The Packers’ 9-0 win over New York at New Meadowlands Stadium in front of 78,484 was the first road win against the Jets in franchise history, and the first road shutout since a 27-0 win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 27, 1991. The victory puts Green Bay atop the NFC North at 5-3, a half game ahead of the idle Chicago Bears (4-3), and snapped the Jets’ five-game winning streak. The last time the Packers ended a five-game winning streak on the road was on Nov. 11, 2001, when they won at Chicago to snap the Bears' six-game streak.
“It’s a big win for us, a real big win, one of the biggest I have been a part of in my time here,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “To go on the road and beat a great team like this, obviously offensively we would have liked to have done a little bit better, but our defense played incredible.
“We forced turnovers and offensively, although we didn’t move the ball as well as we would have liked, we didn’t turn the ball over. Special teams, Tim (Masthay) did an incredible job punting the ball today, Mason (Crosby) made three big kicks, and that’s a big win for us.”
The Jets entered Sunday’s game with the No. 2 rushing offense in the league, averaging 159.2 yards per contest. Playing without starting left end Ryan Pickett and a limited starting right end, Cullen Jenkins, due to a calf injury, Green Bay’s defense was able to limit the Jets to just 119 yards on 29 carries (4.1 avg.), with the tandem of veteran LaDaianian Tomlinson (54 yards on 16 carries) and Shonn Greene (22 on six attempts), combining for just a 3.5-yard average and long runs of 8 yards each.
“In my opinion, in terms of their commitment and a two-back running team, this is one of the best in the league, and I think two real good runners,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We felt that they might mash it in there and those 2-, 3-yard gains, they might get a few 4s and 5s, but we couldn't let one come out of there for any big ones. To me, that’s a credit to the guys playing good leverage and tackling well.”
The defense’s performance was even more critical considering the Packers’ offensive struggles, continuing a pattern this season of not converting on third down. The offense was successful on just 2-of-14 third-down opportunities (14.3 percent) on the way to just 237 yards of total offense, the lowest yardage number since Week 1 of 2009 (226 vs. Chicago).
Sunday’s game had the feel of a defensive struggle right from the start, with both teams going three-and-out on their opening two offensive possessions. On the Jets’ third drive, linebacker Brandon Chillar shook off a block by Tomlinson on a third-and-9 to sack quarterback Mark Sanchez for a 9-yard loss. Facing a fourth-and-18 at their own 20, Jets punter Steve Weatherford tucked the ball and took it down the right sideline for what was originally ruled an 18-yard gain and a momentum-changing first down.
But Head Coach Mike McCarthy challenged the ruling on the field, and the call was overturned as the replay showed Weatherford stepped out a yard shy of the marker as he was tackled by safety Anthony Smith. Jets head coach Rex Ryan said after the game that the decision to run the ball was one that Weatherford made on his own.
“I don’t think he realized we’d just been sacked,” Ryan said. “We told him before that it needed to be a manageable situation, not fourth-and-20 or whatever it was. As he was running, I was trying to make sure he knew where the first-down marker was. I don’t think he was clear on that.”
The Packers wasted no time taking advantage of the fortuitous field position, with Rodgers finding wide receiver Greg Jennings (team-high 81 yards on six catches) wide open over the middle for a catch-and-run that picked up 30 yards down to the New York 6. But Green Bay was forced to settle for a 20-yard Crosby field goal after Rodgers’ pass on third-and-goal from the 2 went over the head of wide receiver James Jones in the back of the end zone. Little did the offense know that it would be its final red-zone opportunity of the day.
After failing to advance the ball past his own 29 on the Jets' opening three possessions, Sanchez converted a pair of third downs with completions to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, including an 18-yard pickup to the Packers’ 36 to convert a third-and-10. But two plays later, linebacker Frank Zombo forced a fumble by wide receiver Brad Smith on a run out of the Wildcat formation, and cornerback Tramon Williams scooped up the ball and returned it 5 yards to the Green Bay 34. Ryan challenged the ruling that Smith wasn’t down, but the play was upheld on review.
The turnover set up the first of three straight possessions for the offense at the Packers' 34 or better, but the inefficiency on third down prevented the offense from generating any rhythm. Luckily for Green Bay, Masthay repeatedly pinned the Jets back deep in their own territory, placing four of five first-half punts inside the 20.
New York ventured into Packers territory just once more in the opening half, but it was another Williams takeaway that put a stop to that drive. On third-and-11 at the Green Bay 43 with just under five minutes remaining, Sanchez went to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery on a quick slant, but Williams wrestled the ball away from him for the interception, Williams’ third in the past four games.
Rodgers quickly moved Green Bay down the field, completing a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Brett Swain and picking up a pass-interference penalty on safety Brodney Pool on a third-down pass over the middle to Jennings. In field-goal range at the New York 23, Rodgers took a sack from linebacker David Harris that pushed the offense back 9 yards, and two plays later Crosby’s 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left as the Packers were forced to settle for a 3-0 lead at the break.
The Jets threatened midway through the third quarter, largely because of a 49-yard completion from Sanchez to Cotchery deep down the middle to the Green Bay 28. But a third-down screen to Tomlinson fell 1 yard short of the marker, and Nick Folk’s 37-yard kick sailed wide right as the Packers maintained their three-point edge.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Jets utilized another big pass play to move into Green Bay territory, this time a 32-yard completion from Sanchez to wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who got behind Williams down the left sideline. Greene then converted a third-and-1 with a 2-yard gain to the Packers’ 37, before the defense came up with one final takeaway.
After a holding penalty on tight end Dustin Keller put the Jets in first-and-20 at the Green Bay 47, Keller caught a short pass from Sanchez. But as he went to the ground, Charles Woodson swooped in to take the ball away from him and make the interception. It was a bang-bang play, but one the Jets couldn’t do anything about since they had already lost on a pair of second-quarter challenges.
Rodgers and the offense finally found a little rhythm after the turnover, picking up 13 yards on a screen to running back Brandon Jackson (55 yards on 15 carries), and converting a key third down with a 14-yard completion to wide receiver Jordy Nelson (five receptions for 55 yards) as Rodgers absorbed a big hit from David Harris. But the drive stalled there, and the Packers tacked on three points with a 41-yard field goal by Crosby.
“They kind of switched it up in the second half,” said Rodgers, who finished with 170 yards on 15-of-34 passing for a 59.7 rating. “In the first half they weren’t matching personnel, and the second half they kind of shadowed Greg. But we did some good things moving Greg around, put him in the slot, and had some catches in the slot. When the plays presented themselves, we tried to make plays.
“This was obviously a low-production game for us, but the positive you take away, we didn’t have any turnovers.”
Now trailing by six, Sanchez (16-of-38, 256 yards, two INTs, 43.3 rating) scrambled to avoid pressure and found a wide-open Keller on third down for a 40-yard gain to Green Bay’s 37 with just over five minutes remaining. After Cotchery dropped a pass near the sideline that would have picked up another first down, the secondary made a pair of breakups to halt the drive. Williams batted down a deep pass near the pylon on third down, and safety Charlie Peprah made a leaping deflection of a pass intended for Cotchery (game-high 89 yards on four catches) over the middle on fourth down.
The Jets had all of their timeouts left, and used them on the next three plays as the Packers picked up little yardage running the ball. Masthay’s 41-yard punt sailed out of bounds, giving the Jets one last chance starting from their own 23.
Peprah came up with another key breakup, drilling an open Cotchery in the back on a pass down the middle on second down. Linebacker Clay Matthews sacked Sanchez on third down for a 6-yard loss, and then pressured the second-year signal-caller on fourth down to help force an incomplete pass to Edwards down the sideline.
With 2:30 left, the Packers couldn’t run the clock out, but the field position set up Crosby’s 40-yard kick with 27 seconds left to put the finishing touches on an all-important road win. Now the Packers look ahead to a home contest against the Dallas Cowboys (1-6) next Sunday before enjoying their bye the following week.
“It’s an excellent road win, we’re glad to be at 5-3 and we’re looking at is as if it’s a seven-day season right now until we get to the bye and we’ve got a big one at home Sunday night against Dallas,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been fighting through a tough spot and I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish here today.”