Every NFL fan believes their team has a chance of winning the Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers are among the favorites among even national media to make an appearance in Super Bowl LIII. The Chicago Bears, prior to the acquisition of EDGE Khalil Mack, were viewed as a one-foot hurdle to this goal.
Now, that hurdle has been upgraded. It requires a running start to clear and if you don’t clear it, you’ll fall flat on your face.
This is exactly what the Green Bay Packers did on Sunday night at Lambeau Field in Week 1.
Packers fans eagerly awaited an early evening kickoff after having to watch other teams triumph and fail all morning and afternoon just to have their hopes quickly crushed. The Packers struggled out of the gate against the Bears. In front of a sold-out Lambeau crowd, Green Bay’s first two offensive drives resulted in zero points and 24 yards. Meanwhile, Chicago came out on fire. Through two offensive series, the Bears had 126 yards of offense and 10 points for their efforts. The game was heading south quickly.
Then, star quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down. And with him, any aspiration of a season full of championships waned.
Rodgers, to the Packer fanbase, is a symbol of hope. His abilities are other worldly, and he puts on a show for the fans night after night and day after day. Rodgers is the beacon of hope that guides this Packers team and it’s fans.
Cue backup quarterback DeShone Kizer — a young man whom recently had a lot of faith instilled into him. After arriving in Green Bay via trade this past offseason, Kizer was able to push the incumbent backup quarterback, Brett Hundley, out of Green Bay. Kizer is the definition of raw. The arm talent is undeniable and the flashes are bright. However, a certain amount of development is necessary for all quarterbacks, and some require even more time to become a successful and smart NFL quarterback.
Kizer is a member of the latter group. Following the Hundley trade, questions arose about the hypothetical “what if?” scenarios for the Packers quarterback room.
Those questions came to fruition on Sunday night.
After a 300-pound defensive lineman fell onto Rodgers surgically repaired left knee, you could hear a pin drop. Fans were in disbelief; everything turned personal.
“No, not again,” you’d hear. “Why is this happening to us?”
Shock overcame the entire city located in southeastern Wisconsin. Everything that the team had been working towards was in shambles. The 2018 season was over before it even got started. This is the profound impact that Rodgers has on an entire team, fanbase and city. Hope follows Rodgers around like a lost puppy, following him wherever he goes.
Kizer’s insertion into the offense did not provide any kind of boost. The unit continued to struggle. The raw ability was displayed, yet the struggles caused Packers’ fans to hang their heads even lower. In two drives, Mack had changed the entire course of this game. On Kizer’s first drive, Mack caused a fumble which ended a promising Packers drive in its tracks.
On the second, Mack picked off an intended screen pass, which was a questionable play-call at best, and ran it in for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Rodgers has retired to his fortress of solitude with the medical trainers. After some deliberation, Rodgers was carted to the locker room. Surely, the Packers season was over. As fans watched their quarterback roll away, you could feel the existential dread overcome them.
I was one of them. You begin to question what is going to happen next. Why am I even watching this game anymore?
The Mack interception led the onslaught into halftime. The score was 17-0 when the teams left the field. The 10 minutes in between halves had to be the longest 10 minutes you’ve ever experienced. The Packers team that coaches boasted about and fans expected to see was nowhere to be found. Their fearless leader was surrounded in a shroud of mystery. The offense was stale. The defense was scrapping to keep the game close. Spiritually and physically battered, the entire Green Bay staff retired to the locker room to recoup.
While head coach Mike McCarthy and Co. scrambled to put together a battle plan, the beacon of hope began to flicker. When the team ran through the tunnel to start the second half, Rodgers trailed behind. Hobbled and vengeful, Rodgers returned to the field for the second half.
The Bears began the half with the football. Head coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky engineered a 13-play drive that eclipsed five minutes. The drive ended in a field goal, bringing the score to 20-0. Then, it began.
I don’t have the luxury of surprising you with an outcome. If you’re reading this article today, you already know what happened. But, the story will never get old. The second half of this story is one that will be told from generation to generation. This story is the kind that has the ability to manufacture and evolve a fanbase.
Rodgers, like a general would, worked his way down the field during his first opportunity of the second half. The drive ultimately stalled, but the Packers were on the board. Veteran kicker Mason Crosby put one through the uprights to decrease the deficit to 17 and apply even more fuel to the flame of hope, primarily fueled by the mere presence of Rodgers himself.
Then, a defensive stop. Just like that, the ball was back in the hands of the Twitter-proclaimed “GOAT.” Anxious Packers fans watched from the stands and couches across the nation as Rodgers orchestrated another scoring drive. Rodgers surgically moved the team into scoring position before dropping a dime in the back of the end zone to third-string wide receiver Geronimo Allison. On a throw that would have failed 999 times out of 1000, the Packers had cut the deficit to 10.
During the drive, the third quarter had expired and the fourth had begun. If you’re doing math at home, that puts the Packers down 20-3 at the beginning of the quarter. With a little over 14 minutes to go in the game, the Packers were down by only 10.
Then, another defensive stop. Now, it was real. Hope was now a tangible thing. You could feel it surfacing as Rodgers gingerly trotted onto the field for the next drive.
Once again, in an almost surreal fashion, Rodgers methodically moved the offense down the field. He continued to operate at will, eventually finding wide receiver Davante Adams in the flats. A shimmy here and a shimmy there and the next thing fans knew, Adams was diving for the pylon. It was another Packers touchdown. This one cut the Bears lead to a measly 3 points.
The responsibility had fallen back onto the defense. This was a unit that failed to live up to the task in the year prior, undergoing a bevy of changes and turnover in between seasons, and was now being put to the test. Thus far, they had held their own. They had ultimately given the team a chance to win the football game.
The Bears would receive the ball with about nine minutes remaining in the game. They had the opportunity to truly put a nail in the coffin of this Packers comeback. Trubisky led his team down the field. Green Bay was able to get themselves into several advantageous positions, but ultimately was unable to get off the field. Chicago was able to add a field goal to extend their cushion to six points at a score of 23-17. But, they left plenty of time on the clock. Rodgers once again gathered his teammates on the field for what appeared to be one final hurrah.
What happened next was truly magical. On a drive that appeared to be stalling and with it fans were brought back to reality. A 20-point deficit was simply too much to overcome. But, on a 3rd-and-10 in true Rodgers’ fashion, the quarterback who transcends the game of football was able to extend the play just enough for Cobb to wiggle free of his defender and create the slightest window of opportunity.
Rodgers hit that window and Cobb is off to the races. As Bears defenders frantically attempt to chase down the “Bear-killer” himself, Cobb followed his blockers all the way into the end zone for a 75-yard Packers touchdown. Cobb’s scamper was evidence. It was evidence that nobody is safe from the wrath of Rodgers, not even on one good leg. The duo had single-handedly powered the beacon of hope to full strength.
But, this game wasn’t over yet. While Rodgers’ legacy was blooming before our very own eyes, the quick score had left over two minutes remaining on the game clock. Plenty of time for the Bears to derail the emotional roller coaster that Packers fans had endured. From the deepest, darkest spots of their football souls, Packers fans had risen to their highest peaks of disbelief.
The Packers were now leading, 24-23.
The Packers defense did what they had done since the beginning of the second quarter. They shut down the Bears offense once again. After a first down, the Packers allowed two short complete passes and one incomplete pass to bring it to fourth down. This roller coaster isn’t over yet. Just when you think it’s about to end, it drops one more time and you are left screaming for your life as you plunge into the dark.
On this most crucial of fourth downs, veteran defender and once heralded hero of Green Bay, Clay Matthews, made one of the more uncharacteristic plays you’ll ever see from him. He was called for a roughing-the-passer call, which gave the Bears a fresh set of downs. In a bout with his internal emotions, Matthews lost the battle and could have cost Green Bay the war.
But, the defense would hold pat. As they had done all night, the defense would come in the clutch. The defensive stand would cement one of the most prolific comebacks in NFL history. The Green Bay Packers would receive the ball and take a simple knee to put an end to the madness.
A battle well fought, well earned and won, Rodgers sat in disbelief like with many fans as to the events that had just transpired. For some, it was the most emotional 15 minutes of football they have and ever will endure. For some, only Rodgers, it was just another day at the office.
Once the job is done, move on to the next task.
As I sat there in my pajamas, beer in one hand and my hat in the other, I just stared at my laptop screen dumbfounded. I racked my brain, but was unable to wrangle the raw emotions of the past hour and change. I could not believe Rodgers, in all of his greatness, had just completed what should have been considered a laughable task. But, it happened.
As Rodgers worked his way through the postgame formalities, he was calm as ever. Like nothing had happened. Like he could, and would and do it all again. As I sat there and tried to gather myself, I halfway expected Rodgers to just take off. Just fly away and return to save the day, like he always does.
But instead, he just went about his business while the rest of the world stirred around him.