Split right on the Packers’ first offensive play of the season, receiver Christian Watson sprinted down the field, put a modified swim move on eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and was wide open for what would have been a 75-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a perfect pass to the rookie — who dropped it.
It was the ultimate insult after an offseason in which the Packers traded one of the best receivers on the planet, Davante Adams, to the Raiders and replaced him with well-traveled vet Sammy Watkins and two draft picks. The Bears were similarly stagnant during their offseason — Allen Robinson, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin and Pro Bowl returner Jakeem Grant all left via free agency — but the Packers’ inactivity, with higher stakes this season, felt like malpractice.
Rodgers is used to having a favorite target. Since making his first start in 2008, Rodgers’ leading receiver has topped 880 yards each season. The Bears have failed to do so six times during that span.
The Packers are betting their future Hall of Fame quarterback will make household names out of their no-name receivers. For now, though, Rodgers is learning how the Bears live. Sunday night, he and Bears quarterback Justin Fields will be throwing to two of the most unproven receiving corps in the NFL.
“Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers, regardless of who he has,” Bears defensive end Robert Quinn said. “He’s bound to make something happen. …
“I think he’s going to bring everyone up to his standard.”
The quarterback said earlier this week that his new receivers will “have it figured out” by the end of the year. In that sense, the Bears are lucky to face Rodgers in Week 2.The Packers’ passing attack will look a lot different when they meet again in Week 13.
“All over the league, if you’re with a guy like that, you’re gonna step up your level of play,” Bears receiver Darnell Mooney said. “Just himself and his level of presence is going to let you be locked in more.”
Replacing Adams was always going to be difficult. He’d be the greatest Bears receiver ever by almost double; his 8,121 receiving yards eclipses the Bears’ career leader, Johnny Morris, by more than 3,000 yards. His 73 touchdown catches outpace Ken Kavanaugh’s 50 by almost 150 percent.
“[Rodgers’] target and his comfort is no longer there. …:” Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “You can kinda just see that they’re not in the spots that he wants them to be. You can just tell that he’s not as comfortable as he’s been the previous years. But I definitely feel like they’re going to improve on that.”
Rodgers is preaching patience, though his sideline demeanor in the Packers’ season-opening loss to the Vikings skewed toward annoyance.
“These guys are going to make a lot of mistakes,” Rodgers told reporters this week. “The guys who don’t repeat the same mistakes are going to get more opportunities.”
Rodgers will be buoyed by the likely return of Allen Lazard from an ankle injury. He had 40 catches for the Packers last season — as many as the other three returning wide receivers on the roster combined.
The Bears no longer have to worry about Adams on every snap, which has made game preparation different this week.
“You have to really watch their whole corps of receivers,” Johnson said. “I feel like they all are coming from different places — rookies, guys coming in from different teams.”
The Bears, though, remain on alert. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams preached two messages this week that amounted to one point: Underestimate Rodgers at your own peril.
“Not falling into that trap to say, ‘They don’t have a No. 1 [receiver] …'” Williams said. “And then the quarterback. Don’t underestimate the power of great leadership. He is a great leader, and he will get those guys into shape.”