Packers’ defense throttles Bears to win opener

LB Preston Smith
LB Preston Smith

CHICAGO – The word Matt LaFleur used was appropriate.

Smothering.

That’s how the Packers’ new head coach described his defense Thursday night after it shut down the Bears in a 10-3 season-opening victory to kick off the NFL’s 100th season at Soldier Field.

“It seemed like they were all over the place,” LaFleur said of the Packers’ defenders.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s crew kept the Bears out of the end zone, racked up five sacks and got the game’s lone turnover at a crucial point.

Former Bears safety Adrian Amos haunted his former team with an interception on Mitch Trubisky’s third-down floater to the back of the end zone with two minutes left.

The Bears had reached the Packers’ 16-yard line, their deepest drive of the game, but on third-and-10 Trubisky lofted one into triple coverage and Amos made an over-the-shoulder grab to silence the crowd of 62,435.

One final last-ditch drive by the Bears was snuffed out by Preston Smith’s fourth-down sack, the free-agent newcomer’s second sack of the game. Fellow free-agent pass rusher Za’Darius Smith also had a sack, as Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst’s new defensive additions were the stars in their first game as Packers.

“They gave us a big boost, that’s for sure,” LaFleur said. “It was great for Adrian to come in here and close out that game with a pick right there at the end.

“I’m extremely happy Gutey and his crew did a great job of getting those guys for us, because they were a difference tonight.”

The Bears got one early field goal, thanks to great field position when the Packers’ offense was sputtering out of the gate. With their kicking situation a troubling story since last January’s playoff loss, the Bears also passed on a chance at a 51-yard attempt in the third quarter and went for it, unsuccessfully, on fourth down.

Chicago finished with just 254 yards, were 3-of-15 on third down (plus 0-of-2 on fourth down) and only got Trubisky (26-of-45, 228 yards, 62.1 rating) comfortable in short and fleeting spurts.

On the other side, it was a tough slog for LaFleur’s new offense, with the stout Bears defense picking up where it left off last year.

Three straight three-and-outs (with two sacks) for minus-12 yards to open the game were flat-out ugly, but the second quarter began with a play-action deep shot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to jump-start things.

“It was a huge play in the game,” LaFleur said. “It gave us the spark we needed.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had called a timeout right before the play with the play clock running down, but during the break he and LaFleur decided to stick with the deep call. It featured two play-action fakes and gained 47.

A rapid-fire series of completions followed, capped by an 8-yard touchdown catch by tight end Jimmy Graham, erasing Chicago’s early 3-0 lead.

After that, all the Packers mustered was a long drive for a field goal in the fourth quarter – a crucial possession, which started at their own 6-yard line. A pair of 28-yard passes to Trevor Davis and Robert Tonyan were the highlights.

But LaFleur and Rodgers were the first to say there’s a long way to go on offense after mustering just 213 yards, going 2-of-12 on third down and taking five sacks. Both said they shoulder plenty of the blame – LaFleur wanting to review his plan and his calls, Rodgers saying he needs to get the offense in and out of the huddle faster.

Just 47 collective rushing yards, 39 from Aaron Jones on 13 carries, made things difficult throughout. But unlike Trubisky, Rodgers (18-of-30, 203 yards, 91.4 rating) didn’t make any major mistakes.

“I think it is definitely a growing process for sure,” Rodgers said. “Again, that’s a really good defense, and they’re going to give a lot of people fits.”

But the Packers’ own defense disrupted the Bears even more, which had Rodgers smiling plenty after the game.

“That was just a dominating performance,” Rodgers said. “It gives you a lot of confidence when you play like that on offense and you win by a touchdown.”

The Packers’ special teams played a part as well, as second-year punter JK Scott posted a 43.6-yard net average on nine punts to keep from losing the field-position battle after the rough start.

Scott’s booming 63-yard punt with just over 90 seconds left, coupled with a Bears penalty on the return, forced Chicago to start its last drive on its own 14.

The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears kicked off the NFL's 100th season at Soldier Field.