Mike McCarthy had preached all week that the start of Sunday's game against the defending NFC North champion Chicago Bears might go a long way in determining how the game would play out.
But that start was a rough one for the Green Bay Packers that never got any smoother in McCarthy's NFL head-coaching debut Sunday.
The Bears scored on the game's opening possession, and the Packers' offense struggled mightily in early short-yardage situations, ultimately leading to a 26-0 defeat in front of a Lambeau Field record crowd of 70,918.
It was the first time the Packers had been shut out since Oct. 17, 1991, when these same arch-rival Bears won 10-0. But more importantly, all the implications surrounding this game make the loss a missed opportunity that won't make the work between now and the season's first win any easier.
"It's disappointing," McCarthy said. "It's not the way you want to start the season, not the way you want to start your home opener. It's a division opponent. It's disappointing."
The Bears' offense did all it needed to in the first half, scoring four of five times it had the ball.
Rex Grossman quickly quieted the supposed quarterback controversy in Chicago, hitting Bernard Berrian for a 49-yard touchdown less than 3 minutes into the game.
On their next drive, a 27-yard completion to Muhsin Muhammad had the Bears in position for another score, but pressure from Aaron Kampman forced Grossman to make an ill-advised throw to triple-covered tight end Desmond Clark. Linebacker Nick Barnett made a leaping interception in the back of the end zone to keep the score 7-0.
The Bears extended the lead soon enough, though, as a 33-yard completion to Clark and a 17-yard run by Thomas Jones got Chicago into the red zone again. A Kampman sack forced the Bears to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, the first of his four field goals on the day, making it 10-0 with 13:44 left in the first half.
"We have to be able to bounce back from early blows like that and get back in the game," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "It just continued to mount against us."
That's because the failure of the Packers' offense to convert short-yardage situations kept Chicago in control.
Ahman Green was stuffed by linebacker Lance Briggs for no gain on third-and-1 and Brett Favre got stepped on by left guard Jason Spitz dropping back from center on third-and-3 to force punts on Green Bay's first two possessions.
The Packers finally crossed midfield on their third drive, but Green was stopped inches short of the first down on third-and-1 at the Bears' 44. The Packers decided to go for it but Favre's quarterback sneak gained nothing.
"For an offensive line, that has to be the biggest disappointment," rookie right guard Tony Moll said. "We have to get our job done. For that to happen third-and-1, third-and-short,...you have to get your guy blocked and get across the first-down marker."
So many missed opportunities with the game still in the balance could only leave the Packers wondering if just one sustained drive might have been able to shift the momentum. The Packers finished just 1 of 11 on third downs.
"Those are big plays in the game," right tackle Mark Tauscher said. "You convert a few of those here and there and the entire game could have been different. But we didn't, give them credit, and we have to work on that."
Chicago took advantage of the fourth-down stop, driving into field-goal range again. A Grossman sneak converted a fourth-and-short at the Packers' 22, but on the next series defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins snuffed out a third-down draw play to Jones, and the Bears settled for a 39-yard field goal and a 13-0 lead.
At that point, the field goals weren't allowing the Bears to run away with things, but the defense wasn't turning the game in Green Bay's favor, either. Though he threw just the one touchdown pass, Grossman finished the first half 12 of 16 for 184 yards.
"We have to come up with more turnovers," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We can't give them field goals. The field goals, they keep adding up."
Turnovers ended up being the Packers' undoing, as a fumble by Noah Herron on a kickoff return set up another Chicago field goal. Later with the offense in desperation mode, Favre threw two interceptions. He finished 15 of 29 for 170 yards and was sacked three times.
"We wanted to set the tempo early, establish the running game, and not get into a drop-back passing game with them," Favre said. "Once we fell behind, then we had to try to do something, that's when they went to their Cover 2."
Penalties didn't help either, as the Packers were flagged for back-to-back holding calls near the end of the third quarter to put them in a nearly impossible down-and-distance. Also, a last-ditch attempt to block a Bears' punt resulted in a roughing the kicker flag.
The Bears' special teams got into the act again to finish the scoring, as rookie Devin Hester returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, making it 26-0.
"I know we're young and we're going to make mistakes that way, but I know we can play much better than that," Favre said.
"The good thing about a young team is guys are resilient. We're no different than any other team in this situation, you just bounce back."
That's really all the Packers can plan to do with the long season ahead. No one was going to minimize the disappointment of such a rough game to begin the season, but no one believes the 2006 Packers showed who they are on Sunday either.
"I didn't envision starting this poorly," Tauscher said. "I felt really good coming into this game. I thought we're in a great position here ... there are so many naysayers and so many doubters, it would have been a great day to go out and play well and...kind of shut some people up. All we did is kind of feed into it.
"We're really going to have to unify in here, come out, work hard and try to right things up."