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Green Bay’s 6-0 start sets stage for exciting 10-game stretch run
By CHRIS HAVEL
The Green Bay Packers’ defense accomplished an amazing feat Sunday.
It stared down one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks on his best day and lived to tell about a 27-20 victory at Lambeau Field. San Diego’s Philip Rivers threw the football as well as anyone not named Aaron Rodgers is likely to in a long, long time here.
The victory gives the Packers (6-0) a stronghold on the NFC North going into the bye week. Green Bay’s injured players, such as B.J. Raji (groin), Nick Perry (shoulder) and Ty Montgomery (ankle) will have time to heal.
The Packers’ other players – especially the defense – will have time to rest.
Rivers kept the Packers’ defense on the field for what seemed like forever. He worked them out from start to finish. He used the entire field and all his weapons, especially receiver Keenan Allen, who caught 14 passes for 157 yards before leaving late in the third quarter with an injury.
Rivers’ 503 yards on 43 completions in 65 attempts was impressive but it fell short of Green Bay’s 20 points allowed. To give up that many yards (548) on that many plays (89) for so many minutes (38) while allowing such a mother-lode of first downs (32) and to WIN defies logic.
It also demands praise.
For anyone to suggest the Packers’ defense somehow was exposed or reverted to prior bad habits is to miss the point. Rivers wasn’t just hot. He was surface-of-the-sun hot. He was so hot it’s a wonder steam wasn’t rising from his helmet.
But with first-and-goal at Green Bay’s 3-yard line and 33 seconds to play, Rivers couldn’t deliver the game-tying touchdown against the Packers’ defense.
Here’s the recap:
- 1st and goal at GBP 3: Danny Woodhead runs off RG for 1 yard with Clay Matthews on the tackle. (:28 seconds)
- 2nd and goal at GBP 2: Philip Rivers pass incomplete intended for Antonio Gates. (:23 seconds)
- 3rd and goal at GBP 2: Woodhead runs off RG for -1 yard with Datone Jones on the tackle. (:15 seconds)
- 4th and goal at GBP 3: Philip Rivers pass incomplete for Woodhead with Damarious Randall in coverage.
Final score: Packers 27, Chargers 20
While the Packers’ defense was trying to slow down Rivers’ air assault, Rodgers and the offense opened an early 14-3 lead before stalling in the second quarter.
Rodgers completed 16 of 29 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns for a 107.7 passer rating. But he also was sacked three times and constantly harassed throughout. Some of it was due to the occasional leak in the offensive line. But most of it was due to the receivers’ inability to get open quickly.
Rodgers’ completions and targets are telling. He had seven receivers catch two passes each to lead the team. Nobody stood out as the clear No. 1 target, or the No. 2 target, for that matter.
Clearly, the Packers’ receiving corps must get healthy during the bye weekend. Davante Adams’ ankle, Cobb’s shoulder, Jones’ hamstring and Montgomery’s ankle will get much-needed rest. Rodgers merely ran out of viable targets as the game unfolded.
Meantime, the Packers’ defense did enough to survive and then prevail at the end.
Faced with fourth-and-goal at the Packers’ 3, Rivers fired a pass for Woodhead at the right pylon, but Randall stepped in front to knock it down and secure the victory.
“Biggest play of the game,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Damarious is off to a great start.”
The second-biggest play of the game might’ve come on third down of the same goal-line stand. Faced with 3rd-and-goal at the Packers’ 2, Rivers handed off to Woodhead out of the shotgun, but Datone Jones knifed in and stuffed the play for a 1-yard loss. Jones also had a huge sack on third-and-7 to thwart an earlier Chargers drive.
Jones and his wife became the proud parents of a baby girl earlier in the week. Thus far, Jones has been playing well since returning for a season-opening one-game suspension.
Randall, the Packers’ first-round draft pick, also has been living up to expectations. Randall lined up against Antonio Gates and Woodhead at times and held them in check.
Meantime, the Packers’ offense didn’t turn the ball over and had a strong day from running back James Starks, who rushed for 112 yards in just 10 attempts. Otherwise, it might’ve been considered a ho-hum day for the Packers’ offense.
“We don’t need to win pretty every week,” Rodgers said. “We’d like to.”
The Packers have a bye week to enjoy the success, dissect the weaknesses, rest up and make a powerful push to the playoffs.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.