Playing in a do-or-die game Sunday, the Packers put together perhaps their best performance of the season, dominating the New York Giants 45-17 in front of 70,649 at Lambeau Field.
With the win, the Packers improved to 9-6 and stayed in the NFC Wild Card playoff hunt. Green Bay now hosts NFC North champ Chicago next Sunday at 3:15 p.m. CT needing a win to lock up a playoff berth. The Packers could still get in the playoffs even with a loss to the Bears, but they would need the Giants (9-6) to lose to Washington and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6) to lose to the New Orleans Saints.
Rest assured, the Packers don’t want to have to ask for help. They control their own destiny, and they’d like to keep it that way.
“I love the mindset of this team,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “These guys step up week in and week out and we’ve got a big one here in seven days. It can’t get here fast enough.”
The Packers simply overwhelmed the Giants, who last week were half a quarter away from putting themselves in position to win the NFC East and now will need the Packers to lose next week to get in the playoffs.
Green Bay put up season highs in various categories, including total yards (515), points (45, tied with Week 9 vs. Dallas), and defensive takeaways (six). The Packers scored 24 points off of those turnovers and stayed in control of the game from late in the second quarter on.
“We finally put together four quarters,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but if we can put together four quarters, we can do that to pretty much everybody. That’s just the kind of talent and the kind of will we have on this team. Put four together like that, we’re dangerous.”
Especially when the Packers get a tour-de-force performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers like Sunday’s.
Coming back from a concussion that forced him to miss last week’s game, Rodgers posted a regular-season career-high 404 yards passing with four touchdowns, which tied his career high. He was 25-of-37, didn’t throw an interception, and earned a QB rating of 139.9, more than twice than counterpart Eli Manning, who threw a season-worst four picks (17-fo-33, 301 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 63.6 rating).
“Man, he’s special,” receiver Greg Jennings said of Rodgers. “He’s back. He’s definitely back.”
Rodgers’ accuracy was spot-on pretty much the entire game, as he felt he had a “live” arm after sitting out a full week. He completed passes to nine different targets and repeatedly challenged the Giants downfield, connecting on seven passes of longer than 20 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson in the first quarter that got him going. Both Jennings (seven catches, 142 yards) and Nelson (4-124) went over 100 yards.
“It was one of those games where a lot of stuff worked,” said Rodgers, who called it without a doubt his best performance. “It feels good to get that when we needed it the most.”
Rodgers and McCarthy both gave plenty of credit to the offensive line, which came in knowing it was facing probably its stiffest challenge of the year in the Giants’ defensive front (42 sacks coming in, second in the league). The Green Bay line cleared the way for 119 yards rushing and allowed just one legitimate sack of Rodgers – a second sack was called when the ball slipped out of Rodgers’ hand on a pass, resulting in a fumble behind the line of scrimmage.
“We knew this was going to be a battle that started up front and I don’t need to see the film to say that we definitely commanded that battle,” McCarthy said.
“(The offensive linemen) were sick and tired of hearing about how tough the Giants were all week, and they took it personally.”
Green Bay’s 515 yards of offense were the most the Packers have compiled in seven years (548 at Oakland on Dec. 22, 2003). It wasn’t a pretty 119 yards on the ground at less than 3 yards a crack minus Rodgers’ two scrambles for 26, but it was effective enough to keep the play-action working, with Rodgers using his nimble feet when needed to escape and buy extra time.
“We had the one fumble inside the red zone so let’s get that out of the way,” McCarthy said. “But other than that, I don’t know if you can play much better than that on offense.”
That one fumble was a huge turn of events at the time. Trying to stretch for a first down near the Giants’ 15-yard line in the second quarter, Nelson coughed up the ball. On the very next snap, Manning heaved an 85-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham that tied the score at 14 and completed New York’s early comeback from a 14-0 deficit.
The big play was the second for the Giants in less than half a quarter, having scored on a 36-yard TD pass to Hakeem Nicks when cornerback Charles Woodson fell down in coverage. But the defense didn’t lose focus, forcing two punts and snagging five turnovers on New York’s next eight possessions.
“Those two plays were kind of flukish,” Bishop said. “We just told ourselves stay sound and make them earn it, and when a team has to earn it against us, it’s pretty hard to get in the end zone.”
The Packers regained the lead by halftime with a 79-yard TD drive, capped with an 8-yard run by John Kuhn, the first of his three touchdowns in the game.
After the two teams traded field goals to start the second half to make it 24-17, the Packers never let the Giants breathe. Rodgers hit Donald Driver and Jennings on back-to-back darts for 33 and 36 yards, respectively, and tight end Donald Lee caught a 1-yard TD pass to re-establish the two-touchdown lead.
New York’s last chance to get back in it came when running back Brandon Jacobs rumbled 21 yards into Green Bay territory late in the third quarter. But linebacker Clay Matthews, hustling all the way on the play, punched the ball out from behind, Bishop niftily tapped it to keep it in bounds, and safety Nick Collins recovered.
That was the Giants’ longest run all day, and the longest by either Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw longer than 7 yards. New York’s 1-2 punch in the backfield combined for just 78 yards on 20 rushes, and the Giants had the ball for just 22 minutes, 59 seconds, a season-low for the team that led the league in time of possession coming in.
“Anytime you can hold a combination like that to the amount of yards we held them to, that’s a good sign,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said.
“To us this was definitely a playoff game. We all knew the magnitude of a loss in this game, we knew we needed to win, and we knew we needed to look good doing it from a confidence standpoint to propel us into the game next week.
“I knew the type of guys we have in this room. We don’t back down. We don’t fold.”
And now they have one more week to get into the postseason and give themselves an opportunity to accomplish what every team sets out to.
“Everybody knows what the score is,” McCarthy said. “We’re at nine wins and we must get to 10 wins to get in the tournament.”
Added Rodgers: “It’s been an up-and-down year. A lot of things have happened both positively and negatively that we might not have expected. But we’re going into the last game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win, and that’s all we can ask for right now.”