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McCarthy on Jones: ‘Looks like he never left’

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The Sports Xchange

GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers mentioned the words “a good start.”

Unlike the previous three seasons, when the Green Bay Packers walked out of their first game with a loss, they returned to Green Bay on their quick flight from Chicago on Sunday with a 1-0 record.

“To start the season with a division win, a win against your rival, is obviously of importance,” head coach Mike McCarthy said about the 31-23 road victory over the rival Bears. “It also states the fact that this is our starting point. This is who we are as a team.”

Indeed, the Packers showed they still have the firepower on offense to contend for supremacy in the NFC, as predicted by many, even without Jordy Nelson. The playmaking receiver won’t play this season because of a torn ACL.

For at least one week, Rodgers isn’t hampered by Nelson’s absence. Rodgers was nearly perfect throwing the football in limited chances as Chicago relied on a ball-control game plan.

Surrounded by a still-capable cast of receivers featuring Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and the newly returned James Jones, Rodgers went 18-of-23 passing for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

Jones shared a starring role with Rodgers. A week after rejoining the Packers after being let go by the New York Giants, Jones had two touchdown catches to stake Green Bay to a 17-13 lead it didn’t relinquish in the second half.

“James looks like he never left,” said McCarthy, referring to Jones’ departure as a free agent after the 2013 season. “He’s in playing shape. Aaron and JJ have the connection.”

Now, the Packers will look to start 2-0 for the first time since they won their first 13 games in 2011.

They host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night in a rematch of the NFC Championship that Green Bay threw away in the final minutes of regulation and lost in overtime eight months ago.

–Jones led all NFL players in 2012 with 14 touchdown receptions.

Jones is well ahead of that pace for a 16-game season after what he pulled off in the Packers’ season opener Sunday.

Only a week after he returned to Green Bay following a season of being away, Jones reprised his knack for getting to the end zone and scoring on throws made by Aaron Rodgers. Jones had two touchdown catches, including an impressive one-handed grab in tight coverage, to help the Packers rally for a 31-23 road win over the Chicago Bears.

“No disrespect to James, but I don’t think it was that out of character. I really don’t,” Rodgers said. “I think that’s a credit to him and the way that he approaches his job.”

The return of Jones could be a boon for a Packers offense that is playing the entire season without top receiver Jordy Nelson, who suffered a torn ACL in preseason play. Now 31 years old and in his ninth pro season, Jones showed Sunday he still can be a force working on the perimeter and outmuscling defensive backs for the football.

Saying he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder after first being cut by the Oakland Raiders in the spring and then the New York Giants on their final cut, Jones finished Sunday’s game with four catches for 51 yards.

“Like many other guys who have gone elsewhere and come back, there’s a comfort, I think, within this offense for guys who have flourished at times, and I think he’s one of those guys who really feels good in the offense,” said Rodgers, who flourished against the Bears by going 18-of-23 for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS

PASSING OFFENSE: B – No season-opening letdown for the reigning NFL MVP. Aaron Rodgers & Co. didn’t have many opportunities to work with the football Sunday. When the offense did, however, Rodgers was incredibly efficient, completing all but five of his 23 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. His mistake-free performance yielded an exceptional passer rating of 140.5. Better yet, Rodgers was hardly touched, as he avoided taking a sack and managed to skirt what little pressure he felt by relying on his unstoppable mobility and pulling the football down when warranted for some big gains in the open field. Meanwhile, Green Bay’s first true test without having top wideout Jordy Nelson, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, went better than many expected. That’s because the second coming of veteran James Jones in a Green Bay uniform yielded big results with two touchdown catches – another pair of would-be TD catches by Jones (four receptions, 51 yards) was wiped out by penalty. Fellow starting receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams combined for nine catches and 97 receiving yards as Cobb, who played despite coming in a with a sprained shoulder, led Green Bay with five receptions, including a touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus – For the first time out, the Packers had moderate success on the ground. That hasn’t been the case in recent years. Notoriously slow starter Eddie Lacy churned out 85 yards in 19 carries for a solid average of 4.5 yards. Lacy essentially put the score out of reach with a two-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes to play before the Bears responded with a touchdown in the final minute. Although Lacy had two explosive gains of 16 and 15 yards, the running game was far from crisp for the Packers. Of their 133 rushing yards, 35 came from the heady and nimble Rodgers on keepers. Another 11 yards came from tight end Richard Rodgers on an improvised open-field lateral from Rodgers. James Starks, the team’s No. 2 halfback, played sparingly and had only two carries for all of two yards, though he converted a fourth-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter with a three-yard run, extending what turned out to be a pivotal 16-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that put Green Bay ahead 24-16.

PASS DEFENSE: C – A defense that played on its heels most of the game waited on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to predictably make a mistake. Sure enough, after going more than 55 minutes without a turnover, Cutler threw an ill-advised pass to tight end Martellus Bennett over the middle deep in Green Bay territory, and roving Packers linebacker Clay Matthews jumped in front of Bennett to pick it off to foil Chicago’s late rally. Matthews’ 48-yard return set up the Green Bay offense for a knockout touchdown drive. The heroics by its veteran standout took the defense off the hook for an underwhelming performance, including against the pass. A poised Cutler didn’t face much pressure and was sacked twice (1 1/2 credited to linebacker Julius Peppers) but went only 18-of-36 for 225 yards and a touchdown. Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Shields didn’t play well, and the secondary had to make do without starting safety Morgan Burnett (calf). Cutler had four big-play completions of at least 17 yards, topped by a 50-yard catch-and-run by a wide-open Marquess Wilson.

RUSH DEFENSE: D – Green Bay’s run-stopping miseries for much of last season reared their ugly head early and often in this season’s debut. Matt Forte, who has enjoyed some sizable outputs at the Packers’ expense in the past, rolled up 105 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries in just the first half Sunday. Forte finished with 24 carries for 141 yards, a prolific average of 5.9 yards per run. He had three runs of at least 20 yards, taking advantage of a Green Bay defense that didn’t set the edge and reached too often on tackles before firming things up later in the game. The Bears amassed 189 yards on the ground, throwing in 31 yards from a daring Cutler in four pass plays-turned-runs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C – Albeit only one game, speedy and decisive rookie receiver Ty Montgomery looks to be the right man for cleaning up Green Bay’s mess from last season on kickoff returns. Two of his three runbacks covered 46 and 41 yards as Montgomery averaged a whopping 35.3 yards. The Packers didn’t have a chance for a return on the lone punt by Chicago. After coming off an unspectacular preseason that included some initial competition, veteran punter Tim Masthay had an inconsistent outing. He boomed his first punt 54 yards with the coverage unable to keep it from bouncing into the end zone. Later, kicking from the end zone, Masthay hit a line-drive punt that went 48 yards but allowed a decent return for the Bears back into Green Bay territory. Shields committed a cardinal sin of being offside on a field-goal kick that enabled Chicago to pick up a first down when it put the offense back on the field for fourth-and-inches, leading to a touchdown a few plays later.

COACHING: B-minus – The offense functioned fine for the first time in a meaningful game with associate head coach Tom Clements, and not head coach Mike McCarthy, calling the plays. Clements gave Rodgers the reins on the field to audible into favorable calls and let the healthy quarterback wreak havoc on the move. One week after the team reunited with Jones following his release from the New York Giants, Clements didn’t hesitate to get him involved in the offense the receiver knows well. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers worked in a lot of combinations with his undermanned unit, which lost starting linebacker Sam Barrington (ankle) during the game and played without suspended linemen Datone Jones and Letroy Guion. Capers went heavy with stacking the box in an effort to thwart Forte, but Green Bay’s inability to be in position to make a play or make a tackle contributed to the huge rushing numbers. Ron Zook’s debut as special teams coordinator had a mixed bag of results with the inexcusable penalty on Shields’ taking away some of the shine provided by Montgomery’s kick returns.


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