bay's defense managed five takeaways, so Green Bay won't be getting away with the blunders that became afterthoughts Sunday night.
That said, Rodgers emphasized he'll be sure to enjoy this win while also feeling pretty good about the production the backfield tandem of Aaron Jones and Dillon provided.
Their workload went from a collective 23 touches last week to 37 this week, for 237 yards – nine more than the Bears managed all game. Rodgers even said with Jones, who's beginning to line up or motion anywhere in the formation, the coaches are just "scratching the surface with him, which is fun."
While there are plays in every game plan for Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and rookies Romeo Doubs and Watson, Rodgers pointed out there's never a shortage of ideas when it comes to both running backs and their diverse skills as ball-carriers, pass-catchers and blockers.
"We've just taken a couple handfuls of those and there's a lot left in the bag," Rodgers said, likening plays to jellybeans and the playbook to said bag. "So we expanded from Week 1, but there's so much more that we can do with those guys."
The commitment to such dynamic running backs is imperative, but so is having other options at the ready if and when defenses overplay the backfield threats to force the Packers to go elsewhere with the ball.
See scenes from the Sunday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Sept. 18, 2022.
That might come as soon as next week with Tampa Bay's experienced, stout defense, and the receiving corps will need to come up clutch when called upon.
"This is going to be a really good football team in Tampa and obviously they're going to be expecting to be playing in January," Rodgers said. "So, I'm going to keep improving and find a way to get those guys confident and get them the ball in certain spots.
"But if we can run the ball like we did today, it alleviates a lot of the stress that we could feel had we not had 200 yards rushing."
The only stress against the Bears was self-inflicted. That'll change soon enough.