The game felt like the preseason postseason – sporadic, dull, and deeply disappointing to the Chicago Bears faithful who packed Soldier Field for Thursday’s opener against the Green Bay Packers.
The boos did flow.
The kickoff of the NFL’s 100th season was the Rust Bowl, an arrhythmic matchup of two teams who rested their starters in exhibition games this summer and wound up paying the price. No one was in sync.
Green Bay parlayed a touchdown and a field goal into a 10-3 victory, with Chicago mustering a mere field goal in the opening quarter.
“We’ve got a defense,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who gave defensive coordinator Mike Pettine a playful congratulatory shove on the sideline as the clock wound down. “Mike Pettine and his staff, it’s fun to watch. That was an incredible performance. Really happy for Matt [LaFleur] and his first win as a head coach… It’s a long season and we’ve got to get better on offense. But I’ll say it again, we’ve got a defense.”
NBC noted it was the only time since 1932 the Packers beat the Bears on the road despite scoring 10 or fewer points. The score of that game 87 years ago was 2-0.
Coincidentally, the first game of the 2019 season was similar to the last game of the 2018 season – the Super Bowl, in which New England beat the Rams, 13-3.
Thursday’s game pitted LaFleur, Rams offensive coordinator two years ago, and Chicago’s offensive artiste Matt Nagy, last season’s NFL Coach of the Year.
Offensively, though, this game was a stinker.
“Three points is ridiculous,” said Nagy, whose team was favored by 3½.
The most memorable play came on defense, when Green Bay safety Adrian Amos – who played for the Bears last season – intercepted a Mitch Trubisky pass in the end zone with two minutes, three seconds left.
Trubisky, who had a chance to forge a 10-10 tie, dropped back at the Green Bay 16 and threw into double coverage on the play.
“There’s no excuses,” Nagy said, speaking of the offense in general. “Everyone that showed up today that’s a Chicago Bears fan, they should be upset.
“We had a third-and-40 at one point. I don’t have a play call for third-and-40.”
The Bears weren’t alone. Even with the elite Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers stumbled out of the gate. They wore white, green and gold, but after one quarter were deep in the red.
They generated minus-12 yards on nine plays in the opening period, with just four minutes, 41 seconds of possession time. It marked the first time with Rodgers that Green Bay was in negative yardage numbers through the first three drives, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The Packers ran for one first down, and the Bears ran for three. Not the type of high-powered offenses NFL fans have come to expect.
The Packers converted 17% of their third downs (two of 12), and the Bears weren’t much better at 20% (three of 15).
Green Bay’s defense swarmed third-year quarterback Trubisky and putting the clamps on Nagy’s creative scheme to move the ball.
“We were uncharacteristic of who we are as an offense,” Trubisky said. “We just need to find our rhythm.”
The home crowd did have occasion to exhale, though, when first-year kicker Eddy Pineiro put the Bears on the board with a 38-yard field goal. Those kicks have been a painfully sore topic since Chicago was dismissed from the playoffs last season, losing to Philadelphia when Cody Parkey’s would-be game-winning kick ricocheted twice -- off the upright then the crossbar --before falling harmlessly to the ground.
But the Packers came to life in the second quarter. Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 47-yard gain, and followed that three plays later with an eight-yard scoring pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. For the Packers, it was a welcome reemergence of Graham, who caught just two touchdown passes last season.
Nagy didn’t seem to be putting a lot of trust in Trubisky, who seldom threw more than dump-off passes and checkdowns, and wasn’t aggressively pushing the ball downfield. At least three times in the first half, his throws were nearly intercepted. There was a lot of talk coming into the season that Trubisky would throw more deep balls this season. That might be true, but not in the opener.
“I’m in zero panic mode,” Nagy said. “I’m in frustration mode.”