Silverstein: Aaron Rodgers, Packers receivers take over when it counts
GREEN BAY - If you think that coaching wins football games, then you should have been at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon when the Green Bay Packers escaped with a 27-24 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
By any estimation, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther got the best of coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his house of mirrors approach that kept the Packers continually guessing what coverage they were facing.
Through three quarters, the Packers had scored 14 points and given away seven in what looked like something akin to a second exhibition game performance. Between their touchdown drives to start each half, the Packers picked up 46 yards, punted four times and surrendered a pick-6.
The Bengals stymied the Packers by continually switching defensive coverages and disguising them as long as they could. They rushed four most of the time and were able to cause enough problems up front that McCarthy had to abandon his spread attack and keep tight ends and the back in to block.
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In the secondary, the Bengals gave the Packers receivers everything they could handle and made Rodgers hold onto the ball much longer than he wanted.
“They ran a lot,” said tight end Lance Kendricks, who caught two passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. “They ran quarters, two-man, ‘11’, at least four or five coverages. They mix it up pretty well and then they disguise it pretty well.
“It’s’ tough. One route, I didn’t catch the ball but the end just kind of popped out, so I had to kind of go under him. So, they throw a lot of stuff at you.”
It didn’t help that Rodgers was playing again without left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle) in the second half. Rodgers needed as much time as possible against the Bengals, and Kyle Murphy, in particular, just couldn’t handle the assignment.
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BOX SCORE: Packers 27, Bengals 24
Rodgers was sacked six times and knocked down three other times. He threw his third interception in three games and it was returned 75 yards for a touchdown, the first time he had surrendered a pick-6 since Dec. 7, 2009.
All that said, it still wasn’t enough for the Bengals (0-3) to pull a major upset on the road in a stadium where the Packers rarely lose in September.
It wasn’t enough because players determine outcomes and schemes merely give them a framework with which to express themselves. The Packers overcame all their offensive failures Sunday because Rodgers, Kendricks, Jordy Nelson and Geronimo Allison rose above it all.
Kendricks started it all with a terrific 51-yard catch-and-run on the first play of the second half that was the key play in an eight play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Nelson and Allison kept it going with clutch catches during a game-tying drive in the final 3 minutes.
And then Rodgers and Nelson connected on a touchdown pass that had maybe a 2-inch margin for error to tie the game and Allison read coverage correctly and weaved in and around the Bengals secondary for a 72-yard gain that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.
“You have to have those wins,” McCarthy said. “You have to have those moments of adversity. We talked about advancing through the adverse moments.”
There was plenty of that heading into the third quarter. Trailing at halftime, 21-7, there wasn’t much for the Packers to be excited about other than they were going to get first crack at the ball in the third quarter. Given what had happened to that point, it shouldn’t have caused much of a celebration.
“We hadn’t found a rhythm yet so we were kind of talking about protection stuff and how we wanted to move forward attacking them,” Rodgers said. “Mike did a good job of changing some things up and we hit a couple.”
The first drive of the third quarter reflected those changes. Kendrick’s play jump-started the offense, but there was no long-term effect. It was a good player making a terrific play at a key moment.
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From there, the Bengals tightened up and with 3 minutes, 46 seconds to go in the game, the Packers were trailing, 24-17. They were pretty much back to being stagnant on offense.
But then Rodgers, Nelson and Allison took over.
On first and 10 at the Packers 25, Allison came back along the right sideline, high-pointed Rodgers’ pass and tapped both feet in bounds for a 17-yard reception. Two plays later, one of which was an Allison drop, Allison worked the sideline again for an 11-yard reception on third and 9 at the Packers 43.
A player later, Nelson did the same thing along the sideline, coming back for a 10-yard reception to get the ball down to the Cincinnati 33 with 2 minutes to go.
“We had some extended plays there,” Rodgers said. “We were kind of drawing (plays) on the dirt a little bit at times. But (we) made enough plays.”
Finally, on first and goal at the 3, Rodgers trusted Nelson to be at the pylon and fired a shot that cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick dived at, looking for an interception or tipped ball. But the ball sailed just past his fingertips into Nelson’s hands, whose toes touched the end zone just before he fell out of bounds.
“I didn’t have any doubt on it,” Nelson said. “Aaron put it out where it was only for me to catch it and I just had to make sure I maintained it and got down on the ground.
“The (cornerback) tried to make a great play on it and just came up a little short on it. If the ball is on me or behind me a little they make the play. But it was to where only I can make the play.”
In overtime, the Packers forced a punt and the offense took over on its own 21. On third and 10, Rodgers used a hard count to get the Bengals to jump offsides. Allison, lined up to the left side, saw the infraction, read the coverage and took his route up the field.
“That last play was kind of like Cover 2,” Allison said. “As soon as I had an outside release I felt him trying to widen in underneath me, I could see it. I just tried to stay vertical.
“Aaron kind of got under duress, but he escaped looked up and saw me stretching vertical and put it out there for me.”
Allison did the rest, weaving through the defense and nearly scoring. One play later, Mason Crosby kicked a 27-yard field goal to win it.