It was the air of mystery surrounding this Packers-Bears opener that had us so intrigued. For the first time in a generation, we had no idea what the Green Bay Packers would get out of their quarterback.
There was certainly reason for hope, with three years of apprenticeship under a future Hall of Famer and some proven quarterback coaches. But when Jordan Love was officially handed the reins to the offense on Sunday, he had to put aside the pressure of replacing a legend. He also had the backdrop of the opening matchup: on the road against the team’s oldest rival, one whose fanbase believed the Bears were finally ready to end 30 years of Green Bay utterly dominating them.
But Love proved more than ready for his closeup. He wasn’t perfect, by any means. He missed a few throws and some of his deep shots were off kilter. But when he hit Romeo Doubs on a third-and-13 on the opening drive to move the sticks, he delivered his first ‘oh my’ moment. The Pack marched down the field and scored — something they accomplished only once last season on an opening drive — and Love had sent an early message.
The most encouraging aspect of his performance? He was brilliant on third and fourth downs: 8-10 for 141 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. He completely outplayed Justin Fields. Minutes after the game, the powers that be had declared Love the Bears’ new owner on the team’s Wikipedia page. But he’ll need to stack a few more wins together in this rivalry before he assumes that mantle.
I was perturbed at halftime. Sure, the Packers led 10-6, but there was plenty to nitpick.
After that beautiful opening scoring drive, the offense went into hibernation. Just 100 yards in the first 30 minutes. After Aaron Jones‘ productive opening drive, his mug might as well have been on a milk carton because that was the last time we saw him on the field.
On top of that, Matt LaFleur bungled the clock at the end of the half, missing a chance to get more safely into field goal range and scrambling to call a timeout with four seconds left. Rookie Anders Carlson was unperturbed and drilled the 52-yarder — a very promising start to his career.
The most promising aspects of the first 30 minutes were Jordan Love’s spectacular opening drive and the play of the defense. It started with Green Bay’s fourth down stop on Chicago’s opening drive and making big plays on third downs to hold them to field goals.
When the Pack got the ball to start the second half, we were all stunned to see Jones back on the field. I thought LaFleur had forgotten he was still on the team. Jones dominated in a 75-yard touchdown drive, on the ground and through the air, with a sweet 51-yard catch and run. A few plays later, he punched it in and the Pack led 17-6.
Jones put the game away on the next drive with the 35-yard TD reception from Love. When he grabbed his left hamstring and kept right on running into the tunnel, our excitement was tempered with the fear that yet another skill player had been bitten by the hammy bug. Jones said it wasn’t serious after the game, but we’ll have to monitor his health throughout the week.
Jones reminded everyone that he is the engine that makes this offense go. The difference when AJ Dillon is on the field is stark. He looks nothing like the promising, bruising back we saw a couple of years ago. It’s confounding that LaFleur and Adam Stenavich don’t make Jones the centerpiece of the offense. Hopefully Sunday’s performance hammered that point home.
With no Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs playing about half the snaps, the passing game had to look the rookies’ way. We saw some nice production from Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave. However, the latter had to be replaying his big catch in his head as he tried to sleep, knowing that he stumbled away his first potential NFL touchdown. Reed was fun to watch as a punt returner too; I love how he pauses for a second when catches the ball, surveys the scene in front of him, and then takes off. He is lightning quick and decisive.
I’ll give the defense a solid B for the day, understanding that they weren’t facing a formidable offense. The Bears still have major issues on the offensive line, and Fields just isn’t good enough at this stage to get past that. The Packers dominated up front, with Devonte Wyatt providing hope that he’s ready to take a second-year leap. He caused mayhem all afternoon. Rookie Karl Brooks delivered a big sack, as did Lukas Van Ness, who showcased his speed with an impressive takedown of Fields in the open field.
As expected, Jaire Alexander made D.J. Moore an afterthought and Quay Walker’s pick-six that delivered the dagger was the chef’s kiss for Joe Barry’s unit. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion when he was hit at the goal line, so we’ll see if he can play next week when the Pack comes calling on Bijan Robinson and the Atlanta Falcons.
The only real quibble with the defense was the number of penalties, including a couple of late hits that were probably a product of the chippiness that comes with the rivalry. They need to clean that up and be much more disciplined, because they have the talent to become the identity of this team. And how great was it to see Rashan Gary back on the field? He only played ten snaps but pressured Fields on half of them.
The 2023 opener was all Packer fans could ask for. Love was the NFL’s highest rated passer for the day, the defense bottled up Fields and the team reminded the Bears that they have a long way to go before this series becomes competitive again. There is no more beautiful sound in the universe than boo birds chirping at Soldier Field.
The season will likely be a roller coaster, with growing pains to be expected from the league’s youngest team. But Week 1 provided hope that this team is ready to prove they can once again be a factor in the NFC North, even without a Hall of Fame gunslinger leading the way.