CHICAGO -- When training camp began, or even when it ended, you'd have gotten long odds that wide receiver James Jones would be a key player in Green Bay's 31-23 opening-day victory over the Chicago Bears.
Mostly because Jones was not a Packer.
But the veteran receiver, who spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career with Green Bay, became available when the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants released him in the last half-year. The Packers, short of depth after losing wide receiver Jordy Nelson to a season-ending injury, re-signed Jones last week, and he caught two touchdown passes and set up a third TD to key the opening victory.
"I don't think it was that out of character," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, asked if he were surprised Jones could again contribute so quickly. "It's a credit to him, and the way he approaches his job. I had no hesitation (throwing) to him."
Actually, Jones caught three TD passes, but one was wiped out by a penalty. But none of his catches were as important as the 34-yard pass interference penalty against Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller, trying to cover Jones at the 2-yard line, with two minutes remaining.
That call set up a short touchdown run by Eddie Lacy that clinched the game, putting the Packers ahead, 31-16.
Jones "is a great guy (and) a great teammate," Rodgers said. "We were really fortunate that he was available at the end of the cuts."
"It looked like we didn't miss a beat," Jones said.
Rodgers, who has won 10 straight games against Chicago when he throws at least five passes, had a solid if unspectacular day in large measure because Chicago's ball-control offense denied him opportunities. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 189 yards but the Packers had just seven possessions, not counting two end-of-half kneel downs, as the Bears ran off 18 more plays on offense.
Running back Matt Forte almost single-handedly kept Chicago in the game by rushing for 141 yards on 24 carries but the Bears, mystifyingly, did not hand off to Forte at a critical point in the fourth quarter.
With Green Bay ahead, 24-16, and just under eight minutes to go, the Bears had first-and-goal at the Packers' 6-yard line and called four consecutive pass plays for Jay Cutler, one of which gained four yards and the last three of which fell incomplete.
"Hindsight is always 20-20," said John Fox, the Chicago coach. "Would I have liked to have scored a touchdown regardless of how we did it? Yes. But it didn't come to fruition."
Nonetheless, Chicago's defense then held and forced a punt, giving the Bears' offense another chance, but that one ended on a Cutler interception. He is now 1-12 against the Packers and has thrown at least one interception in every start.
Cutler completed 18 of 36 passes for 225 yards.
"Jay played a hell of a game," insisted wideout Alshon Jeffery, targeted by Cutler 11 times including five catches for a game-high 78 yards. "Everything that happened at the goal line and the interception, I still feel like we beat ourselves. I mean, it's nothing they did."
By some measures, however, this was a sign of improvement for Chicago in its first game under Fox. A year ago, the Packers blew the Bears out twice, did not punt in one game and punted only with a 42-0 lead in the other game. Chicago ranked 30th in the NFL on defense the last two years, but limited Green Bay to 322 yards on Sunday.
"There's no consolation prize and no second place," Fox said. "So you're never happy (with a loss). But you know, this is a process, and this is the first time that myself and this staff have watched this team play a real game. Hopefully, we'll learn from it and get better from it."
NOTES: The Chicago Bears were able to play all three of their wide receivers who missed much of preseason because of injuries -- Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson. ... K Robbie Gould's first of three field goals, his 244th with the Bears, broke a tie with Kevin Butler for the franchise record. ... When the Packers swept the Bears in 2014, Green Bay did not punt in the first game and punted for the first time in the second game with a 42-0 lead in the third quarter. This time, the Packers went three-and-out and punted on their first possession, but that was their only punt. ... Packers LB Sam Barrington suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return to the game. ... Royal was helped off just before halftime when two Packers sandwiched him and forced an incomplete pass. Royal was checked for a concussion and cleared to return. ... The Packers have won 12 of their last 14 against the Bears, including six straight at Soldier Field, and Rodgers has won 10 in a row against Chicago in games he attempted at least five passes.