After sluggish start, Rodgers dazzles again
GREEN BAY - The eight seconds that kept the Green Bay Packers afloat underscored everything this offense did well during a six-game winning streak that captured a division title en route to saving the season.
Stifled by the New York Giants’ defense for 27 minutes, the Packers received a gift when punter Brad Wing unleashed a 37-yard wobbler that never reached midfield. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a chance to flip the script as halftime approached.
He dropped back to pass with 2 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and as it has all season the offensive line stood firm. Three seconds passed as Rodgers surveyed the end zone. Three more ticked off as he danced inside the pocket. The final two elapsed as Rodgers fired a dart to Davante Adams, the result a 5-yard score.
“He was holding the ball a little bit longer, and the receivers were getting a little more open so we had to cover a little longer,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Aaron Rodgers was Aaron Rodgers today. He played a lights-out game.”
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For the seventh time in seven games, Rodgers produced large doses of pristine football. The touchdown to Adams, which gave the Packers a lead they never relinquished, rid Rodgers of his early mistakes and replaced them with the flawlessness needed to run the table. He completed 25 of 40 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns against a defense considered among the best in the league. His passer rating exceeded 125 for the fourth time in the last five weeks.
Most importantly, the Packers offense rolled: Green Bay 38, New York 13.
“I don’t keep score,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “but he’s playing tremendous football. He has spoiled all of us around here for a long time.”
Tremendous though his final numbers were, Rodgers slogged through the majority of the first half. The mistakes he avoided over the last six games — missing open receivers, holding the ball too long, taking too many sacks — all resurfaced as the Giants held the Packers to negative yardage well into the second quarter.
What Rodgers described as a lack of rhythm dissipated as the field position tilted in the Packers’ favor. The poor punting of Wing, who averaged a meager 32.8 net yards and booted a number of heinous wobblers, afforded the Packers an opportunity at New York’s 38-yard line. McCarthy called a touch pass to Adams deep down the right sideline, and Rodgers delivered with a 31-yard throw.
Two plays later he found Adams on the scrambling 5-yard score.
“I wasn’t in a great rhythm the first quarter and a half,” Rodgers said. “I missed a couple throws and then I took a couple sacks as well. Then Mike (McCarthy) got me in a flow there at the end of the second quarter."
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The second-half explosion was rooted in the closing moments of the second quarter, when Rodgers unleashed his third successful Hail Mary since December 2015. He dropped back with six seconds on the clock as the offensive line stood its ground. He heaved from beyond the right hash to the back-left corner of the end zone.
And there, waiting to tap both toes in bounds, was wide receiver Randall Cobb for a remarkable 42-yard score.
“I know what that feels like to have that happen and kind of the deflation it has on the sidelines and mentally,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga in reference to a Hail Mary by the Giants during the 2011 playoffs. “So I definitely know what that feels like and for us to be able to pull that off — we practice that type of stuff all the time, and kudos to all the guys in the end zone boxing out and getting in position.”
Rodgers’ latest geometric wonder gave the Packers a halftime lead at 14-6, and with it came the unburdening of an offense that just continues to click, even as No. 1 receiver Jordy Nelson was ruled out with injured ribs.
But Cobb and Adams were determined to pick up the slack. Cobb tormented the Giants with yards after the catch as the offense restored its run-the-table form. He caught five passes for 116 yards after missing the last two games with an injured ankle. Three of his five catches were scores.
Adams damaged the Giants with nifty footwork off the line of scrimmage, just as he has all season, and Rodgers was happy to capitalize with his patented quick releases. He too topped the century mark with eight catches for 125 yards.
Eight seconds kept the Packers afloat when their offense seemed to teeter. Rodgers and Co. responded by closing out the Giants with four consecutive scores.
"He always does what this team needs in order for us to be successful," tight end Jared Cook said. "I think he’d give his heart, you know, if a guy needed it. He’s just that kind of player. He’s selfless, man, and he motivates us and he keeps this thing going.”
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