McGinn: Experienced Packers sweat out victory

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns (88) is pulled down by a swarm of Packers defenders on fourth down in the final seconds of the game Sunday in Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - This is what the Green Bay Packers have been doing for 25 years. They know how to operate as a road favorite against a mistake-prone opponent and get the job done.

That’s what happened in the high heat and breathless humidity Sunday afternoon at EverBank Field against the upwardly mobile but in the end fatally flawed Jacksonville Jaguars.

The formula is ever-changing; that’s the nature of pro football. Little or nothing was artistic in the Packers’ performance. Much work lies ahead.

But Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have been winning in these spots for a long, long time. They did it against the Jaguars, snuffing them out in the shadows of Green Bay’s goalpost late to preserve a season-opening 27-23 victory.

“Our standard of play is nowhere where we want it to be but it’s good enough to win on Week 1,” McCarthy said. “It’s what we have to do. It definitely challenged our endurance. It was an excellent adversity win.”

BOX SCOREPackers 27, Jaguars 23

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With the game on the line on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 14 with 23 seconds left, defensive coordinator Dom Capers made the call he almost always makes.

Capers, twice an NFL head coach and four times a defensive coordinator, refuses to get beat sitting on his hands. Despite a secondary minus Sam Shields (concussion) for the previous nine plays, Capers wired in a zero blitz to Blake Martinez.

The seven Packers that were attacking Blake Bortles and filled every gap were opposed by six blockers.

“It’s a run-pass option,” Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns said. “The bubble outside is the only option we had. We couldn’t run it because we had more guys coming than we could block. Outside, it wasn’t a great look for us, but I’ve got to find a way to get that first down.”

Wide to the right, Damarious Randall was playing four yards off Allen Robinson. Micah Hyde, pressed into duty as nickel back, pressed Hurns in the right slot.

Hurns took a step back, two laterally and caught the short shot from Bortles. The hero was Randall, who charged up so fast that Hurns had to cut inside.

“Randall made me bring it back in,” said Hurns. “Once I brought it back in the other two came. Allen Robinson was blocking the guy coming down.”

Hyde, the epitome of a physical defensive back, shed the much bigger Robinson and, after Randall made first contact, wrestled Hurns to the ground a yard behind the line with assistance from Morgan Burnett and Joe Thomas.

Last week, McCarthy said his No. 1 objective for the season was completing plays.

“It’s the way the guys pursued and finished on the football,” he said. “It was obviously an emphasis for us, especially with everything on the line.”

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Without a doubt, the Packers could have lost. They were outgained, 346-294, and had it not been for the decision by McCarthy to go up-tempo midway through the second quarter and produce 14 points in 3 minutes, the Jaguars would have walked with possibly their finest victory in four years under coach Gus Bradley.

Form held, however, largely because Jacksonville wasn’t ready to finish.

Look at the crowd. The Jaguars have exciting young players on both sides of the ball and it’s the opener, but there's so little interest that there might have been 8,000 to 10,000 empty chairs in the 66,851-seat stadium.

The Packers were buoyed by thousands of their own fans, but that’s become commonplace these days. It wasn’t anything like that when the team wasn’t successful for 20-plus years, but the winning begets winning which, in turn, translates into invaluable fan support almost everywhere the Packers travel.

Heat could have overwhelmed the Packers. In the 1980s, there were afternoons in Miami when the conditions probably made the difference in some close defeats.

It was almost clinical how the Packers overcame the mugginess. Unlike those games of yesteryear, when IV bottles were poking from many arms at halftime and afterward, the Packers were so successful pushing the hydration all week that no IVs needed to be administered.

“It was bad,” linebacker Datone Jones said. “It wasn’t agonizing where we were dying.”

Then there was the faulty execution by the Jaguars, who had nine penalties for 79 yards compared to Green Bay’s 5 for 24. The Jaguars also turned the ball over once whereas the Packers, whose secret under McCarthy always has been turnover differential, had none.

Wouldn’t it have been swell for Bradley if Bortles would have had a timeout or three in that 49-yard drive in the last 3½ minutes that ultimately ran aground?

No doubt, but the Jaguars were out of timeouts midway through the fourth quarter after also having to burn two fairly early in the first half.

McCarthy contributed by shrewdly throwing his flag in an unconventional situation on the Packers’ first possession. After an incomplete pass on first down at the 11, he noticed that the Jaguars were late getting off the field before the ball was snapped.

Official Carl Cheffers penalized the Jaguars for a 12-men penalty. Instead of having it third and 10, Rodgers faced second and five from the 6 when he scrambled to the right corner for a touchdown.

As close as NFL games usually are, an underdog team playing in front of its fans must take advantage of home field and home weather, not to mention keeping its mistakes to a bare minimum.

When everything isn’t working in symmetry, the rich usually get richer and losers remain losers.

“It’s been tough for us these last couple years,” said Hurns a third-year man. “We haven’t had many wins. It can’t get much worse. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but we’ve just got finish the game off.”

Green Bay’s next three possessions resulted in punts, and the Jaguars went ahead, 10-7.

At that point, McCarthy put Rodgers in a spread with almost no huddling. The result was a pair of 75-yard touchdowns giving the Packers the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Asked what hurt the Jaguars most, free safety Tashaun Gipson said, “Probably the up-tempo. It kind of got some guys out of whack and they capitalized on it.”

Davon House, a cornerback for the Packers from 2011-'14, agreed.

“Twelve (Rodgers) is at his best when he can run the show,” said House. “In no-huddle, check-check, run this one, run that one. Run or pass. That’s what he does best.”

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Perhaps some of the reason McCarthy stirred the pot was the fact his passing game from more static sets was pedestrian. In the up-tempo offense, Jordy Nelson became harder to cover because he usually lined up as the innermost receiver in a trips formation.

Nelson’s longest reception was merely 8 yards, but he did catch a 6-yard touchdown late in the half.

“I’d say he’s probably like 80%,” said House, who practiced against Nelson for four years. “They’re being smart with him. Usually, he’s out there every single play; he wasn’t out there every single play.

“When I went out there I said, ‘He’s not running a stutter-and-go because of his knee.’ But he ran one and he looked good, too. One time he opened up and tried to go. It was like old Jordy. The way he was moving, he’s not too bad.”

The Jaguars couldn’t mount much pressure against an offensive line making its debut with Lane Taylor for departed Josh Sitton at left guard. It might have seemed their rush was effective because Rodgers kept running around in the pocket.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s under duress,” said Gipson. “He could have sat in the pocket if he wanted to. He extended more than anybody expected. It seemed like every drop-back pass he’d scramble. That’s what he do.”

Of the Packers’ three completions for more than 20 yards, Rodgers tossed two on the move.  He took 5.4 seconds before slinging the dart to Nelson for six points.

The Packers play in Minnesota next Sunday night, a stiff early-season test. But, after that, the schedule judged to be the easiest in the NFL becomes squishy soft.

House was a rookie when Green Bay reeled off 13 victories to open 2011 before winding up 15-1. He probably was in as good a position as anyone Sunday to forecast what the season might hold.

“I’d say it’d be hard for them to be undefeated,” said House. “But I can see them maybe losing only three or four games.”

Professionally taking care of business in the sweltering Florida heat, the Packers have taken step one by improving to 7-4 in openers under McCarthy.

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