Rodgers, Packers Make Giant Statement

Posted: December 6, 2011 by Kodi in NFL, Pack It Up

The Green Bay Packers extended their winning streak to 18 straight games, the 2nd best streak in NFL history

Aaron Rodgers hushes his critics with a picture perfect final drive

But the game was definitely the biggest challenge of the year for the undefeated Packers

The Green Bay Packers traveled to New York to face off with the Giants in a game that has been circled for weeks as the “one game”. This matchup has been seen as the one game that could break up the undefeated season and having the ’72 Dolphins pop their champagne and light up some stogies. The Packers entered the game on a 17 game winning streak, the best in their historic franchises history, but everything was on the line against another franchise who has stopped two other impressive undefeated opportunities.

It is hard to forget Giants QB Eli Manning’s miraculous connection with WR David Tyree, no longer in the league, in the Super Bowl against the undefeated Patriots. New Englad was 18-0 through the regular season and playoffs but one of the best plays in the NFL’s history led to a 13 yard TD by then Giants WR Plaxico Burress. New York took the lead with just 35 seconds left in the game and Tom Brady was unable to make anything happen in the final moments of Super Bowl XLII.

December 13, 1998 the New York Giants welcomed the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos to The Meadowlands. Denver was on an 18 game winning streak going back to their 1997 season but the 6-7 Giants were ready. Denver RB Terrell Davis gave Denver the lead when he ran in a 27 yard TD and put the Broncos up 16-13. Kent Graham however fought New York down the field and connected with WR Amani Toomer for a 37 yard TD putting the Giants up by 4 after the extra point. John Elway was given the ball back with 48 seconds but the Hall of Fame QB was unable to push his team downfield and he had 46 game winning drives in his career.

The media has had a frenzy with the Packers and their undefeated season because like the Broncos and Patriots they are led by an unbelievable QB, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is having an unbelievable season thus far but there has been one glaring problem with the young QB’s legacy, fourth quarter drives. Coming into the season Rodgers has had 3 career 4th quarter wins and 16 losses and was 3-12 during the final drive of the game. Rodgers has flourished and is undoubtedly the main reason for the Packers SBXLV victory, hence his SB MVP, and is on his way to earning his first regular season MVP but he still hasn’t won the big game on the final drive.

The 3 victories that Rodgers does have under his belt are all against NFC North division foes and 2 of them came against the Detroit Lions in their winless season of 2008. Rodgers has played his way out from behind QB Brett Favre’s shadow in nearly all aspects except for the coveted 4th quarter game winning drive, Favre has 45 to Rodger’s 3. Green Bay however is playing too well in quarters 1-3 to give Rodgers an opportunity to prove he can do it. The Packers broke the record of the 1942-43 Washington Redskins when they defeated the San Diego Chargers without being tied or trailing during the 4th quarter and extending their streak to 14 games, one better than the ‘Skins.

All of that changed on Sunday night when the Giants gave Green Bay their biggest challenge of the season. New York came out firing, electing to receive the ball after winning the coin toss, Eli stepped onto the field at his own 21. 2 rushes by RB Ahmad Bradshaw racked up 12 yards and the Giants had a 1st and 10 from their 33, that’s when Manning stepped back for his first pass attempt. He hit TE Travis Beckum down the right and bobbing and weaving his way through DB Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett before stepping in for a 67 yard TD.

It wasn’t until the Packers second drive that Rodgers found TE Jermichael Finley for a 12 yard TD pass. Finley actually caught the ball and fell before the end-zone but bounced his way across the goal-line before being touched by a Giants defender.  New York answered quickly after Manning found WR Victor Cruz for a 42 yard gain and burst their way into the red-zone. New York’s offense sputtered and they were forced to kick a 38 yard field goal after a incomplete pass ruling was upheld on 3rd and 6. Green Bay went three and out and punted the ball to Aaron Ross who fair caught the ball at the Giants 14.

New York gained 25 yards on two rushed by RB Brandon Jacobs but on Eli Manning’s first pass attempt of the drive he was hurried by Packers rookie LB D.J. Smith. Smith and Patrick Francois were playing for injured LB’s Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk. Smith came on a delayed blitz and forced Eli out of the pocket, Manning feeling the rush made a sorry attempt of a pass in the direction of RB Ahmad Bradshaw. LB Clay Mathews had dropped back into coverage and read the pass the whole way, cutting in front of the ball at full speed, intercepting the pass and returning it for a TD, the 4th defensive TD by Green Bay this season. Green Bay led the Giants 14-10 just seconds into the 2nd quarter.

It was mid-way through the 2nd when Aaron Rodgers made what could be his worse pass of the season. The Packers were pinned at their own 6 yard line after a good punt by New York and on the second play of the drive Rodgers tried to force a ball into a small window but his throw was inaccurate, proving he is indeed human, and Giants LB Clayton Blackburn picked it off at the 21. It was Rodgers 5th interception of the season and after a 9 yard return Blackburn gave the ball to Eli on the 12. Manning hit Nicks for an 11 yard pass and capped off the drive with a 1 yard TD run by Jacobs and New York was up once again 17-14.

Green Bay must not like being down in games because every time New York took a lead, Rodgers and the crew got onto the field and did what they had to to take it back. After the Jacobs TD Rodgers led a 11 play 81 yard drive that ended when he found WR Donald Driver WIDE OPEN in the back of the end-zone. After the kick the Packers were back on top 21-17 with just over a minute to play in the first half. It was the 4th play of that drive when Mathews came off the edge and exploded into Manning forcing the ball to launch forward 8 yards. Nobody realized it was a fumble right away and DT B.J. Raji just picked the ball up like it was the end of the play, but there wasn’t a whistle, eventually the sideline shouting got through to the players and he was tackled. It led to a 43 yard field goal opportunity by K Mason Crosby who had missed just one kick all year long, but make it two because he pushed it wide right.

The Packers have received the ball to start the second half in 9 of their 11 games coming into this bout with the Giants. They had scored on 6 of those drives, 5 TDs and 1 field goal, and Green Bay go the ball to start the second half against New York and made it 7 scores in 10 second half opening drives. This TD however will most likely be the most controversial because many feel that it shouldn’t have counted. Rodgers was facing a 3rd and 9 from the 20 when he threw deep to left towards WR Greg Jennings who pulled the ball in, he exchanged the ball, bobbled, whatever you may believe, but ultimately the referees decided through video replay that they believed Jennings then palmed the ball and scored before it was ripped from his possession.

There is a lot of gripe about the calls that Green Bay has gotten and the ones that haven’t been made against them but really there are calls like this in every football game but the Packers are under strict scrutiny during this winning streak. Head Coach Mike McCarthy even admitted that “the ball bounced our way” when he was asked about the zebras but he didn’t finish there. He went on to explain that although the Packers may be getting the calls now the playing field is usually leveled and they need to be resilient and win games when their opponents get calls like in their favor.

Green Bay was up 28-17 after the questionable TD catch but Eli Manning wasn’t going to let things get out of hand. His first play under Center in the second half he looked for WR Hakeem Nicks right away and hit him on a 51 yard pass. He kept going to Nicks who racked up 3 more receptions for another 20 yards including an incredible one handed grab. The catch came in the corner of the end-zone on a 4 yard TD pass where Nicks just made a play against CB Charles Woodson, who gave Nicks credit after he hauled in the pass. New York was right back in the game and after the Packers stalled and Giants Kicker Lawrence Tynes made a 50 yard field goal the Packers were up just 1 point with less than 11 minutes left in the game.

Green Bay would add to their lead two drives later when Rodgers found WR Donald Driver for his 2nd TD catch of the game and 5th of the season. Driver made a beautiful catch along the edge of the end-zone tapping his feet and dragging his toes to ensure his TD stood, even upon further review. “I knew I had scored, and I knew I had the feet down and I think they looked to see if I stepped out of the back of the end-zone at the end but the guy gave me a nice shove and I happened to make a nice little move on him and he missed me” Driver finished the statement by saying “you know Aaron made a great throw and I made a great catch”.

It seemed like the Packers had the game in the bag, up 8 with 3:34 left in the game, but remember the Giants had Eli Manning and history on their side. Manning charged down field passing the ball 8 times in the 9 play drive which was capped off by Nicks 2nd TD of the day, a 2 yarder. The Giants had to go for two and on a draw RB D.J. Ware ran the ball in and the game was tied. This is the first time that the Packers were tied or behind in the 4th quarter for the first time since the NFC Championship game last season. The Giants had a tremendous drive and took advantage of a defense without CB Charles Woodson, due to concussion like symptoms.

And thus Aaron Rodgers was given his chance to prove the doubters wrong.

There was just 58 seconds left in the game and Green Bay was down to its final timeout. After a touchback the Packers had the ball at their own 20 and that’s when Mr. Rodgers went to work. Like Van Gogh painting a masterpiece Rodgers found Finley for a 24 yard gain and began putting together his own work of art. The second pass of the drive was definitely the most impressive as Rodgers found WR Jordy Nelson for 27 yards. He followed that up with a dump to rookie RB Brandon Saine who lost a yard and Rodgers quickly looked elsewhere. His pass to Nelson had them at the 29, the loss brought them back to the 30, but he was able to find Greg Jennings for an 18 pass giving his kicker a chip shot 30 yard field goal attempt to win the game and stay undefeated.

If Rodgers is the artist, his receiving corps is the paint and the field is his canvas. Green Bay accumulated 449 total yards and all but 67 yards came from Rodgers. Aaron technically had his worst game of the season posting a pathetic 106.2 QB rating but finished the game 28-46 for 369 yard, 4 TDs, that 1 terrible INT and 32 rushing yards on 4 attempts. It was the last drive that really mattered because he absolutely took the game into his hands and said “Yes, I am the best QB in the league right now”. He was 4-4 for 68 yards and set up Mason Crosby to win the game, something the kicker hasn’t done since the first game of his NFL career.

Crosby has had 3 other game winning opportunities since making a 42 yard field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 1 of the 2007 season. He missed a 52 yarder against the Vikes and a 38 yarder blocked at Soldier Field in 2008. He missed a 53 yarder in a game last season against the Washington Redskins that the Packers eventually lost in overtime. This time however Crosby was able to make the 30 yard field goal and he was very pleased. “It’s special” he said “to be able to do it on the road in a close game with a lot on the line for this team, it was really important to me”. Crosby hasn’t faced this pressure but I don’t know if a 30 yard field goal gives me anymore courage about his abilities to make a clutch kick late when we need him but that’s cause Rodgers is too damn good.

McCarthy knew that everything came down to that two minute drill and of course it was the first thing he was asked about in his post-game presser. He said the “two-minute drive is something we practice every week and, really, it was the drive that we needed. It’s something that I think Aaron Rodgers does an excellent job of. We’ve got a lot of time invested in working on that situation, but we haven’t really had that type of situation come up in some time as a team. He did a great job running the drill and managing the clock, the receivers made even better route adjustments, good protection, just a classic two-minute drive” he finished by telling the media “I thought it was awesome”. Well so did I Mike!

With the win Green Bay was able to clinch the NFC North after both Chicago and Detroit lost in week 13. The next thing on the list is home field advantage and hopefully the streak continues after Oakland rolls into Lambeau Field next Sunday.

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