Game Review: Clutch In Crunch Time To Beat Bears

The Green Bay Packers started 2009 by winning the type of game they couldn’t win in 2008, getting a late touchdown and interception to pull out a 21-15 triumph over the Chicago Bears. - More Packers-Bears Game Center | Photos | Video Highlights

The Green Bay Packers started 2009 by winning the type of game they couldn't win in 2008.

Needing a drive in the final two minutes for a go-ahead score, quarterback Aaron Rodgers delivered with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. And needing one final stop, cornerback Al Harris snagged the defense's fourth interception of the night to seal a season-opening 21-15 win over the Chicago Bears in front of 70,920 fans on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

"It was important for us to get a win like this tonight," Rodgers said. "It will build our team character, definitely."

Starting with the rising star of a quarterback. Dogged throughout his first season as a starter in 2008 with questions about his inability to pull out a victory in the final minutes, Rodgers took over on his own 28-yard line with 2:28 left and the Packers trailing 15-13.

The offense had struggled with pass protection and penalties all night, and had produced just 156 yards of offense up to that point. But after one first down and a 9-yard scramble set up third-and-1 at midfield, Rodgers took a shot to his go-to guy down the left side of the field, where Jennings burned cornerback Nathan Vasher and hauled in the pinpoint throw for an easy score.

A 2-point pass, also to Jennings, gave the Packers the six-point lead with 1:11 left and Rodgers his first game-winning drive down the stretch after a handful of failures in similar situations had contributed to the Packers' seven losses by four points or less last year.

"It gives me confidence, obviously," Rodgers said. "I don't think I've ever lost confidence in myself and my abilities. When you have some struggles and you make some throws you want back late in games, it's good to start the season out being in a situation where you're called upon and expected to perform late in the game.

"To be able in crunch time when it was needed to come up with a big throw and get it to our playmaker Greg, it was very important for myself and also for our team."

The defense had to make it stand up, though, something that unit didn't do a few times last year when Rodgers had led a go-ahead or game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.

This time it took just one play to get the crucial stop, as cornerback Al Harris stepped in front of wide receiver Johnny Knox on a slant route and picked off Jay Cutler's pass, the career-worst fourth interception for Chicago's new quarterback and a game-ender with 58 seconds to go.

"A lot of guys were very emotional after this game because we knew we lost a whole bunch of games, seven games like this last year," said cornerback Tramon Williams, who had one of the four interceptions. "And we came out the first game, put into the same situation, and came out on top."

With the offense struggling so much, the defense had kept the Packers in the game with turnovers and key stops.

Safety Nick Collins intercepted Cutler at the Green Bay 12 in the first quarter to thwart a potential scoring drive. Defensive end Johnny Jolly made an acrobatic, diving interception of a dump-off pass on third-and-goal from the 8, taking more potential points off the board after Cutler and Knox hooked up on a 68-yard bomb.

Williams then got his pick, returning it 67 yards to the Chicago 1 to set up a TD plunge by Ryan Grant.

"Our identity starts with our defense," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "To be plus-four in the turnover ratio versus the Chicago Bears, that speaks volumes. That was our number one emphasis coming into the game."

Grant's TD gave the Packers a 10-2 lead at intermission, with Chicago's points coming when Rodgers was sacked by blitzing safety Danieal Manning in the end zone, one of four Bears sacks on the night.

The Bears controlled the third quarter, though, getting a 36-yard TD pass from Cutler to Devin Hester and a 47-yard field goal from Robbie Gould for a 12-10 lead.

The Packers briefly re-gained the lead when the Bears tried an ill-advised fake punt from their own 26-yard line on fourth-and-11, snapping the ball directly to up-back Garrett Wolfe. Green Bay's Brett Swain made the tackle at the 30, and without netting a first down, the Packers kicked a field goal to go up 13-12 with 10:10 left.

The Bears countered with a long drive that ate up a little more than half of the fourth quarter (7:35). Helped by a dubious illegal contact call on Harris on third down to keep the drive alive, Chicago got all the way to the Green Bay 3, mostly behind running back Matt Forte (25 carries, 55 yards). But the defense held there, forcing the short field goal, and the Bears led 15-13 with 2:35 to go.

"That was big," Collins said of the goal-line stand. "Every guy, we have a chip on our shoulder. When they get in the red zone, we want to stop them, and at the end of the game, we want to finish games. That's our motto, and we did a nice job of that."

{sportsad300}The finish started with the offense, which looked to Rodgers to turn around an otherwise dismal night. The Bears played much of the game without two starting linebackers (Brian Urlacher, wrist; Pisa Tinoisamoa, knee), but the Packers were handcuffed by the four sacks for 34 lost yards, two critical holding calls, four rushes for negative yardage, and two deep throws to open receivers that were just off the mark.

"I was thinking, 'We're due. We're due for a good drive,'" Rodgers said. "I just told the guys, 'Hey, just give me one drive.' Up front, I went to the linemen and said, 'Hey, let's just protect this one drive. Give me some time, and we're going to go down and score.'

"As frustrating as it was at points in the game when we weren't playing well, I think inside we felt we could put together one drive when we needed it, and on the last drive we needed it."

They certainly did, and the result put Jennings (six catches, 106 yards) over the 100-yard mark and gave Rodgers a respectable 92.0 quarterback rating (17-of-28, 184 yards, 1 TD).

Meanwhile the defense ended a forgettable Chicago debut for Cutler (17-of-36, 277 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT, 43.2 rating) and gave the team a season-opening win for the third straight year.

"We wanted to get this one, and we got it," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "It came down to the wire. We needed to make big plays, and we made one on offense and one on defense. When you have your team coming up with big plays like that, when you need them, it's encouraging."

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