Sunday night was The Aaron Rodgers Game. It’s the game we’ll bring up first when we talk about Rodgers’ career many years from now.
Every great, memorable performance typically has a team on the other side that blew it. We just don’t talk about their role in history very often. Playing the role of the 1992 Houston Oilers, 2016 Atlanta Falcons or 1980 Russian hockey team on Sunday was the Chicago Bears.
There have been a million words written and said about Rodgers since the Packers’ amazing comeback on Sunday night, so let’s focus on the other side. The Bears choked. There’s just no way around that. As ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt noted, the Packers were 0-107 all-time when trailing by 17 or more points going into the fourth quarter. Now they’re 1-107. After the game Bears coach Matt Nagy talked about how proud he was for his team fighting and all of the coachspeak you’d expect, but it’s not like we all didn’t watch the franchise’s most embarrassing loss in probably 30 years.
Here’s a reminder of how the Bears blew it:
• Kyle Fuller dropped an interception that would have sealed the game. It happens, but that one hurts. A few plays later, Randall Cobb was running through the Bears defense to the end zone for the go-ahead score.
• The third-and-1 pass attempt in the final minutes was bad. Coaches get worried about not losing their aggressiveness that they pass up the obvious calls. Think about Kyle Shanahan in the Falcons’ Super Bowl loss. Jordan Howard just had a 12-yard run to set up the third-and-1, and should have gotten the ball again.
I assume Nagy will learn from that. It was his first game as a head coach. That happens too.
• The Bears strangely didn’t keep sending waves of defenders at Rodgers, who was compromised by his knee injury. If you watch Cobb’s game-winning score, notice Khalil Mack starting to rush, then dropping back into coverage. That doesn’t seem like the best plan.
• The Bears perhaps had a chance to maybe stop the comeback before it started. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth wondered, if the Bears could extend their 17-0 lead on their first possession of the second half, would the Packers risk bringing Rodgers back. I wondered the same. Alas, the Bears got deep into Packers territory and settled for a field goal. Rodgers played.
• The Bears offense looked good in the first quarter, and bogged down in the second half. When a team blows a 20-0 lead, part of the equation will usually be that the offense didn’t do its part. Chicago’s offense helped blow it, even at the end when it had a chance to answer Cobb’s touchdown and got nothing going.
• A hidden play: With less than 13 minutes left, the Bears had a third-and-1. Clay Matthews was late to get off the field, and if Trubisky had just called for the snap when Matthews was running off, the Bears would have caught the Packers with 12 men on the field and had a first down. Rodgers, a more experienced quarterback, would have caught that 100 out of 100 times. Then on the play itself, the Bears threw behind the line of scrimmage and it was stopped short of the first down. It seems minor, but every play like that matters in a 1-point loss.
A lot went wrong. Mentally, it will be tough to turn the page after feeling like they should have beaten a rival and done so easily. But when Nagy started his news conference after the game with a sunny outlook, he might not be wrong.
The Bears played well, for a half at least. An all-time great quarterback made plays in the second half to beat them. But there were plenty of positives around that. The offense looked creative and fun. While Trubisky needs to be much more consistent, he made some nice throws and plays with his legs too. Allen Robinson looked healthy. Mack was amazing just one week after joining the team. Had it just been a garden-variety 24-23 loss to a good Packers team, the Bears would have come out of Sunday night feeling pretty good. And they should still feel that way, if they can get focus on the positives instead of how they lost. There’s a lot to build on.
The Bears have an interesting Monday night matchup next week against the Seahawks. There were enough positive signs to feel good about where the Bears are headed, even if most of them disappeared in the second half of a gut-punch loss. This can still be a good team, the one we saw in the first half before Rodgers tore their hearts out after halftime.
Here are the power rankings after Week 1 of the NFL season:
32. Buffalo Bills (0-1, Last week: 31)
Yep, they have to be No. 32 after that. At what point does Sean McDermott’s infatuation with Nathan Peterman end? It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s 2023 and McDermott is talking himself into Peterman getting just one more chance based on the second half of a third preseason game.
31. Cleveland Browns (0-0-1, LW: 32)
Well, the Browns aren’t last anymore. But before we get too excited, let’s keep this in mind: The Browns were at home, were plus-5 in turnover margin, and still couldn’t win. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out that since 1999, when the new Browns were born, teams at plus-5 or better in turnover margin are 132-4-1 … and the Browns have two of the losses and the tie. But they didn’t lose at least.
30. Arizona Cardinals (0-1, LW: 28)
Not sure where the Cardinals go after that performance on Sunday. If you are utterly uncompetitive against Washington at home, which games are you going to win? On the bright side, we’re only four months away from the annual offseason tradition of everyone telling each other than Sam Bradford is actually really good despite what he has shown on the field over his entire NFL career.
29. Indianapolis Colts (0-1, LW: 30)
The Colts had a good chance to beat the Bengals, thanks to Andrew Luck. The game was a lot closer than the final score, thanks to a fumble return touchdown by Cincinnati when Indianapolis was driving with a chance to take the lead. Keep in mind that it’s incredibly rare for a team with a top-level quarterback to sink too low. But the roster around Luck is just not NFL quality.
28. Detroit Lions (0-1, LW: 19)
Oh no. Seemingly every year we see some really weird result in Week 1, something that looks crazy by the end of the season. The Lions better hope that’s what just happened, because for one night they looked like the worst team in the NFL outside of Buffalo. We’ll see if they bounce back. But that was an awful first game for head coach Matt Patricia in every possible way.
27. Oakland Raiders (0-1, LW: 25)
Derek Carr has to play better than he did in Week 1, but Amari Cooper’s lack of production is becoming a real problem. It’s hard to believe someone with Cooper’s talent, who has had NFL success, could suddenly be awful at age 24. But he was bad most of last season and put up one catch for 9 yards against the Rams. Not good at all.
26. Tennessee Titans (0-1, LW: 17)
It’s hard to imagine a much worse Week 1 for the Titans. They lost to the Dolphins, which shows they still have a long way to before we take them too seriously. Marcus Mariota got hurt again, which is a recurring theme. Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, one of the NFL’s best linemen, suffered a concussion. And tight end Delanie Walker, the most reliable player in the skill-position group, is done for the year with a brutal ankle injury. What a bad way to start the season.
25. Miami Dolphins (1-0, LW: 26)
I’m not exactly sure how good the Dolphins are after that weird opener, but I do think it’s pretty obvious Kenny Stills is in for a big year.
24. New York Giants (0-1, LW: 24)
I generally don’t like to move teams too far up or down after one game, because it’s just one game. And sometimes it’s just a bad matchup. If you thought the Giants offense would bounce back this season, I wouldn’t give up that hope yet. The Jaguars defense is going to make a lot of teams look bad.
23. New York Jets (1-0, LW: 29)
Since I don’t like completely overreacting to Week 1, I’m not sure what to make of the Jets. I don’t truly believe what we saw Monday night is what we’ll see all season (they’d be the 2007 Patriots if that was the case). But they looked good in every way against the Lions. Let’s put it this way: They’re worth watching the next few weeks, to see if Monday night was a sign of things to come.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0, LW: 27)
It’s a good problem to have, but think of what happens if Ryan Fitzpatrick plays two more good games as Jameis Winston serves his suspension. If we’re being realistic and put aside whatever we may think of Winston, the Bucs are invested in him. Teams don’t just move away from 24-year-old quarterbacks as good as Winston. The Buccaneers certainly aren’t moving on from him for a 35-year-old journeyman like Fitzpatrick. But what if Fitzpatrick plays well a couple more times, they stick with him and Fitzpatrick plays just well enough to keep the job and the Buccaneers go 7-9 or 8-8? It’ll be fascinating to see how the Bucs play it.
21. Seattle Seahawks (0-1, LW: 21)
Aside from Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin might have been the one guy the Seahawks couldn’t afford to lose. The group of skill-position players around Wilson while Baldwin is out is shockingly thin.
20. Washington Redskins (1-0, LW: 23)
When you have one data point on teams, it’s hard to determine if it was “winning team is better than we thought” or “losing team is worse than we thought.” I think Sunday’s Washington win told us more about the Cardinals. But I’m keeping an open mind to the Redskins being a team that surprises us. I just need to see more than a win over the Cardinals.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0, LW: 22)
Joe Mixon looks like the player a lot of people felt was a top-10 talent, even though he slipped to the second round because he punched a woman at Oklahoma. He might have a monster season as a true dual-threat at the position.
18. Chicago Bears (0-1, LW: 20)
This needs to be repeated: Khalil Mack was incredible on Sunday night. It’ll be a ton of fun to watch him in that defense all season.
17. San Francisco 49ers (0-1, LW: 16)
There’s not too much to be taken from the 49ers struggling against a very good Vikings defense. However, it’s also fair to wonder if maybe the 49ers aren’t just going to move on from the Jerick McKinnon injury that easily. Alfred Morris and Matt Breida did almost nothing in the opener, and there’s no guarantee that’ll change much.
16. Dallas Cowboys (0-1, LW: 14)
It’s going to be tough for Dak Prescott. He’s a good player, and it seemed like he could survive by spreading the ball around. And maybe that’s what will happen the rest of the season. But it’s clear the Cowboys dealt him a bad hand. He has no help at receiver or tight end, and that’s inexcusable given how little cap space the Cowboys are allocating to their quarterback.
15. Houston Texans (0-1, LW: 15)
There’s no shame in losing at Foxborough. The Patriots played very well, especially on defense. And the Texans didn’t have dangerous receiver Will Fuller. Still, Deshaun Watson did not have a good game. He admitted that. We’ll chalk that up to a tough Week 1 matchup, but let’s see how he looks in Week 2 at Tennessee.
14. Denver Broncos (1-0, LW: 18)
Case Keenum did some good things in his first Broncos game. He obviously has a good connection with Emmanuel Sanders. But the three interceptions were troubling. It didn’t hurt the Broncos on Sunday but it’s an issue worth watching.
13. New Orleans Saints (0-1, LW: 5)
In 2014 and 2015, the Saints ranked 31st in yards allowed. In 2016, they were 27th. In each of those seasons, Drew Brees was asked to do too much and the Saints finished 7-9. Last season the defense improved and the Saints became Super Bowl contenders. The only logical explanation, after seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick carve up the Saints, is that 2017 was a fluke for the defense. Maybe the defense will rebound, but there’s no good excuse for what happened on Sunday. Against the Buccaneers, the Saints defense simply looked like it stinks again.
12. Baltimore Ravens (1-0, LW: 13)
If Joe Flacco has a good season, let’s not insult him with the “He was motivated and played well because the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson” narrative. Flacco is a professional; I assume he cared about his job long before Jackson got to town. How about we look at the new targets the Ravens got Flacco — Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead — who all caught touchdowns on Sunday. Maybe getting Flacco real pass catchers helps more than some nebulous story about lighting a fire under him.
11. Atlanta Falcons (0-1, LW: 10)
The longer it goes on, the more inexplicable the Steve Sarkisian hire becomes. The Falcons had plenty of other candidates to pick from with a lot more NFL experience. But, like we’ve said often in this space this week, it’s just one game. We’ll see.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (0-1, LW: 9)
I don’t get how a team this undeniably talented can disappoint every single season. They better put a heck of a statement game on the Bills in Week 2 to get anyone back on their bandwagon.
9. Carolina Panthers (1-0, LW: 11)
Greg Olsen’s foot injury is not good news for an offense that doesn’t have a ton of pass catchers, especially since first-round pick D.J. Moore (17 snaps, zero targets on Sunday) is buried on the depth chart. Cam Newton usually makes it work, but it’s not an ideal situation.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0-1, LW: 8)
By now, I think everyone who follows the NFL with any degree of seriousness knows the multi-year trend that Ben Roethlisberger is great at home and much worse on the road. On the road Sunday, he wasn’t very good (though it was in a rainstorm). I have no idea how to explain his extreme home/road splits. It’s inexplicable.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0, LW: 12)
Think about this: Sammy Watkins, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce did practically nothing and the Chiefs put up 38 points on a good (I think?) Chargers defense. Let’s get crazy and predict that Watkins, Hunt and Kelce will be just fine this season.
6. Green Bay Packers (1-0, LW: 7)
I don’t think Aaron Rodgers sits on Sunday. But it’ll be a nervous afternoon for the Packers. They play the Vikings, who have a fierce defense, and we’re not quite sure yet if Rodgers’ mobility will be back at anything close to normal. It’s a definite concern.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0, LW: 6)
Leonard Fournette’s hamstring injury doesn’t look like a multi-week injury. Coach Doug Marrone said it’s minor. The concerning part is maybe this is just what Fournette is. Going back to college, nagging lower-body injuries have always been an issue.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0, LW: 4)
There’s a lot of talk about Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, but it seems like that has overshadowed that the Eagles defense looks even better and might carry the team no matter who is at quarterback. Matt Ryan did look bad, but the Eagles defense had a ton to do with that.
3. New England Patriots (1-0, LW: 3)
The Patriots’ pass rush looked much improved from last season. It’s just one week, but that’s a great sign for the Patriots.
2. Los Angeles Rams (1-0, LW: 2)
If what we saw Monday night is what we’ll see from the Rams defense all season, we might be looking at a team that has a 13-3 type season. Because we know the offense is going to be very good.
1. Minnesota Vikings (1-0, LW: 1)
The offensive line, which is the Vikings’ only glaring weakness, wasn’t great in Week 1, allowing three sacks and not opening up much for the run game. But it was good enough. Especially if the defense keeps showing up like it did on Sunday.
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