Insider: Thumbs up to five interceptions
THE BIG PICTURE
Once a team in a downward spiral, the Green Bay Packers have regained their equilibrium and are now racing to the finish in a much more competitive manner. By virtue of their 38-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Lambeau Field, they improved to 7-6, climbing above .500 for the first time since Week 8 when they were 4-3 and in the early stages of a four-game losing streak. They still have two games to make up in order to catch the Detroit Lions, who improved to 9-4 with a victory over Chicago, but if the Lions lose to either the New York Giants next week or the Dallas Cowboys the week after, the Packers would control their own destiny. They would have to win out: at Chicago, Minnesota and at Detroit. If they play like they did against the Seahawks, they’ll finish the season 10-6. But quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who played brilliantly, now has a right calf injury to go with his left hamstring pull. In some ways, his injuries are making him play better, forcing him to stay in the pocket and go through his progressions. But his injuries can’t get worse. As for the defense, six turnovers isn’t the norm and the Seahawks’ offensive line is a mess, so there’s more to prove. It was a start and if the trend continues, the Packers will be a team not to be messed with.
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Turnovers have not come easy for the Packers — they came in with seventh-fewest forced in the NFL. But they improved from minus-five to plus-one in a single night thanks to six takeaways against the Seahawks. None was as important as safety Morgan Burnett’s interception early in the second quarter that set up the Packers’ second touchdown. Burnett had man-to-man coverage with Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham on first and 10 at the Seattle 34. Graham tried to run a dig route on Burnett, but when he made his cut inside, he stumbled, in part because Burnett was undercutting the route. “I kind of felt what route he was about to do,” Burnett said. Russell Wilson’s pass hit him in the chest and instead of sliding to the ground like in the NFC championship game against the Seahawks two years ago, Burnett returned the ball 19 yards to the Seattle 26. It was a big-time play against a big-time tight end and set up Ty Montgomery’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Packers a 14-3 lead.
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Coaches always say interceptions come in bunches. During a four-game losing streak, the defense had just two, a pair of interceptions in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and the possibility of a bunch occurring anytime this season appeared remote. A cornerback had not had an interception since Damarious Randall picked off Detroit's Matthew Stafford in Week 3 and there had been six games this year when nobody had one. But against the Seahawks, the Packers forced three interceptions and were Johnny-on-the-spot for two more. Dom Capers’ defense has a history of picking off Wilson. It had four in the NFC championship game two years ago and one in a 27-17 victory in Week 2 last season. That’s 10 in three games. The two biggest plays were Burnett’s second-quarter pick in Seattle territory and Randall’s at the goal line with under a minute left in the first half. LaDarius Gunter helped forced another with blanket coverage on receiver Jermaine Kearse — cornerback Quinten Rollins caught the deflection off Gunter’s back in the end zone — and the Seahawks chipped in two others off receivers’ hands that Randall and Micah Hyde plucked.
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The Packers invested $3.75 million in tight end Jared Cook knowing his production had been waning and his body had a lot of miles on it. Smartly, they only signed him to a one-year deal because Cook has been pretty much absent this year. He was playing in only his seventh game of the season Sunday against Seattle due to a high ankle sprain he suffered against the Lions and had caught 5 passes for 41 yards in his previous three games. He showed his talent in a six-catch-105-yard, one-touchdown performance in Washington, but his fumble in the fourth quarter also snuffed out the Packers’ final comeback attempt. Cook caught one pass for 15 yards Sunday before leaving the game in the second quarter with what was reported as a chest injury. He didn’t return and after the game, director of football operations Eliot Wolf was seen talking to practice squad tight end Davon Cajuste in the locker room, presumably to tell him he would be elevated to the 53-man roster this week. Depending on how bad the injury is, this might have been the last anyone will see Cook in a Packers uniform.
RANTS & RAVES
RAVE: Rodgers is so much better when he’s using his elusiveness to buy himself time in the pocket and not scrambling around like a madman with no plan of attack. He played a nearly flawless game against the Seahawks, moving around behind his offensive line to find clear throwing lanes and allow his receivers to clear coverage. His throws were pinpoint and his injuries only seemed to bother him after a play was over.
RANT: How is it possible that just three weeks ago against Washington OLB Jayrone Elliott was inactive? There isn’t a better special teams player on the 53-man roster or anyone who plays any harder. Elliott better be on the field more than he has been this season because he showed once again that he can be a productive defensive player. Elliott had five tackles, including one for loss on third and short, and a sack. With Nick Perry (hand) sidelined, Elliott has to be on the field more.
RAVE: It’s pretty well-known among football players that broken bones take 4 to 6 weeks to heal. Someone should inform guard T.J. Lang of that fact. Just three weeks after breaking his foot against Tennessee, Lang started and played the entire game against Seattle. Asked about it taking four weeks, Lang said, “Who said it was healed?” Apparently, orthotics underneath his foot and a protective shield over it, allowed him to protect the foot enough that the medical staff let him play. Lang is in a contract year and didn’t have to risk it. Maybe he’s crazy or stupid. But he came through it OK and played a solid game.
RANT: Randall is one of the most perplexing players on the roster. He is as physically gifted as anyone in the Packers’ secondary. He has a great nose for the ball. His catch-up speed on his second-quarter interception was phenomenal. He is the only corner on the roster who can be considered a ballhawk. But he also has these lapses that are head-scratching. He got caught looking in the backfield and was partially responsible for Wilson’s 21-yard TD pass to Tanner McElvoy. The same thing happened to him last week against Houston when he lost track of receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a 44-yard touchdown catch for which he shared responsibility. Tough to figure out.
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DID YOU NOTICE?
» Running back James Starks is the odd man out in the backfield. He only played a handful of snaps and had two carries for 3 yards.
» Linebacker Clay Matthews played outside linebacker in the dime most of the night. Nursing a shoulder injury, Matthews didn’t play in the middle or outside on early downs, although he played almost to the end of the game.
» Defensive tackle Dean Lowry has two sacks in two games and is seeing an increasing amount of snaps while first-round pick Kenny Clark seems to be seeing fewer and having very little impact.
» Lang had words with Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril after a third-down play. Apparently, Avril hit Lang in his privates and Lang wasn’t so sure it wasn’t on purpose.
» Linebacker Blake Martinez (knee) was not active for the second straight week, forcing Joe Thomas to play the entire game. Jake Ryan played a few snaps, but Capers played Burnett inside most of the game.