Green Bay Packers living dangerously by relying on rallies
GREEN BAY – By now, the natural reaction is to look up at the scoreboard, count the seconds remaining and start anticipating a comeback.
The Green Bay Packers and their generational quarterback had been here many times before. “It’s almost like routine for us at this point,” receiver Davante Adams said. Simply, this is what a team quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers does. Check the scoreboard. Count the seconds. Believe.
Only Monday night was different. Because when the Packers looked up at that scoreboard inside Lambeau Field, they weren’t fixated on the 67 seconds remaining. This time, they saw a different number.
“They had three timeouts,” Rodgers said.
To him, the situation was as clear as it was unusual. Backed up at their 10-yard line with no timeouts of their own, the Packers were still in danger of an embarrassing upset against the lowly San Francisco 49ers. Without a first down, a 49ers team that somehow gashed the Packers defense with backup C.J. Beathard could stop the clock three times and get the ball back with a short field.
So the Packers did something you wouldn’t expect. They effectively punted. Content to force overtime, their game-winning drive started with an unassuming handoff.
Running back Ty Montgomery had other plans.
“I wanted to score,” he said.
He didn’t, but the carry designed “just to get some positive yards” might have saved the Packers' season. Without it, the Packers might not hit the accelerator, driving down the field at breakneck speed. Without it, they play for overtime inside their home stadium, and who knows what happens with the flip of a coin.
Instead, Montgomery broke defensive lineman D.J. Jones’ tackle in the backfield, turned the left corner and picked up 14 yards before doing what the play absolutely was not intended to, stopping the clock by stepping out of bounds.
“We adjust our thinking,” Rodgers said, “based on how many yards we got on that play.”
Eleven snaps and 61 seconds later, Mason Crosby knocked his game-winning field goal through the uprights, his seventh made kick (including three extra points) giving the Packers a 33-30 win.
This is how close their season came to disaster Monday night. Teetering on the edge, the Packers had to beat one of the NFL’s worst teams before entering the teeth of their schedule.
Lose this game, and suddenly the playoffs become a distant dream. There’s a country-mile difference between the Packers' 3-2-1 record and the potential 2-3-1 they were staring at much of Monday night.
“Excellent adversity win,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I can’t say enough about the number of individual performances.”
There shouldn’t have been adversity. Not against a 49ers team missing franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whose season ended in September with a torn ACL. For much of Monday night, the Packers turned back to the clock to 1998. They made Beathard look like Steve Young, who fittingly was in the stadium as part of ESPN’s coverage.
That the Packers, a 10-point favorite at home, needed a comeback to avert a potential season-altering upset was far from inspiring. A big question Monday night was how good, in fact, this team was entering its bye. The answer was resounding: good enough to go toe-to-toe with a 1-4 (now 1-5) opponent. At home. In prime time.
The 49ers are tied with a handful of teams for the worst record in the NFL. What, exactly, does that say about the Packers?
But a win certainly beat the alternative, no matter how it came.
“Football is a very interesting game,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “You’ve got to capitalize on the opportunities that you have. I’ll take an ugly win over a clean loss.”
A series of unlikely events coalesced into a memorable night, a comeback akin to the Packers' miraculous recovery Week 1 against the Chicago Bears.
After Montgomery’s carry, a pair of incompletions sandwiched a delay-of-game penalty. The Packers had third-and-15 at their 19-yard line with 49 seconds left when Rodgers was sacked, seemingly ending the drive.
Then a defensive holding penalty on 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman provided resuscitation. Adams, who was matched against Sherman, said he was also held one play prior.
“I didn’t expect them to call the one that they did,” Adams said. “That was huge and that was big. It was the right call.”
One play later, Rodgers found nobody open but took off down the middle of an open field, carrying his bulky left knee 21 yards to the Packers’ 45. After spiking the ball with 20 seconds left, Rodgers hit Adams for 8 yards, rookie Equanimeous St. Brown for 19 on third-and-2, and Adams for 19 more.
St. Brown’s catch was a signature play in a drive filled with several big moments, a back-shoulder grab that not only converted a third down, but moved the Packers into field-goal range at the 28.
“It just comes down to tracking the ball,” St. Brown said. “I ran a go route, and you turn around and see the ball is behind you. So it’s important to slow down. Just turn around, get the body in position and catch it with your eyes. Try to get your feet inbounds.”
Three plays later, Crosby drilled his 27-yard field goal through the uprights. An “apropos” ending, Rodgers said, given the veteran kicker’s struggles one week earlier in Detroit. The Packers rushed the field, their relief spilling over into joy.
They’ve made a pattern out of these thrilling, last-second comebacks. As they embark on their bye, another reality nags at them.
No matter how routine, it’s dangerous in the NFL to keep living this way.