After “running the table” and winning six straight games en route to another NFC North crown, the Green Bay Packers were arguably the hottest team in football. Certainly, they had been reestablished as a team nobody wanted to face come January, especially in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.
And yet, Rodgers and Green Bay came out absolutely flat Sunday afternoon. The first offensive possession resulted in a three-and-out after Rodgers underthrew tight end Jared Cook streaking down the left sideline on third-and-two. New York moved the ball well on the ensuing drive, settling for a 26-yard field goal after Odell Beckham Jr. dropped a would-be touchdown on an admittedly tough play. On the next drive, Jordy drew a pass interference to set up nice field position, but the Pack couldn’t take advantage after a sack bumped them out of field goal range. Rodgers was sacked twice in three plays on the next series, leading to another disappointing three-and-out. After the defense held strong and forced another punt, Rodgers found Cobb for a 13-yard first down… and then couldn’t move the ball and Green Bay punted yet again.
It was a frustrating and unnerving beginning to the game, especially with Green Bay playing so well over the last six weeks. McCarthy, who purportedly loves to run the ball, went completely one-dimensional, dialing up vanilla passing plays over and over. Even with the passing game stuck in neutral to begin the game, there was a point in the first half where he called 14 consecutive passing plays. This is not how games are won! There is nothing wrong with unleashing Rodgers and putting the ball in his hands, but without any semblance of a run/pass balance, it creates predictable situations for the defense to attack. I’ve talked repeatedly in this space that Rodgers is at his best when Green Bay starts the game off with a good run/pass mix (like McCarthy deployed against Detroit week 17) that’s highlighted by short, quick throws that get Rodgers and his receivers into a rhythm. Rodgers didn’t look sharp to begin the game, but the playcalling contributed to that and feels too inconsistent week-to-week.
A Blake Martinez missed tackle let tight end Will Tye rumble for 51 yards down the middle of the field on the Giants next drive. Former Bear Robbie Gould then drilled a 40-yard field goal, giving the G-Men a 6-0 lead with 7:24 to go in the half. With Green Bay in field goal position on third-and-four at New York’s 34 yard line, Rodgers made a rare boneheaded play and received an intentional grounding penalty, pushing the Pack out of field goal range for yet another punt. It was beginning to feel like the game was slipping away from Green Bay, with the crowd growing restless and images of previous Giants playoff victories creeping into everyone’s minds. But future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers recorded a sack on third-and-six to force a three-and-out, and a bad punt and a commercial break later, and #12 stepped back onto the field.
On first down Rodgers dropped this delicious dime to Davante Adams for his first catch of the game, and everything changed. It truly felt like a switch was flipped. Rodgers worked his magic on second-and-goal, dancing around the pocket for roughly seven seconds before firing a bullet to Adams, who hauled it in for the touchdown. Green Bay 7, New York 6. The defense came on the field and held Manning to a three-and-out after head coach Ben McAdoo curiously decided to run on third-and-one into the strength of the Packers defense. Starting with no timeouts on its own 20, Green Bay had 1:38 to try and march down the field for some points. After a few Montgomery runs, Rodgers connected with Cobb and Montgomery to set Green Bay up with fourth-and-two at New York’s 42 yard line. For some teams, this is the moment when you bring your kicker on and hope for a 59-yard field goal. But as you probably know by know, most teams don’t have a guy who throws Hail Mary’s like Aaron Rodgers does.
With six seconds on the clock, Rodgers dropped back, rolled slightly to his right, and collected himself. He took one massive step forward and launched the ball into the atmosphere. It hung up there for what felt like an eternity (actually about four seconds by my count, which is close to the average for a punt) but nobody really jumped for the ball after the pile of players got congested in the end zone. Randall Cobb saw the trajectory, and lunged for the ball, somehow catching it and keeping both his feet in. Take a second to watch the play again in all its glory. Every time Rodgers drops back to throw a Hail Mary, he seemingly does the impossible, and always in the biggest moments. It’s getting to the point where you half expect it to be caught every time he lets one loose. It marked a turning point in the game, and as the Packers went into halftime brimming with confidence, momentum, and a 14-6 lead, it almost felt like they had won the game. Almost.
McCarthy curiously decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 42, predictably calling an off-tackle run that was immediately snuffed out. Eli Manning threw a 41-yard touchdown to Tavarres King two plays later, cutting the lead to 14-13. It didn’t matter. In one of the most crucial moments of the season, Rodgers calmly strolled onto the field, hit Cook and Adams for gains of 13 and 20 yards, respectively, then hit Cobb for a 30-yard touchdown across the middle. It was a perfect four-play drive, and the defense fed off the energy to force a three-and-out. Green Bay used the good field position to score a field goal, and the defense responded with yet another three-and-out, completely flipping the script.
You can probably guess how Rodgers responded. Starting with the ball on Green Bay’s own 20, and the entire fourth quarter remaining, he led a 10-play, 5:23 drive that culminated in another touchdown to Cobb across the middle. The drive was highlighted by a 34-yard catch-and-run by Ty Montgomery on third-and-ten, and then a conversion to Adams on third-and-nine. The touchdown to Cobb also came on third down. That made the score 31-13, and Green Bay wouldn’t look back, using a Clay Matthews strip sack to get good field position and score yet another touchdown on the next drive. It was a satisfying end to an intense game and should give this team plenty of momentum heading into its clash with Dallas this weekend.
Jordy leaves game, timeline unknown
In a game full of high points, the lowest was surely Jordy’s injury. He went up for a sideline catch early in the second quarter, leaving his torso completely exposed. Giants corner Leon Hall drilled Jordy in the side, on a technically illegal hit because he led with his head. Jordy immediately went to the ground and was in obvious pain. The early word on his rib injury is that it’s a “concern,” though no timeline has been updated, so stay tuned for more on the injury. With Cobb back and healthy, Jared Cook in the fold, Adams playing like a #1 receiver and Geronimo Allison emerging, Green Bay is in much better shape to handle his injury than last season. Still, if Jordy is out for the remainder of the playoffs, which seems likely, it would be a huge blow to a piping hot offense.
Secondary holds strong
Throughout the season, this secondary has taken plenty of much-deserved criticism. The unit ended the year ranked 22nd in pass defense DVOA, an all-encompassing statistic that takes into account more than just yards and points allowed. Playing without Rollins and starting undrafted rookie free agent Kentrell Brice at strong safety, New York posed an intimidating matchup with the three-headed monster of Odell, Victor Cruz, and rookie Sterling Shepard at receiver.
At the end of the day, Rodgers (25/40, 362 yards, 4 touchdowns), Cobb (5 catches, 116 yards, 3 touchdowns, one amazing Hail Mary), and Adams (8 catches, 125 yards, 1 touchdown) will get most of the (much deserved) credit, but Dom Capers’ defense also deserves its fair share of praise. With starting cornerback Quinten Rollins out, Micah Hyde was forced into even more one-on-one situations in the slot, and he held his own for most of the day. Starting inside linebacker Blake Martinez was injured late in the second quarter and wasn’t heard from again. And yet, even when it seemed like Manning and Co. were moving the ball well in the first half, they only managed six points on seven different possessions. The biggest stops were two three-and-outs before halftime, an area when the defense has struggled to stop offenses from scoring all season long. Those stops led to two touchdowns and effectively turned the game around. Damarious Randall fittingly ended the game with an interception in the end zone.
Manning has killed many Super Bowl aspirations for Green Bay, but he wasn’t able to get much going this time around. He was held to 23/44 for 299 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, and those numbers would look much worse if not for Blake Martinez’s missed tackle on Will Tye’s 51-yard catch-and-run. And even though Odell clearly didn’t look like himself after two uncharacteristic drops (and LaDarius Gunter deserves a lot of credit for holding him in check otherwise), holding Manning to 52.3% completion percentage and 6.8 YPA is no easy feat. For comparison, Rodgers danced his way to 62.5% and a sterling 9.05 YPA.
Solid day for special teams
Punter Jacob Schum had a horrific day in week 17 against the Lions, shanking a punt that set up a Hail Mary touchdown and muffing a few others as well. He was much better yesterday, pinning the Giants inside their own 20 on three separate punts in the first half. Mason Crosby recovered from missing an extra point last week to make all five of his extra point attempts and connect on his 32-yard field goal attempt. Green Bay was fine in punt and kick return coverage, a noted problem this year, and was additionally bailed out by a muffed Bobby Rainey kick return that helped keep the momentum with the Packers.
The Claymaker is back
When Clay is healthy, this defense is simply a different animal. His ability to make game-changing plays fuels the offense and gives the defense rest in crucial moments. The Claymaker hasn’t made many appearances this season, but boy did he at the right time yesterday. After not making a splash all game, he made one of the defense plays of the season, forcing a strip sack of Manning and recovering the fumble after most of the players on the field thought the play was dead. It was a stellar play that involved elite athleticism and heads up thinking. Here’s to hoping he has a few left in him this postseason.
It was a terrific team win, but now the Packers must regroup, for a tougher opponent awaits. Green Bay heads to AT&T Stadium to take on the Dallas Cowboys this coming Sunday at 3:40 pm Central Time. Dallas beat the Packers 30-16 earlier this season, but a lot has changed since then. After all, the table is still being run.