Green Bay Packers Steal from Host New York Giants
This was it. The signature challenge of the season.
Never mind that for the Green Bay Packers, this was not the first one of 2011.
The season started with hosting the New Orleans Saints and included a trip to Chicago, Atlanta and San Diego by the midpoint of the season. Now, Green Bay faced back-to-back road games against contenders.
The game saw an early lead by the Giants erased by a big defensive play, only to see New York come back and tie the game in the last minute of regulation. And Skip Bayless, the only man left in America who does not buy into Aaron Rodgers as great, finally got to see his game-winning drive that the QB has rarely needed.
So now, the Packers are home free, right? Not one remaining team is a true contender, but every one of the remaining teams is capable of beating Green Bay.
The Oakland Raiders will be stinging from their loss and like a lot of young teams, could be up to the challenge or stink. Arrowhead is a tough place to play, and Kyle Orton will know the Chiefs offense.
The Bears look bad without Jay Cutler, but Caleb Hanie should improve enough to make the offense more potent than it was in the season finale last January (three points), when they nearly won. The Lions will be looking for revenge and the Packers will have nothing to play for.
Still, there is no challenge as tough as the Giants left in that group. The following report card for the thrilling win tells the story of why Green Bay won this game and why it almost did not...
Aaron Rodgers did not have his customary accuracy on a few throws, and his NFL-record 11-game streak of 110-plus passer ratings ended Sunday. But it may have been his best game of the season.
With a defense that could not stop the Giants, Rodgers faced a once-again fierce pass rush, a secondary playing above their heads and six dropped passes. He still went 28-for-46 (.609) with 369 yards (8.0 per attempt), four touchdowns and one pick.
That's right. He threw his fifth interception of the season. But he also led the Packers in rushing from four times he ran for his life for 32 yards (also 8.0 per attempt). Instead, he was sacked only twice for nine yards.
Accounting for the six dropped passes from the most sure-handed receiving corps in football, Rodgers performance was even better. One cannot take the completions and resulting yards and add them to a quarterback's total in assessing him, but it's reasonable to at least take away the incompletions.
That would make him 28-for-40 (.700) with 369 yards (9.2 per attempt) and give him a 123 passer rating.
Plus, of course Rodgers got his sixth official fourth-quarter, game-winning drive, far less than a certain ESPN commentator's favourite quarterbacks, retired or still playing. Except Rodgers drove for a late tie or lead eight times in his first season as a starter, but the defense or special teams blew seven.
Clutch is about how someone plays, not whether the team won because that's a team accomplishment. Rodgers is among the all-time elite in the second half, on third down and in the red zone. His numbers are even better in the playoffs than in the regular season, unlike either of Skip's man-crush quarterbacks.
Keep doubting him. He needs no extra motivation but clearly enjoys making people eat their words. In 14 seconds, he moved the Packers 51 yards into field goal range. Then he ate up the rest of the time and got his team inside the red zone to make it a chip-shot field goal for his kicker.
Still, the four off-target throws—especially the pick—by Rodgers and the one from Randall Cobb functioning as a quarterback keep it from a perfect grade.
Running Backs: C-
Statistically, this was another horrible performance by the Packers running backs against a team in the bottom quarter of the league at stopping the run. But the reality is much different.
James Starks was hurt during the game, finishing with just three carries for five yards. Because of that, Packers coach Mike McCarthy spread his responsibilities out over three other players, and the rest of the unit had 98 yards on 26 touches (3.8).
Brandon Saine got his first real action with six carries for 16 yards (2.7) and four catches for 27 yards, including a huge 22-yard first down on a simple swing pass. Ryan Grant had 13 carries for 29 yards (2.2) and a key 17-yard catch. John Kuhn has carries of two and five yards (3.5).
Moreover, the Packers ran the ball effectively enough to shorten the game with the lead, running the ball 13 times. Even with just 36 yards (2.8), the last three were for 15 yards.
While the running game provided little, it was good enough to keep the defense honest. That means it gets a barely passing grade.
Donald Driver looked like a player with something to prove.
On any other team, he would be on the field almost all the time. His four catches may have covered only 34 yards (8.5) but included two scores including an impressive catch tip-toeing the line behind the pylon.
Jordy Nelson was the Packers' best deep threat, with two deep plays that set up scores. Two of his catches were spectacular, and he finished with four for 94 yards (23.5).
Jermichael Finley attacked the holes left by the Giants' zone coverage, reeling in six catches for 87 yards (14.5) and a score. Unfortunately for him, he dropped three passes.
Tom Crabtree's drop was the only one of the six that was a tough one to blame on the receiver. He had one catch for seven yards, as did Andrew Quarless. Greg Jennings had a key drop but also had seven catches for 94 yards (14.4), including a 20-yard touchdown.
But Rodgers was not able to spread the ball around as much as usual, and there were times the blocking was good, and no one got open. And when you drop a pass twice as often as a remarkable catch, you are not at your best.
Offensive Line: D+
The offensive line had two false-start penalties and allowed two sacks against a tremendous defensive line with two backup linemen in the game.
However, neither was starting for the first time, and the Giants were without a dynamic pass-rusher. The guy in the game needs to be able to handle the guy he is lined up against, no matter the situation.
Two sacks is holding your own, but not when it's coupled with the quarterback being routinely under pressure and needing to run for his life once a quarter. The line was also beaten badly on many rushing attempts and deserves more of the blame than the backs for them getting just 57 yards on 24 carries (2.4).
Defensive Line: D
It's time to say it: B.J. Raji needs to step up and make the big plays he did last season. Recovering a fumble that bounces right to him and adding one tackle does not qualify.
He's forcing the opposition to run away from him and containing the middle of the pocket. But his performance Sunday leaves him 18 tackles, three assists, 3.5 sacks and a pass defensed from where he finished last season.
That would require a heck of four games. It's pretty clear from not only his drop-off but the entire line's that Cullen Jenkins is missed.
They gave up a touchdown, five yards per carry and 100 yards to a struggling rushing attack. Since the longest carry was for 14 yards, it was not because of a big play, but consistent pounding.
True, with the return of Ahmad Bradshaw behind a very good line, the Giants have the ability to do that no matter where they rank (last in yards per game and per carry). The Packers even deserve some credit for the three penalties for 15 yards on that Giants line.
But ultimately, Eli Manning had too much time to throw and Giants backs too many holes to run through. Ryan Pickett had the best day with three tackles, and Howard Green managed three assists.
Clay Matthews had the kind of day you would expect from a defensive player of the year runner-up. Having only one tackle and one assist may not seem much for a linebacker in a 3-4, but his sack forced a fumble, and he returned his interception for a touchdown.
The Packers really needed him to step up because starting inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop were out. D.J. Smith and Robert Francois combined for nine tackles and three assists in their place, and Erik Walden added two tackles and two assists.
But the Giants were able to attack the middle of the Packers defense. In the passing game, Giants running backs had only four catches for 17 yards, but the linebackers must take some responsibility for the four covering 114 yards and a score to tight ends.
The secondary took an obvious hit when Charles Woodson went down with a concussion in the second half. But it was a mixed bag for the entire unit before then.
Woody had five tackles and an assist but also gave up a score despite a pass interference that was not called, plus took an illegal contact and roughing the passer penalty. Jarrett Bush did little with the extra playing time, with just one tackle and no passes defensed.
Sam Shields had three tackles and Tramon Williams outdid him by two assists. Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah combined for 11 tackles and four assists but also combined to allow a 67-yard touchdown to tight end Travis Beckum, who turned both around more than once in the open field.
Most of the responsibility for Manning's 100.7 passer rating, 19 completions and 330 yards to non-backs are on this unit. It generated no sacks, no picks and 20 penalty yards...that results in an unacceptable grade.
Special Teams: C+
Mason Crosby missed a 43-yard field goal, but hit the game-winner from 31 as time expired. Only three of his six kicks made into the end zone, and only one was a touchback. The five returns averaged 25 yards each.
Tim Masthay averaged 44.2 yards per punt, and not one had a return while four pinned the Giants inside their own 20.
Randall Cobb had two punt returns for six yards and three kick returns for 76. There were no special teams penalties for either team.