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Best thing to build on is crunch time for Packers

All three phases passing early tests has value for 2019 team


GREEN BAY – The book on the Packers after one game is the defense and special teams are off to a great start, and the offense has some catching up to do.

All true.

But the aspect to Green Bay's Week 1 victory at Chicago that may be most important moving forward, beginning with the home opener Sunday against Minnesota, is how all three phases faced different crunch-time tests and came through.

Games in the NFL, more often than not, come down to making the plays when they matter most, which means late in the fourth quarter with the score tight. It's a proving ground each and every year – does a team have what it takes when the game is on the line?

"Yeah, that's life in the National Football League," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "To me, that's every game. We need guys to step up and make plays when we need them. Fortunately for us we had a lot of guys do that and the result speaks for itself."

A review of the clutch moments at Soldier Field shows how strong a building block that win can be. Let's start on offense.

With 11:48 left and the Packers leading 7-3, the Bears pinned Aaron Rodgers & Co. on their own 6-yard line. It was the third time in the game the Packers had to start a drive at their own 12 or worse, and the previous two attempts produced very little.

This time, a pair of 28-yard passes to Trevor Davis and Robert Tonyan in a span of three plays got the Packers out of the hole and on the move. Helped by an illegal contact penalty on the Bears on third down in Chicago territory, Rodgers got the offense into Mason Crosby's range for a field goal that pushed the lead to seven points.

The 10-play drive consumed 6½ minutes and left just 5:15 on the clock.

"That was a big drive," said Rodgers, whose heads-up 10-yard scramble on third-and-12 from the Chicago 31 shouldn't be forgotten. It made Crosby's field goal a much higher-percentage kick.

"In that situation next time we'd like to truly get it to a two-score game and not just a field goal, but it got us back in position, 'Mace' drilled it, and obviously our defense came up with a couple big stops."

Those stops in the last five minutes concluded an impressive defensive effort from start to finish, an effort that might have gone for naught with one untimely breakdown. But that didn't happen.

First, after the Bears put together their best and longest drive of the game, safety Adrian Amos picked off QB Mitch Trubisky in the end zone on third-and-10 from the Green Bay 16. Then, a four-and-out was capped by a sack in the final minute and a half, with the Bears unable to mount another threat.

"That was huge," Lowry said of the way the defense finished the night. "Going into the game, we knew it was a prime-time game, the whole country was watching. So we wanted to really create an identity for ourselves being a top-five defense in the NFL, and we think we're on track to doing that."

Special teams did its part in a couple of instances, too. Crosby followed up his field goal with a perfect, bounding squib kick that forced the dangerous Cordarelle Patterson to take a knee in the end zone. Given Patterson's track record, any high, deep kickoff that didn't clear the back of the end zone was coming out, and Crosby took away the opportunity.

Then, after the offense stalled following the Amos interception, second-year punter JK Scott boomed a 63-yarder that sent returner Tarik Cohen running back to make an over-the-shoulder catch on his own 10-yard line. A penalty on Cohen's return made the Bears start their final desperation drive on their own 14, an effective net of 59 yards.

"Mentally, the key would be remaining the same," Scott said of executing in the most important moments. "Don't change. Don't do anything different. Don't try to kick harder, don't try to create something when you're out there. Really just stay the same, do the same things, and you'll get the same results."

Given all that transpired down the stretch in Week 1, it's fair to say the offense is still the one playing catch-up. Crunch time mirrored the game as a whole.

As Rodgers noted, a touchdown to make it a two-score game would have been ideal, or one first down in the final two minutes after the pick would have rendered Scott's punt and the last defensive stand unnecessary. There certainly was room to do more.

But some level of clutch success for all three phases this early is invaluable for LaFleur and his first Packers team. Sure, burying the opponent early and cruising through the second half, as the Vikings did last week to the Falcons, gets the job done as well. No one would ever trade a convincing win like that as a similar boost of confidence.

How and where the Packers won their first game, though – with key plays at crunch time, on the road against a division rival – should pay dividends throughout 2019, perhaps as soon as Sunday in another important NFC North tilt.

"To see all phases of the game, everybody making the plays they're supposed to …," veteran corner Tramon Williams said. "If we can continue to do this consistently throughout the year, we'll be tough."

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