There’s no denying it: the Packers are back. On a day in which weather seemed to dictate many outcomes across the NFL, Green Bay took on Seattle in the surprisingly snow-less confines of Lambeau Field. I’m not sure any amount of snow would’ve been able to slow down the Packers on Sunday.
Rodgers started the game with a bang, rolling out to his right on third-and-one – the third play of the game – and finding Davante Adams down the sideline with a perfect throw on the move. Adams did the rest, taking the ball 66 yards to the house. Seattle responded with a solid drive that resulted in a field goal, and after a few changes of possession, Morgan Burnett came through with a huge interception to give the offense the ball at the Seattle 26. Ty Montgomery converted a goal line run four plays later, and the Packers really never looked back from there.
“Must win” is a tired phrase in the NFL, but sitting at 4-6 three weeks ago, every game has and will be a true “must win” for the Packers. Finally, with its back against the wall, the team is truly starting to put it together in all three phases of the game. And the results have been impressive. Even with Rodgers dealing with a hamstring strain, Clay Matthews reduced to a smaller role due to a shoulder injury, no Sam Shields, no Eddie Lacy, no Nick Perry and no Blake Martinez, Green Bay has rattled off three wins against playoff-caliber teams in the Eagles, Texans and Seahawks. Sunday’s 38-10 dismantling of Seattle was, without question, the team’s best win over the last two seasons, and just might be the confidence booster this team needs to make a serious run towards the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers, MVP Candidate
In his typical matter-of-fact tone, Rodgers said he still felt the team could “run the table” while sitting at 4-6, still stinging off the team’s fourth straight loss. Many scoffed, but the team has remained confident in its schemes, roster, and franchise quarterback, and his comment seems more prophetic than pathetic by the day. Rodgers took the brunt of the criticism over the first eleven weeks of the season; some was deserved, and some wasn’t, and it often came down to two things: his play has regressed and he’s not a good leader. This well-written article by Ty Dunne at Bleacher Report detailed Rodgers’ leadership style and included quotes from current and former teammates on the topic. Former Packer tight end Jermichael Finley unabashedly ripped him to shreds, deriding his leadership style and arrogance. Yet other teammates, like Letroy Guion came to his defense, citing his level of play, attention to detail, confidence and desire to be perfect as the way he leads by example.
Performances like the one Rodgers displayed yesterday speak to the effectiveness he maintains as a leader through his level of play on the field and confidence off it. Additionally, something that often goes unmentioned is his ability to play through injury, which absolutely inspires and motivates his teammates to give it everything they have on each and every play. Rodgers is playing his best football of the season while battling through a hamstring strain, and now through a calf injury that occurred on his touchdown throw to Adams. It hasn’t mattered, and it’s apparent his team is feeding off his positive energy and white-hot play.
Seattle entered the game with the best scoring defense in the NFL, having not conceded three touchdowns and/or more than 25 points in a game all season, despite playing against the high-powered offenses of the Patriots, Saints and Falcons. The Seahawks ranked 6th in defensive DVOA (6th against the pass, third against the run) and first in defensive scoring, allowing a league-best 16.2 points per game. It hardly mattered, as Rodgers picked apart this historically elite defense en route to a 150.8 passer rating (158 is perfect), his best number since a week 4 victory against the Bears in 2014. Just about every stat you look at helps paint the picture of just how perfect Rodgers looked on Sunday, despite battling the calf injury for the entirety of the game. He finished the day 18-23 for 246 yards (78.3 %, 10.7 YPA) and three touchdowns. Per profootballfocus.com, Rodgers had the highest adjusted completion rate of the week at 85.7, and the highest adjusted passer rating of 155.1 (adjusted rates don’t include throws where the quarterback is forced to throw the ball away). At the moment, the only thing standing in Rodgers’ way is the calf injury he suffered in the game, which we should learn more about as the week progresses.
Rodgers now legitimately deserves to have his name in the MVP conversation, especially considering the lackluster week 14 performances by Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. Since week seven he leads the league in touchdowns and is Pro Football Focus’ highest graded quarterback. If the Packers make the playoffs, it will be on the shoulders of Rodgers’ play, and that elevates his MVP resume. Remember, Cam Newton’s numbers were pretty mediocre across the board for the first half of last season, but a second-half surge of play was enough to get him the award. Considering Rodgers has also been the best rusher on the Packers for much of the season, if he keeps this play up he deserves to be on the ballot.
In other offensive news, the offensive line continued its excellent pass protection, and the running game finally showed some semblance of burst. Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael led the way, combining for 77 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (4 YPC).
Secondary comes through with best showing of the season
Aside from Rodgers pristine performance, the story of the day is the secondary’s huge game. In the end, the unit forced Russell Wilson into FIVE interceptions en route to a 43.7 passer rating, the third-lowest mark of his career. Though a few were the result of batted balls and dropped passes that fell directly into a pair of Packer hands, this much-maligned secondary played a stellar game from start to finish and earned every single turnover it forced. Seattle’s receivers struggled to get open, pushing Russ to force the ball into tight windows, which led to a few of the interceptions.
Second-year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have had, to put it lightly, an up-and-down year. They’ve both battled through injuries and sophomore slumps, and given up their fair share of big plays. And yet you wouldn’t know it by watching Sunday’s game. Rollins did a great job covering Doug Baldwin in the slot, one of the toughest players to guard in the middle of the field in the entire league. He and Randall combined for three interceptions, four pass deflections, and nine tackles, while this touchdown-saving pick by Randall was arguably the play of the day. Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett each tallied an interception, and LaDarius Gunter forced another with his lone pass deflection on the day. With the pass rush staying alive (three sacks) despite injuries to Nick Perry and Clay Matthews, this defense has really turned its season around. After allowing only 12 points per game during the three-game win streak, this unit is looking confident at the perfect time.
Injuries continue to mount
The worst takeaway of Sunday’s win will be on the injury sheet, as Jared Cook was forced to leave the game with a lung contusion. Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, he “should be OK,” though that says nothing about a potential injury timeline. Randall Cobb left the game in the first half after appearing to injure both ankles on a sideline catch. He returned but didn’t make a play from there out, and lost snaps to receiver Geronimo Allison. The biggest injury is of course Rodgers’ mysterious calf, though he showed the ability to play through a seemingly similar injury against Dallas in the playoffs two years ago. Clay Matthews and TJ Lang seemingly escaped unscathed after heading into the game with questionable tags.
- Ty Mongtomery became the first true running back to score a rushing touchdown for the Packers this season, and even then he is more of a receiver/running back hybrid than a true back. Previously, only Rodgers and fullback Aaron Ripkowski had scored rushing touchdowns on the season.
- Jordy Nelson became only the fifth player in Packers history to reach the 7,000 receiving yards mark. His 12th touchdown of the season gives him three seasons with at least 12 scores, joining Packer legend Sterling Sharpe as the only other player to do so.
- Rodgers and Nelson have now hooked up for 57 touchdowns, which ties Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman for the most by a duo in franchise history.
- Russell Wilson’s five interceptions were the most he’s thrown in a game so far in his career. Wilson didn’t throw an interception in the state of Wisconsin when he played for the Badgers.
- Seattle managed only one sack and six hurries on Rodgers throughout the game, despite entering the game top ten in sacks.
The win marks a high point thus far in the season, and truly gives life to a team desperate to make a playoff run. There are still areas that need improvement – the run defense has been much more giving in recent weeks – but it’s hard to find much fault in a dominant win over one of the league’s best teams. The comparisons to the Super Bowl winning team from 2010 are sure to start trickling in. That squad had struggled to an 8-6 record, and every game from there out was considered a “must win.” It’s too early to make such a grand comparison, but one thing is certain: nobody wants to face this team in January.
With the sweet taste of victory over a bitter NFC rival fresh on their tongues, the Packers will head to Chicago to take on the Bears at noon this coming Sunday.