McGinn: Packers finally put it together
PHILADELPHIA - At long last, the Green Bay Packers have found a way to turn potential into performance.
They did it Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field with an ultra-efficient bashing of the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-13, to awaken in an NFC North Division race that is anything but decided.
This is what happens when the Packers play turnover-free football and execute with remarkable precision for 60 minutes.
“Our team has not blinked,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We will be a better football team due to the route we traveled. We really needed this one.”
Even minus six starters due to injury, Green Bay has been capable of this type of showing throughout a four-game losing streak that caused some of its fans to begin writing off the season and hoping for major organizational change.
Now, by winning, the Packers will experience a far different narrative when they return home. They’re 5-6, two games behind Detroit (7-4) and one back of Minnesota (6-5) in the NFC North Division, and momentum is on their side for a change.
In the NFC, Green Bay is tied with the Eagles and New Orleans for the ninth-best record.
Of the NFC North contenders, the Packers and Vikings have three of their last five games at home whereas the Lions have just two home games remaining.
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On paper, Minnesota has the easiest schedule: its opponents are 24-31. The Vikings hold the tiebreaker over the Packers by virtue of their 17-14 victory in Game 2, but they’ve also lost five of their last six.
Detroit’s remaining foes are 30-25 compared to Green Bay’s 28-26-1. The Packers won the first meeting between the two teams, 34-27, in Game 3.
The last time the Packers were 5-6 was 2008, and they finished 6-10. Since then, they’ve made the playoffs every year, and that includes 2013 when they were 5-5-1 and would be without an injured Rodgers for four more games.
Now Rodgers is playing his best football in more than a year. That fact alone would make the Packers a dangerous opponent.
Operating a spread offense with patience and professionalism, Rodgers completed 76.9% of 39 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 116.7.
“The first half was different this week,” Rodgers said. “We started the way we wanted to start.
“In the second half we finished with two great drives to close the game out. Our third-down percentage was great. The offensive line play was incredible.”
Rodgers suffered an injury to his left hamstring as he scrambled in the first series of the third quarter. With team functionaries covering Rodgers with towels to keep out prying eyes and cameras, trainers taped him and he finished the game.
“I just hurt my hamstring a little bit,” Rodgers said. “I felt tight in the first half for some reason. I’ll be fine. I tried to run around too much. I played through it and will be good to go next week (against Houston).
“I just didn’t want to be taped up on the television. I had to drop my drawers a little bit to get taped up. I just wanted the privacy of the tent.”
Discounting two kneel-down possessions at the end of each half, the Packers scored on five of their six other series while converting 10 of 14 third downs.
The Eagles, with a defense ranked fourth in points and eighth in yards, had won all four of its home games by allowing merely 38 points.
This time, they couldn’t get off the field (the Packers’ possession time was 35 minutes, 23 seconds) largely because their rush was stymied by the Packers’ stellar offensive line and instant-rhythm passing.
“We went back and forth,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “When we did try to tighten up and get some single high, they hit us with some big plays over the top. It was constantly trying to play cat and mouse, and disguising some things.
“At the same time, it’s not often you see an offense that’s patient enough to just have a 12-play drive where no plays are over 4 or 5 yards. All you’re waiting for is really one negative play and, most times when we got it, they either converted on third down or we got a penalty or something that got them out of that hole.
“When you’re playing a quarterback like that, mistakes cost you.”
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Veteran cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll were overmatched by Davante Adams, the third-year wide receiver who has improved by leaps and bounds despite the losing.
Adams led the balanced receiving corps with five catches for 113 yards and two TDs, and old standby Jordy Nelson chipped in with eight for 91.
“Davante was huge for us tonight,” said McCarthy.
Meanwhile, the only turnover was committed by Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz, and it helped swing a close game toward Green Bay. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix intercepted a pass by Wentz at the start of the third quarter that sailed far over the head of tight end Zach Ertz inside the Packers 20.
“The keys tonight were field position and winning the turnover ratio,” said McCarthy. “Our guys did a great job taking care of the football.
“We’ve been close all year with turnover opportunities. That (Clinton-Dix’s pick) was one of the biggest plays of the game. The ability to steal a series from their offense was key.”
It was a four-point game at that point, but the Eagles’ offense was never the same after that. Wentz, who was sensational in September, settled for a rating of 75.5 as his season mark slid to 83.5.
“This is a very good defense,” said McCarthy. “They were playing extremely well. It starts up front with our offensive line. Our guys did a great job. We won the long drives and controlled the football.”
Each team had just three possessions in a crisply played first half that lasted merely 1:15.
The Packers made the decision on offense that their receivers were better than the Eagles’ defensive backs. Thus, they played the entire half throwing passes either behind the line or 5 to 10 yards downfield and putting the rushing attack in mothballs.
BOX SCORE: Packers 27, Eagles 13
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Green Bay went 75 yards in 10 plays after the Eagles won the toss and deferred possession. Rodgers completed 5 of 6 passes for 47 yards besides adding 25 yards on a pair of scrambles.
The touchdown, a 12-yard pass, came when Adams put a nasty move on McKelvin from the outside right and beat him to the post.
It was an impressive departure from slow starts of the last two games when the Packers opened with three-and-outs against Tennessee and Washington. Their last first-drive TD came against Atlanta in Game 7.
Philadelphia retaliated with an equally precise 11-play drive that measured 81 yards and tied the score, 7-7. Wentz scrambled around Julius Peppers, who had to start at outside linebacker when Clay Matthews started inside, and scored on a 1-yard run.
The Eagles never even got to third down. Dorial Green-Beckham, starting when Nelson Agholor was declared a healthy scratch, caught four passes, including three in a row at one point, for 53 yards.
Green Bay also was unstoppable on its next painstaking, controlled series, moving 75 yards in nine plays to take a 14-7 lead.
The Packers reached third down only once, but James Starks converted easily on a toss for 8 on the third and 1.
Adams ran a vertical route against Carroll from the outside left. It was first down, and Rodgers took a shot although there was little separation.
When Carroll was late turning to see where the ball was, Adams looked back and made a difficult catch in the end-zone corner with Carroll in close proximity.
The Eagles picked up two first downs and reached midfield. On third and 4, Wentz’s stop pass on the left sideline for Bryce Treggs was broken up by LaDarius Gunter and punter Donnie Jones came on.
With Philadelphia’s pass rush and coverage tightening, the Packers were forced to third down three straight times. Rodgers converted the first with a 4-yard run off zone-read action, Randall Cobb caught a 4-yard pass to convert the second and Rodgers found Cobb for 8 when the Eagles didn’t press him in the slot to convert the third.
From midfield, however, three plays gained just 7 yards. Debating the decision during a timeout, McCarthy finally waved out punter Jacob Schum, and Jayrone Elliott downed the ball at the 1.
The Eagles chewed up most of the final 3½ minutes leading to Caleb Sturgis’ 48-yard field goal that shortened Green Bay’s halftime lead to 14-10.
It was third and 11 when Nick Perry jumped offside. On third and 6, Wentz scrambled under pressure and should have been tackled by Damarious Randall three yards short of the sticks. But Randall missed and the gain was 17.
From the Green Bay 34, Peppers pressured Wentz into an incompletion, Quinten Rollins batted down a pass on a corner blitz and a screen to Darren Sproles gained 4.
Wentz directed a seven-play push that moved 30 yards to open the second half. On second and 10, he overthrew Ertz running down the seam against inside linebacker Joe Thomas and was intercepted by Clinton-Dix, who returned 12 yards.
On the Packers’ first play, Rodgers took a deep drop off a deliberate play fake, stepped up and lobbed long to Adams, who was covered man-to-man by McKelvin along the right sideline. McKelvin tried to rip the ball from Adams after an over-the-shoulder catch but he hung on for 50.
From the 33, Christine Michael debuted with a carry for 6, Jordy Nelson had a 3-yard reception and Rodgers was pressured into an incompletion. Mason Crosby’s 33-yard field goal made it 17-10.
The Eagles made good on a pair of third downs on completions by Wentz before a 10-yard pass to Kenjon Barner gave them a first down at the Green Bay 34.
From there, Barner carried for 2, Ertz dropped a crossing pass and Wentz threw incomplete. Sturgis’ 50-yard field goal made it 17-13 with 5:21 left in the third.
The Packers extended their cushion to 24-13 early in the fourth on Aaron Ripkowski’s 1-yard dive. It culminated a 13-play, 75-yard march.
The key play occurred early. After Rodgers threw incomplete on third and 4 under pressure by Fletcher Cox, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle was penalized for roughing the passer.
Rodgers then converted three consecutive third downs with completions of 2 yards to Nelson, 8 yards to Starks and 23 yards to Adams, who destroyed Carroll on another post route that advanced to the 3.
Philadelphia moved to the Green Bay 36 before Matthews, from a standup position, steamed past Isaac Seumalo, a backup right guard, for a 10-yard sack. Right guard Brandon Brooks, a graduate of Milwaukee Riverside, was a surprise inactive.
Randall broke up a crossing route that Wentz threw behind Treggs, and the Eagles were forced to punt.
The Packers closed it out in ideal fashion, using up 8:21 in a 17-play, 78-yard drive capped by Crosby’s 32-yard field goal.