We’ll take it.
On a day when the defense got torched early and the offense struggled to find a rhythm throughout, somehow the Pack found a way to pull out a gritty win over the desperate Bengals and avoid a paralyzing early season home loss.
In a game like this, with six starters and a key reserve inactive, we had to hope a few guys would step up and seize their opportunity. Enter Josh Jones and Geronimo Allison, whose heroics made the difference in the Pack’s OT victory.
Let’s start with Jones. When Dom Capers decided to bench Quentin Rollins and move Morgan Burnett into the slot, it put the rookie safety into a centerpiece role in the nitro defense and Jones showed that his rare athletic ability and instincts will make him a playmaker in this defense as the season rolls on. The result was 12 tackles, 11 solo, three for loss and a pair of sacks. His open field tackle of the Bengals’ tight end on a third down play in overtime put the ball back in Aaron Rodgers’ hands. His day wasn’t perfect: he was mostly to blame when Giovanni Bernard was left wide open to walk into the end zone in the second quarter. But for the most part Jones earned the right to be a focal point of the defense.
Allison’s game-changing play was the long catch and run in OT, but he made a handful of great catches late, especially when the Pack was marching toward a game-tying score as the clock ticked down. I loved Rodgers’ quote after the game: “How’d this guy go undrafted? He’s fantastic.” With Randall Cobb’s injury moving Jordy Nelson into the slot, Allison got his chance and delivered, serving notice that he has the chance to be a major target in this offense in the next year or two.
After watching the offense struggle without its starting tackles in Atlanta, we saw much of the same for much of this day, especially when Bryan Bulaga re-aggravated his ankle injury and left in the second half. The bottom line is, if this team is forced to play without its tackles for an extended period, it’s in for a world of trouble. Kyle Murphy struggled all day and on the back end, the Bengals disguised their coverage enough to make it hard for Rodgers to find open targets. With a short week, there’s no guarantee either will be ready for the Bears on Thursday. Let’s hope they’re good to go with extra rest before the trip to Dallas.
As we headed into overtime, I couldn’t believe the stat that flashed on the screen. I knew that Rodgers was winless in overtime, 0-7, with three coming in the playoffs. I did not realize he had attempted a total of just six OT passes in those seven games–the Pack has shown a knack for losing the coin toss and then surrendering a touchdown to lose. When the Bengals won the toss, I had visions of some crazy, missed-tackles kind of play that would keep the streak going.
But the Pack’s D, which stiffened in the second half, forced a three and out and Rodgers and company took over, setting up Mason Crosby for the chip shot to allow the Pack to escape with the win. We can also thank rookie RB Joe Mixon, who showed he has the talent to be a star in this league, for slipping before a third and one handoff, forcing a field goal try and giving the ball back to Rodgers. If he converts there, there’s a very real chance the Pack is looking at a 1-2 start to the season.
There are plenty of concerns going forward: what’s up with Marcellus Bennett? Is Rollins a bust? Will the Pack’s running game get untracked? And most importantly, will the Packers have to play another game with six starters (plus key reserve Kentrell Brice) inactive?
The Bears have shown defensive chops so far, with a stunning win over the Steelers and a last second loss to the Falcons. And their running game is a real strength, which will test the nitro package all night long. Not to mention, they’ve won two of the last four at Lambeau. If we can get one starter back, I’d vote for Mike Daniels, who would be a major asset trying to stop Jordan Howard and electric rookie Tarik Cohen. We probably won’t know until Wednesday whether he, or any of the other injured guys will return. The team would love to be able to give them all some extra healing time, but the Pack could use some familiar faces back against the improved Bears.