Insider: Thumbs up to Cobb, Jones
THE BIG PICTURE
With their fifth road victory of the season, Green Bay (10-4) remained a game ahead of Minnesota (9-5) in the NFC North and could clinch the division title next Sunday with a win at Arizona and a Vikings home loss to the New York Giants. If the two teams are tied or separated by only one game entering the final week, the winner of their Jan. 3 game at Lambeau Field will be the division champion. The Packers also remain in the chase for the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye if they can beat the Cardinals (12-2), who blasted the Eagles 40-17 on Sunday night. They clinched at least a wild-card berth for the seventh straight season when the Giants lost earlier in the day to Carolina.
The Raiders had just gone ahead for the first time at 20-17 midway through the third quarter when Jeff Janis returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to set up the struggling Packers offense at midfield. Three plays later, Aaron Rodgers found James Jones wide open thanks to a Raiders defensive mix-up and hit his trusted target on the 30-yard touchdown pass that put Green Bay back ahead to stay.
Veteran receivers Jones and Randall Cobb stepped up after Davante Adams and Janis each dropped passes in or near the end zone on the first drive of the third quarter. Jones, again wearing his green hoodie beneath his No. 89 jersey in the damp and chilly weather, led the team with six receptions for 82 yards. He made three clutch catches on the 19-play, 92-yard drive (both season highs for Green Bay) that ultimately produced only a field goal. Cobb had five catches for 40 yards but drew a couple of big pass-interference penalties from an overmatched Raiders secondary that helped keep drives alive. He also became the featured running back for a stint in the third quarter and finished with four carries for 18 yards.
Eddie Lacy and James Starks ran wild against the Cowboys, but the Packers’ ground game got bogged down again on a sloppy field in Oakland. Lacy, who rushed for 124 yards last week, gained only 23 on 11 carries. Starks committed the sin of fumbling late in the first half, which not only ended a Packers drive that was nearing the red zone but also gave the Raiders time to march down and score a TD that cut Green Bay’s lead to 14-13 at intermission. Starks redeemed himself somewhat with a 25-yard run on the fourth-quarter drive that resulted in their final field goal. But Green Bay continued to struggle in short-yardage situations, settling for an earlier field goal after being set up with a first-and-goal from the 1.
RANTS AND RAVES
RANT: Rodgers picked on a poor Raiders secondary to draw some big pass-interference penalties and clicked with longtime favorite Jones in the third quarter (four catches for 60 yards and a TD). But he was testy during his postgame news conference and couldn’t have been pleased with his pedestrian numbers (22 of 39 for 204 yards and a passer rating of 68.8). He was visibly perturbed on the sidelines after throwing a late interception when the situation called for running time off the clock, and although he seemed more willing to throw to covered receivers, it’s clear that they’re still not on the same page. Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson noticed, saying of the Packers' offense: "There's something missing there right now."
RAVE: Without cornerback Sam Shields (concussion), the Packers’ pass defense experienced an up-and-down day. Things started off great, with safety Micah Hyde intercepting a pass to set up the Packers’ first touchdown and rookie Damarious Randall returning a pick-6 to make it 14-0. But then Raiders quarterback Derek Carr began clicking with rookie sensation Amari Cooper, who beat Randall for a 19-yard touchdown at the end of the first half and a 26-yard score that put Oakland ahead 20-17 in the third quarter. Cooper had six catches for 120 yards, but the Packers shut down the Raiders' air attack the rest of the way helped by the pass-rushing pressure of Julius Peppers (2½ sacks).
RAVE: Stopping the run always is the primary objective of the Packers’ defense, and the Raiders presented a challenge in the form of Latavius Murray, who got off to a strong start. But Green Bay’s run defense stiffened and Murray ended up with a hard-earned 78 yards on 21 carries (3.7 average) as Oakland was limited to seven second-half points.
RAVE: The Packers for once entered the game with a healthy offensive line, as all starters were active (although backup JC Tretter got the nod over Corey Linsley at center). And the line did a solid job of pass blocking, taking Raiders pass-rushing demon Khalil Mack out of the game after he recorded an early sack. A tougher task was trying to open holes for the ground game, and the short-yardage struggles continued. And the good health didn’t last long, as left tackle David Bakhtiari was carted off late with an ankle injury.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» With his 2½ sacks, Peppers climbed to 10th on the NFL’s career list with 135 (leader Bruce Smith had 200). The Packers improved to 10-0 this season in games in which they recorded two or more sacks.
» With his 82-yard day, Jones became the 12th player in franchise history to reach 5,000 receiving yards as a Packer.
» Packers coach Mike McCarthy raised his record on challenges this season to 5-1 when a pass to Jones, originally ruled incomplete, was overturned and called a catch late in the third quarter.