CHICAGO – The Green Bay Packers might not have to rely on quarterback Aaron Rodgers as much anymore.

At the very least, they can survive until Rodgers and first-year head coach Matt LaFleur can get things rolling — and not have to do it against a defense as fierce as the one the Chicago Bears fielded in Thursday night’s NFL opener.

That’s because for the first time since perhaps the Super Bowl season of 2010, the Packers can match teams defense for defense. Unless, of course, the Bears’ offense is as bad as the one that got booed off Soldier Field after several drives in the Packers’ 10-3 victory over the defending NFC North champs.

Not that this is a Super Bowl-contending team yet, but it has the makings of a top-10 defense — something the Packers haven’t had since the championship-winning group ranked fifth. But it looks like the money that general manager Brian Gutekunst dished out in free agency was well spent.

His most expensive signing — Za’Darius Smith ($20 million signing bonus) — set the tone with a sack, a tackle for loss and six quarterback pressures.

His next-most expensive signing — Preston Smith ($16 million to sign) — came up with three pressures and 1.5 sacks in the second half, including the game-clincher with 1:02 left.

And former Bears safety Adrian Amos ($11 million to sign) had an interception in the end zone with 1:58 to play.

It was early in the preseason when it was suggested the defense could carry the Packers in the early going while LaFleur and Rodgers work through the installation of a new offense. LeFleur is the first Packers head coach to win in his head coaching debut against the Bears since Vince Lombardi in 1959.

“We better be ahead of them,” linebacker Blake Martinez said at the time.

The question now is how long it will take Rodgers to catch up?

The Packers had minus-12 total yards in the first quarter — their fewest total yards in any quarter since Sept. 18, 1994 (third quarter), according to ESPN Stats & Information, against the Eagles with Brett Favre as the starting QB. It was the first time under Rodgers that the Packers had negative yards gained through the first three drives in a game. And then Rodgers made one Rodgers-like play — a 47-yard bomb to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that, according to NFL Next Gen stats traveled 53.5 yards in the air for his fourth-longest completion through the air in the last three seasons.

The Packers totaled 213 yards and converted just 2-of-12 third downs.

Just don’t tell Rodgers that he should have played in the preseason.

He warned that whatever happened in the opener, there would be “a lot of room to grow regardless of our performance” and that there will be “a lot of room for growth within the scheme as we go on in the season.”

Or maybe Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears offense is just that bad, but the hope for the Packers is their defense is that good and Aaron Rodgers and Co. will catch up.


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