There arenít many teams in the National Football League, down by 16 points in the fourth quarter, that could hitch their comeback hopes to a running back and pull it off.
But the Green Bay Packers kept feeding the ball to Eddie Lacy, involved him more in the passing game, as well, and tied the score with 46 seconds remaining in regulation before settling for a tie in overtime Sunday with the Minnesota Vikings.
Matt Flynn effectively engineered the comeback in relief of Scott Tolzien and made just enough plays to pull it off. But Flynnís lack of arm strength was glaring at times, and his dink-and-dunk approach largely depended on others to move the chains.
Lacy delivered seven of the Packersí 13 first downs in the fourth quarter: Four on runs and three on passes where he gained 37 of the 39 yards after the catch. His stats for the quarter were eight carries for 42 yards, a 5.3 average, and six receptions for another 48 yards.
The Packersí first scoring drive of the quarter covered 80 yards, 43 coming on Minnesota penalties. Of the other 37 yards, Lacy gained 25. The next drive covered 76 yards and Lacy gained 45. Those two series ended in touchdowns. The third drive led to a field goal and Lacy gained 20 of 60 yards.
Without his contribution, the Packers would have had no prayer of even gaining a tie.
Lacyís outstanding power, balance and determination jump out at you, but just as important is his vision. The best backs know how to set up linebackers to create their own running lanes. It takes patience and starts with their eyes.
The same way great quarterbacks look off defenders and then throw back to the other side, great runners do much the same thing. Instead of instantly hitting the hole, they slow down, let the blocks happen, set the linebackers up with their eyes and wait until they overcommit, and then plant and cut.
The key to Lacyís balance is that he not only keeps his feet going like most NFL backs, but he also stays on his feet. Thatís something that separates pedestrian backs from the special ones. The best example was the fourth-and-1 play with 5:23 left in regulation.
Lacy got hit by Chad Greenway, a Pro Bowl linebacker, at minus-2 and not only broke the tackle but kept moving forward and dragged a defensive lineman for the final 5 yards of a 4-yard gain. Basically, the Packers got blown off the ball up front and if Lacy hadnít made the first down on his own, the game would have been all but over.
Lacyís 3-yard touchdown was another example of him making something out of nothing. Two Vikings linemen penetrated and corralled him at the line of scrimmage. Then ó boom! ó he was in the end zone.
On the first play of the second quarter, Lacy gained 14 yards. He gained 8 after breaking free from the first tackler and the final 1 or 2 yards buried under all 11 Minnesota defenders.
For the first time this season, Lacy also showed he could be a threat in the passing game. Thatís something the Packers havenít had in recent years, either: A back that can make plays in the passing game.
He did some good things. No. 1, he wasnít careless with the ball. No. 2, he played within his limitations and produced points.
On the first play following the fourth-and-1, Flynn hit Lacy in the flat on a play that gained 13. It appeared the play was designed from the start to go to Lacy, but what made it work was that Flynn looked left and looked left again until he froze the linebackers and then he threw back to the right.
Flynnís 6-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin was pinpoint. The ball placement was perfect and thatís something Tolzien hasnít shown an ability to do. The 34-yard pass Flynn lofted to Boykin up the sideline was on target. He also threaded the needle between two defenders on a pass that Brandon Bostick dropped in the end zone.
But he lacked arm strength in his first stint with the Packers and nothing has changed.
His 28-yard completion up the sideline to James Jones was badly underthrown. Flynn completed a 10-yard out to Boykin with 8:11 to go in regulation, but there was no zip on the ball. He hit Jordy Nelson on a 15-yard crossing pattern in overtime where again the ball took a nosedive at the end.
Sometimes you can tell as much about a quarterback by the throws he doesnít make as the ones he makes.
Flynnís average per attempt was 6.1, which puts him 50th in the league. He threw basically nothing down the middle at more than linebacker depth and nothing of any depth out to the numbers. On two possessions in the final 3 minutes, 49 seconds of overtime, he didnít throw a pass that traveled more than 9 yards.
With Johnny Jolly inactive and C.J. Wilson injured in the fourth quarter, Mike Daniels played more snaps than in any other game this season and Jerel Worthy played for the first time. Both got manhandled in the running game.
One of the basic tenets of defense is that if the linemen are getting driven back, itís tougher for linebackers to scrape and fill gaps. They have to step over linemen to get there. That said, it was like A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones were wearing Velcro. They couldnít get off blocks, they were slow to react, they missed tackles and they spent too much time on the ground.
The other problem was on the edge where Adrian Peterson was finding cutback lanes inside Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba. Neal is powerful and can get to a spot. He showed that when his penetration led to Peterson losing 5 yards on one of the biggest plays of the game, just before the Vikingsí field goal in overtime. But too often on plays away from him or on slow-developing plays, Neal gets caught too far up field and thatís where runners are looking to cut back.
Peterson had three runs for 40 yards in little more than a 5-minute span in the second quarter where Neal or Mulumba got pushed back or washed down and the inside backers werenít fast enough to get to the edge.