The Packers’ season was over a little more than 20 game minutes after it began. Aaron Rodgers seemed to have suffered a serious knee injury midway through the second quarter of their opening-night Sunday Night Football game against division rival/punching bag Chicago, and suddenly the greatest quarterback of his generation was at risk of wasting another chunk of his prime. As Rodgers was carted off, the air came out of not just the entire stadium, but the broadcast, too. Football fans everywhere had one thought: again? Rodgers’s face said what everyone was thinking.
Except it was just the prologue to what will become a defining game of his career. In one of the most remarkable second halves in recent memory, Rodgers returned and erased a 20-point Chicago lead — tied for the largest comeback victory of his career — and in the process cemented himself as the most irreplaceable player in football.
It’s hard to overstate how quickly things changed when Rodgers left. Khalil Mack ate backup quarterback DeShone Kizer whole, becoming the first defender to have a sack, interception, touchdown, forced fumble, and fumble recovery in a half since Lawrence Taylor in 1982 — and Mack did it in under three minutes. The Bears’ 17-point lead was their largest at Lambeau Field since 1948.
When Rodgers returned in the second half, the Bears had made that lead 20, and Rodgers clearly wasn’t 100 percent healthy. As NBC’s Cris Collinsworth noted, Rodgers was protective of his left leg. He changed the way he dropped back, stayed within the structure of the pocket and avoided putting weight on his left leg, nevermind taking contact. Yet Rodgers said in his postgame interview that playing in the second half wasn’t in doubt and that he told his teammates in the huddle, “We gotta make some plays.”
Make some plays they did. Rodgers completed his first five passes and led a drive that ended with a Mason Crosby field goal. When he got the ball back, he hit third-year receiver Geronimo Allison four times in six plays, including a 39-yard touchdown that wasn’t thrown so much as floated along a celestial parabola, cutting the lead to 10.
Rodgers gets this ball to Geronimo deep for the score.pic.twitter.com/lSsPjKu0uR— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 10, 2018
Rodgers is better on one leg than all but a handful of quarterbacks are with two. How on earth could the man who throws that pass also be on the verge of collapsing every time a Chicago defender gave him a tap on the shoulder?
A Bears three-and-out gave Rodgers the ball back, and he followed it up with a 51-yard pass to Davante Adams that set up a 12-yard touchdown to Adams three plays later.
Davante Adams leads the NFL with 23 receiving TDs since 2016 pic.twitter.com/i23iAPSvcV— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 10, 2018
A long Bears drive yielded a field goal but gave the ball back to Rodgers with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter. On first down, Bears corner Kyle Fuller could have ended the game when a Rodgers throw landed square in his chest — but he dropped it.
Against Rodgers, all you can ask for is one chance to end the game. Two plays later, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb over the middle, and Cobb caught the ball and ran, sprinting 75 yards and dodging defenders for a touchdown.
It was 17-0 at the half ...— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 10, 2018
And on one healthy leg, Aaron Rodgers brought the Packers all the way back
( NBC, 8:20pm ET)pic.twitter.com/WsODgXe810
After starting with three completions on seven attempts for 13 yards, Rodgers finished with 20 completions on 30 attempts for 286 yards, three touchdowns — all in the fourth quarter — and no interceptions. In the postgame interview, NBC’s Michele Tafoya asked Rodgers if he would be healthy enough for Week 2 against the Vikings.
“I’m playing next week,” Rodgers said.
Let’s never take Rodgers playing for granted ever again.