Third-down magic helps Packers control clock
PHILADELPHIA — A group of people crammed into a service elevator shortly after the Green Bay Packers snapped the four-game losing streak that threatened their season. The majority of floor space belonged to members of the media, but a pair of Philadelphia Eagles fans stood by the door. One wore the jersey of tight end Brent Celek.
Disheartened by what they had just watched, the two fans sparked a discussion about why the Eagles, who entered Monday’s game undefeated at home, were manhandled by the Packers in a double-digit loss at Lincoln Financial Field. They quickly realized their surroundings provided the answer.
Even with all its halting, one fan said between floors, “this elevator couldn’t stop the Packers on third down.”
In what can only be described as an unexpected twist, the Packers’ offense was ruthlessly efficient during a four-quarter carving of the seventh-best defense in the league. They converted 10 of their 14 third-down attempts throughout the game — including a wondrous 6-for-6 start to manufacture a halftime lead — and wore down the Eagles with lengthy drives as rich in execution as they were in points.
For at least a week the ship was righted: Packers 27, Eagles 13.
“We were definitely in rhythm when it comes to making plays,” wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “We talk about it continuously: being able to break a tackle, picking up a first down. We did that consistently throughout the game. Across the board everybody was making plays and putting us in situations where we were able to go on long drives.”
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The lengthy drives started from the outset, and the Packers gobbled 75 yards on 10 plays after receiving the opening kickoff. Twice they faced third downs on a march that yielded seven points; twice they converted with plays that combined for 23 yards.
If the sight of a productive offense played tricks with your mind, it’s only because the Packers fell so hard on their faces eight days prior. A week ago, during a blowout loss to Washington, the Packers notched three-and-outs on the first three possessions of the game — something that had never happened in the Aaron Rodgers era. Zooming out, the abject sluggishness capped a three-game stretch in which the Packers converted less than 36 percent of third downs.
“Regardless of the opponent we’ve faced or whatever, the issue with us getting third-down conversions is on us,” center Corey Linsley said. “It’s on us to be accountable and everybody look in the mirror (and say), ‘What can I do better to make this thing work?’ And I think when you’ve got a great group of guys like we do in our locker room, eventually it’s going to click and I think tonight it did.”
Linsley’s wide-ranging message reinforced the collaborative effort shown on the field, where six different players chipped in with third-down conversions. There were two scrambles by Rodgers, who again was considered the team’s most effective runner, and there were droves of quick passes against which defending seemed fruitless.
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Rodgers, who finished 30-of-39 for 313 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 116.7, spread his third-down conversions across the field. There were two short passes to wide receiver Randall Cobb. There were two more passes to wide receiver Jordy Nelson. He dished out one conversion a piece to running back James Starks, tight end Jared Cook and budding phenom Davante Adams, who starred with five catches for 113 yards and two scores.
Two other conversions were triggered by defensive penalties that leave players and coaches fuming. One of them, a roughing the passer penalty against Fletcher Cox, featured a clothesline of Rodgers that will certainly result in a fine.
“Just too much time,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “You can’t let a guy like Aaron Rodgers stand back there, he’s going to pick you apart. You just can’t hold up in the back end that long.”
So it was only fitting that Rodgers flung one last dagger during a marathon march that sealed a win. The Packers, leading by 20-13, trekked 78 yards on 18 plays to devour more than eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Halfway through the drive they faced third and 12.
Nine seconds later, Nelson broke free across the middle of a drooping zone defense. Rodgers fired the perfect pass. It was the 10th third-down conversion that broke the Eagles’ backs.
“The group of guys we have here work hard every single week,” wide receiver Ty Montgomery said. “Unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t pan out, but tonight we executed and it worked out in our favor.”
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BOX SCORE: Packers 27, Eagles 13
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