Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had it all working on Sunday against the New York Giants.
The quick hitters, the deep balls, even the running game and the pass protection were there for him.
With all that clicking, Rodgers masterfully picked apart the NFL’s second-ranked defense (in terms of yards allowed per game) and moved his team within one victory of a wild-card playoff berth for the second straight season with a 45-17 rout of a fellow playoff contender at Lambeau Field.
From the 80-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on a skinny post in the first quarter to the fourth-quarter dump-off pass for a 5-yard touchdown to fan-favorite fullback John Kuhn and just about everything in between, Rodgers had in his own estimation his “best performance” of the season.
It all added up to a 404-yard pass day – his highest in a regular-season game – and four touchdowns without an interception. He completed 25 of 37 throws and perhaps more importantly came out of the game unharmed after missing last week’s loss at New England because of the concussion he sustained the previous week at Detroit.
“He had very good command of what was going on,” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “He was very clear and decisive about everything he was doing out there. They’re a multiple defensive team. They showed a lot of variety in their pressures and multiplicity in their coverages, and I thought he played with some poise and some confidence. He obviously was very accurate throwing the ball and very effective.”
It became clear early that Philbin and coach Mike McCarthy wanted Rodgers to get the ball out quickly and avoid taking unnecessary hits. At times early on, they kept a tight end in the backfield to protect against the Giants’ fearsome pass rush, which had 42 sacks coming into the game.
“He did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who sacked Rodgers late in the game. “We knew coming in that they were going to try everything in their power to not let us hit him. We had some good rushes against him, but a lot of credit goes to him for reading our coverages and getting the ball out of his hands.”
That didn’t mean Rodgers couldn’t go deep. On the first play of the second series, Nelson beat his man off the line of scrimmage, split two safeties and Rodgers hit him in stride the 80-yard catch-and-run.
“It was a big momentum boost for us,” said Nelson, who had four catches for 124 yards. “It obviously gets us on the board and is a big play. It’s what we want to do. You want to sustain drives like we did later in the game, but if we can get a big shot when you’ve got the opportunity, you’ve got to make the most of it. That’s what ‘A-Rod’ can do. That’s what we as an offense can do. We ran the ball pretty well for the most part and threw the ball well. Aaron must’ve been well rested.”
Rodgers said his arm felt “live” after getting an unwanted week off.
“It was like a week off late in the season for my body,” Rodgers said.
“I threw the ball real good in practice, so I had a lot of confidence going into the game that I was going to perform this way, now maybe not as well as it went, but I think you can attribute that to some real good play calls at certain times and some big plays by some guys.”
Perhaps the key sequence came in the third quarter after a Giants field goal cut the Packers’ lead to 24-17. On first down from his 30, Rodgers used play action to freeze the defense and throw a post to Donald Driver, who made a sliding 33-yard catch. On the next snap, the Giants blitzed and Rodgers threw hot to Greg Jennings, who outstretched to make a fingertip grab against cornerback Corey Webster for a 36-yard gain to the 1-yard line that set up a touchdown pass to Donald Lee.
“We had a number of good calls, it was just kind of a matter of rolling through them,” Rodgers said. “We hit Donald on a call that we had worked on all week – we hadn’t hit him all week on that play – and he made a nice catch and on it and then came back and had a base check, and Greg made a real nice catch to get us in range and take a two-score lead.”
Rodgers abused Webster, who in his previous Lambeau Field appearance made the overtime interception of Brett Favre to help win the 2007 NFC championship game for the Giants. This time, Jennings beat him time and again for seven catches for 142 yards, although he didn’t get in the end zone. Nelson, Lee, Kuhn and James Jones caught touchdown passes.
“We just wanted to work him,” Jennings said of Webster. “He’s a good corner, and he followed me the entire game. I knew I was going up against a good corner, and he was going to get my best effort, and I was able to make some plays, but it was a collective effort headed by a great quarterback.”
BY ROB DEMOVSKY
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