Make no mistake about it. The Green Bay Packers’ unforeseen 24-23 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night was one of legendary heights. A season that was nearly cast away at halftime roared back to life behind a jogging Aaron Rodgers and a rejuvenated second-half Packers squad.
While Rodgers’ heroics will be remembered in Packers lore for a long time to come, he could not have done it without the help of a few critical moments outside of his control. Here are five pivotal ones that changed the complexion of the game.
5. Bears’ Jordan Howard steps out of bounds.
With just over three minutes to play, Chicago’s lead back scampered 22 yards for a first down at the Packers’ 16-yard line. At first glance, Howard appeared to stay in bounds, forcing the Packers to take their second timeout. If that play held, it was going to be very difficult for the Packers to get the ball back with time left on the clock to score again.
However, Mike McCarthy’s first challenge of the season was a big one as video replay confirmed that Howard had stepped out of bounds at the 22-yard line. Not only did the ball move back six yards, but the clock was stopped and Green Bay received its timeout back. That extra stoppage would play a critical role, as the Packers used their final two timeouts after the next two Bears’ plays from scrimmage.
4. Bears come up short on third-and-one
The critical restored timeout would have been all for naught had Chicago converted a short third-down opportunity. The Bears, seemingly gashing the interior of the Packers’ defense at will throughout the game, decided to throw for a first down rather than run again. With coverage doing its job, Mitchell Trubisky’s errant pass to Anthony Miller ended up on the ground with 2:47 remaining.
A first down would have allowed the Bears to run out the clock and a touchdown would have closed the game. But Green Bay’s defense held Chicago to a field goal and another clock stoppage gave Green Bay more than enough time for a final scoring drive. A curious playcalling strategy from the Bears in the second half gave the Packers extra help on Sunday night and this play in particular is one Matt Nagy would love to have back.
3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix makes one-on-one third-down tackle
Clinton-Dix has been a topic of heated scrutiny for the better part of the past year. His physicality has been routinely called into question, while his angles to the ball carrier have allowed for some big plays. But on Sunday, the former first-round pick came up with one of the defensive plays of the night.
On another critical third-and-one early in the third quarter, Clinton-Dix was able to stonewall Bears tight end Dion Sims for no gain after a completion, forcing a punt. The play was designed to have the majority of the offense moving to the right for Trubisky to throw back to the left and isolate Sims in space. It would have worked if Clinton-Dix, the only defender in sight, would have taken a poor angle to the ballcarrier. But on this play, he did not, failing to budge on an impressive one-on-one tackle to force a punt. Had Clinton-Dix missed, Sims had nothing but green in front of him.
After the Packers had scored a touchdown to cut the game to 24-10 on the previous drive, the three-and-out preserved the momentum for the Packers to reach the end zone again.
2. Mike McCarthy brings out the field goal unit for the Packers’ first points
Down 20-0 past the mid-point of the third quarter, the Packers had driven down to the Bears’ 23-yard line and faced a 4th-and-9 situation. Even with a long distance to go, it would have been easy for McCarthy to choose to go for a touchdown on that drive, especially with Rodgers pleading to stay on the field. Heck, I, myself, did not see the point of kicking a field goal in a three-touchdown game in which the Bears were scoring with relative ease.
But Green Bay notched a field goal to cut the lead to 20-3. As they say, the first points are the hardest. The Packers would score every possession from that point on and the first field goal was ultimately the difference in a tight, fourth-quarter contest.
1. Kyle Fuller drops a game-sealing interception
The excitement of Randall Cobb’s 75-yard catch-and-run would not have been possible without Fuller’s missed opportunity. Signed to an offer sheet by Green Bay in the offseason, Fuller had a rough night, allowing a long touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison earlier in the game. He then missed a chance to finish the game when a first down pass was signed, sealed, and delivered to him, only to have the ball slip through his hands. Davante Adams and Bryce Callahan collided on the play, resulting in an uncontested pass that would have theoretically ended the Packers’ chances of finishing the comeback. Instead, the Packers scored two plays later to take the lead for the first time and never looked back.