Aaron Rodgers finally has his signature game-winning drive, throwing a 50-yard rainbow to Greg Jennings with 1:11 remaining to give the Green Bay Packers a come-from-behind 21-15 victory over the division rival Chicago Bears in Sunday night's opener.
Rodgers began 2009 with a bang, proving he can pull off the kind of late-game fireworks his predecessor, Brett Favre, once was known for. Rodgers had a productive first season as a starter, but earned some criticism for coming up short at the end of several games last season.
"I was thinking, 'We're due. We're due for one good drive,'" Rodgers said. "I told the guys, just give me one drive."
Rodgers' big throw ruined the debut of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who had a career-worst four interceptions and finished the game 17 of 36 for 277 yards with a touchdown for his new team.
"There were a lot of failures," Cutler said. "We've got to go back and look at it. I think we're still going to be a good football team, there's no need to panic."
The Bears lost a big game to their division rivals and lost several key players to injury. Brian Urlacher left with a wrist injury in the third quarter after fellow linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa left in the first half with an injured knee. Backup cornerback Trumaine McBride also injured a knee, and tight end Desmond Clark left with a back injury.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher dislocated his wrist, and no timetable has been set for his return.
"It's pretty simple what happened tonight," Smith said. "Any time that you have four turnovers, you're normally not going to win the football game, especially against a good Packers team."
With the Packers trailing 15-13 and facing third-and-1 at the 50-yard line, Rodgers faked a handoff and heaved a rainbow of a throw deep to Jennings, who ran in for the go-ahead score. Rodgers found Jennings again for a 2-point conversion.
"This was our chance to show that we can finish ballgames, we can win the close games, and we got it done," Jennings said. "We didn't get it done all game, but when it came down to it, when it counts and when it counted, we got it done."
It's another boost for the confidence of Rodgers, who appears to have the full support of Packers fans after the messy divorce between Favre and the Packers led to a trying 2008 and disappointing 6-10 record.
Replicas of Rodgers' green No. 12 jersey dotted the grandstands Sunday night and fans booed loudly as highlights of Favre's new team, the division rival Minnesota Vikings, were shown on the stadium video board at halftime.
"It was important for us to get a win like this tonight," Rodgers said. "It'll definitely build our team character."
Rodgers finished 17 of 28 for 184 yards on an otherwise off night for the Packers' offense. But the Packers' new-look 3-4 defense put Cutler under pressure and forced him into poor decisions.
After throwing three interceptions in the first half, Cutler settled down to lead Chicago to a touchdown and a field goal in the third quarter, giving the Bears a 12-10 lead.
But Chicago's head-scratching fake punt attempt early in the fourth quarter _ they apparently were trying to catch the Packers with 12 players on the field _ gave the ball back to Packers deep in Bears territory, and Mason Crosby hit a 39-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 13-12 lead with 10:10 left.
Smith took the blame for the fake punt, but wouldn't say specifically who called it.
Cutler answered with a drive for a 21-yard field goal by Robbie Gould that gave Chicago a 15-13 lead. Rodgers got the ball back at the Green Bay 28 with 2:28 left and quickly drove the Packers to midfield, where he made the decisive throw to Jennings.
"It definitely boosts his confidence," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
McCarthy noted that Rodgers' performance came after a less-than-ideal performance by a revamped offensive line that gave up four sacks.
"He had a rough night," McCarthy said. "He was hit a bunch. Our pass protection was not what we were looking for."
NOTES: Smith classified the knee injuries to Tinoisamoa and McBride as sprains and said Clark had a back bruise. ... Bears safety Danieal Manning came through the Packers' line untouched to throw Rodgers down in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter. ... Ryan Grant scored a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter after a long interception return by Tramon Williams.