EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The rain started about an hour before kickoff. A misty, slippery rain, just enough moisture to be worth considering.
Then came the snow. Puffy flakes covered MetLife Stadium’s field turf in white midway through the second quarter. During one timeout, maintenance crews armed with shovels were tasked with paving the yard lines. The worker charged with pushing snow off the 10-yard line missed on his first pass. He had to shovel twice.
By halftime, Green Bay Packers tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari had had enough.
“We came back in (to the locker room),” Bulaga said. “because we just weren’t getting deep enough into the turf with what we had on.”
The Packers navigated one of the trickiest field conditions imaginable – short of an all-out blizzard – in their 31-13 win at the New York Giants. In the second half, the field was practically slush on top of field turf, a bizarre combination players don’t often encounter. Because in the NFL, many turf fields are indoors.
“It’s a little different,” cornerback Kevin King said. “Yeah, a little bit.”
Added Bulaga: “Once it got slushy is when it got a little slick. When it first started, it was just snowy. That wasn’t bad. Then it kind of stopped and got slushy and started raining back on top of it, and it got a little bit messy.”
There are no excuses in the NFL. Both teams played on a slick field Sunday. Still, the Packers’ win reflected the playing surface. They, too, looked a little bit messy.
The run game especially suffered. While offensive linemen handled their pass sets well, affording quarterback Aaron Rodgers plenty of time in the pocket, there was little in the run game. Outside Rodgers’ three scrambles for 24 yards, the Packers rushed for just 55 yards on 23 carries – an anemic 2.4 yards per run.
“You kind of look at it,” Bulaga said, “as downhill runs are going to be more featured than cutback runs because the footing is not as clean going back through. Obviously, the receivers have a nice advantage there. They’re running straight ahead. The DBs are backpedaling, have to react like that, and it can be slick.”
The Giants didn’t fare much better. Saquon Barkley had a solid game on the ground, rushing 19 times for 83 yards, but he had no long runs.
It’s fair to wonder whether the footing might have helped the Packers' defense. The Giants' 3.5 yards per carry on 27 rushes was a full yard less than their season average.
“We’re a cold-weather team,” King said. “So we prepare for that kind of stuff.”
Marcedes Lewis finds the end zone
The Packers had the same goal-line play in their back pocket for weeks, waiting to run it.
The desired result would be something that’d never happened before: Rodgers throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Through almost two seasons, Lewis and Rodgers have grown into good friends inside the Packers' locker room. They’ve even built as a pair in the passing game this season. They just hadn’t found the end zone together.
That changed Sunday in the fourth quarter. The Giants pressed the line of scrimmage hard, loading to defend the run. Linebacker Deone Bucannon was among them. If Bucannon stayed back to defend the pass, Lewis would be a blocker. Instead, he played the run, and Rodgers checked to the play.
“It’s within the offense,” Lewis said, “and he’ll call it based upon the look. We work on it every week. So this week, it looked good, and you see what happened.”
Rodgers rolled left and ran out of a potential sack from Giants outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter before lobbing his pass to his tight end near the left sideline in the end zone. Lewis, with leverage against Bucannon, boxed out the small linebacker for the touchdown.
It was the 34th touchdown of Lewis’ career, but his first with the Packers. More important, it was his first from Rodgers, who leaped on his way to the end zone to celebrate.
“I’m always happy throwing a touchdown pass,” Rodgers said, “but it was a little something special with Marcedes, just because of the kind of guy that he is, kind of player that he is, what he’s meant to our team this year from a leadership standpoint. He’s a pro’s pro. He hasn’t been a huge factor in the passing game, but he’s been a rock in the run game opening up holes for us and doing his job, never complaining, leading by example.
“At this point, I couldn’t have thrown a touchdown to a better guy.”
Lewis’ feelings is mutual. He said “of course” it was meaningful to catch a touchdown pass from Rodgers, mostly because of their relationship.
Why has that chemistry blossomed?
“I don’t know,” Lewis said. “Real recognize real. We’ve grown as professionals, we’ve both put the time in. We’ve both had success, so it’s not about that. I don’t know, it’s just a really good situation.”
Penalty baffles Blake Martinez
In Blake Martinez’ opinion, he received a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty in Sunday’s first half without breaking an NFL rule.
As Giants quarterback Daniels Jones scrambled to his right, Martinez shoved Javorious Allen to the ground. The contact was not malicious, but it was enough to draw a flag. Martinez said officials explained to him on the field he was penalized for pushing Allen in the back, apparently citing article two of the illegal contact rules, which reads:
“Within the five-yard zone, if the player who receivers the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender may not make original contact in the back of a receiver, nor may he maintain contact after the receiver has moved beyond a point that is even with the defender.”
That would not explain why Martinez was penalized for unnecessary roughness instead of illegal contact. In Martinez’ view, even illegal contact was not warranted. He said the penalized action is what middle linebackers are taught to do when a quarterback scrambles.
“It’s an NFL rule,” Martinez said, “where if the quarterback is out of the pocket, you’re allowed to hit receivers onto the ground. So if it’s a rule, I feel like I should be allowed to do that. So that’s my opinion.”
Video replay corroborated Martinez’ account that Jones out of the pocket when contact was made with Allen.
It’s the second straight week the Packers received a questionable 15-yard penalty early in a game. Receiver Davante Adams was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after bumping into a San Francisco 49ers defender out of bounds last week.
Martinez said the penalty changed the way he played Sunday.
“There were probably like three other times in the game,” Martinez said, “where I could’ve done the same exact thing, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to cost my team a flag.”
Back on track
It was an odd place and unlikely conditions for punter JK Scott to find his groove, but that’s what happened in the snow at MetLife Stadium.
Over the past four games, Scott had averaged 36.6 yards and 4.3 seconds hang time. Only one of those games – Week 10 at Lambeau Field -- came in bad weather
Against the Giants, however, he averaged 46.7 gross and 42.7 net on three punts. While hang times weren’t available, Scott’s first punt, a 47-yarder, hung up in the air and forced returner Da’Mari Scott to call for a fair catch at his own 11.
“It was a little slippery for the plant foot, but I didn’t really have any trouble,” Scott said of the first punt. “I would say I hit a good ball on that one.”
His second punt was also 47 yards, but it was the result of a good bounce and Scott managed a 12-yard return. Then, in the fourth quarter, he hit a beautiful punt that bounced inside the 10-yard line and rested at the 6, where it was downed.
“I think I definitely have felt in a rhythm the last couple of weeks in practice,” Scott said.
No hard feelings
Running back Jamaal Williams ducked his head and drove his helmet into the shoulder of Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins late in the game, knocking Jenkins on his rear end.
Williams could have been called for lowering his helmet to initiate contact, but officials haven’t called that penalty much and no flag was thrown. The league could send Williams a warning or possibly fine him, although the fact nothing was called on the field helps his cause.
Asked if he talked to Jenkins after the game, Williams indicated Jenkins had no hard feelings over the run.
“He was good,” Williams said. “We all know it’s a professional game. We just know that going out there, we’re going to give our best no matter what. It’s just all respect for him.”