GREEN BAY, Wis. – GREEN BAY, Wis. – As debuts go, this one was pretty impressive – at least for a while.
New head coach Matt Nagy’s offense looked nothing like Bears offenses of recent years in an impressive start to the season opener Sunday night. In the early going, the Bears’ offense was innovative, productive, interesting and exciting; all aspects that have gone missing in recent Bears attacks.
But the Bears were unable to finish what was once a 20-0 lead over the Packers, and they ultimately endured a crushing 24-23 loss.
“I know our guys are bummed,” Nagy said. “But we learn from it. We see how we can get better and that’s what we’ll do. We have to learn to finish.”
The Packers’ offense, behind two-time MVP QB Aaron Rodgers was held to minus-3 passing yards in the first quarter. But after leaving the game with a knee injury, Rodgers returned to lead a late, furious comeback. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 286 yards, three touchdowns and a 130.7 passer rating, including 39- and 75-yard TD passes in the fourth quarter, when the Packers outscored the Bears 21-3.
Veteran OG Kyle Long said there was a lesson in the loss.
“We learned we can compete with anybody on their field,” he said. “This is one of the toughest environments to play in.”
The Bears scored on their first two possessions of the game and began the second half in the same fashion, driving 60 yards on 11 plays before settling for Cody Parkey’s 33-yard field goal that gave them a 20-0 lead. QB Mitch Trubisky’s five completions on the drive went to four different players, FB Michael Burton, RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and rookie WR Anthony Miller.
“I was really impressed with how he commanded the huddle and extended plays,” Nagy said of Trubisky who, after a hot start, cooled off and finished with a 77.2 passer rating, completing 23 of 35 passes for 171 yards. He also ran seven times for 32 yards.
Nagy’s controversial plan of resting most of his offensive starters, including Trubisky, in three of the Bears’ five preseason games did not appear to have a negative effect on their performance. The second-year quarterback threw just 18 passes in the preseason, but he came out looking sharp, completing eight of his first nine passes for 99 yards in the first quarter. Employing different personnel groupings on nearly every snap and multiple formations, the Bears offense kept the Packers’ defense off balance while driving 86 yards for a TD with its first possession of the season.
“I knew we could do that,” Nagy said of the opening drive. “They didn’t get a lot of chances to do that in the preseason, so to see that they could do that was nice.”
But the offense couldn’t maintain the early momentum and couldn’t finish in the end zone on drives that ended with short field goals of 26, 33 and 32 yards.
“Ultimately it falls on us with the execution,” Trubisky said in assessing the blame for the flameout. “We just have to continue to stay aggressive. We moved the ball early, and we moved the ball throughout the game. We just weren’t finishing in the red zone and finishing in critical times. We just have to go back to work and figure it out. But we can’t let one game dictate the rest of the season for us. It’s one game.”
The Bears’ offense was far from perfect, but it was certainly an upgrade. In the previous five meeting with the Packers, the Bears failed to score more than 17 points four times while winning just once.
Just in the first half, Trubisky completed passes to six different receivers, as the Bears outgained the Packers 160-71. Then, on the first possession of the second half, Trubisky made it eight different pass catchers with short flips to Miller and Burton. But, after that, Trubisky threw for just 35 more yards.
“I felt like I left a lot of throws out there,” Trubisky said. “I just have to be better. I’m definitely not near where I want to be. The red zone and on third down is where you make your money in this league.”
The Bears converted a respectable 41 percent of their third downs, but they settled for field goals after having drives bog down at the Packers’ 8-, 15- and 14-yard lines.
On their second possession of the game, the Bears went 60 yards in nine plays but settled for Parkey’s 26-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter and a 10-0 lead. The key play on that drive was as leaping grab by Allen Robinson (four catches, 61 yards) of a jump ball on which he outfought Packers first-round draft pick Jaire Alexander for a 33-yard gain.