Mike McCarthy pushed down the gas pedal early and didn’t apply the brakes until after the Packers were just a point shy of the half-century mark and a fourth consecutive win to start the season was safely tucked away.
“Aaron Rodgers is a special player and he played extremely well today. That’s as fine a quarterback performance as I’ve been a part of statistically,” McCarthy said following his team’s 49-23 win over the visiting Denver Broncos on Sunday.
McCarthy’s first aggressive decision was to go for a first down on fourth-and-one at the Broncos’ 12-yard line, in the Packers’ first offensive possession. Rodgers threw incomplete on second and third downs and running back James Starks was dropped for a one-yard loss on fourth down.
“When I called the third-down call, I had the fourth-down call ready. We didn’t convert,” McCarthy said.
Aggressive? That was nothing compared to what was ahead.
After Rodgers completed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson and cornerback Charles Woodson made it 14-3 in the Packers’ favor by intercepting a Kyle Orton pass and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown, McCarthy surprised everyone in Lambeau Field, especially the Broncos’ kickoff-return team, by ordering an onside kick that Nelson recovered uncontested. Seven plays and 53 yards later, the Packers were ahead 21-3 and Rodgers was on his way to one of the best days of his career.
“That’s why you game-plan. Mason (Crosby) is excellent at the onside kick. We wanted to start the game aggressive and we did that with play-calls,” McCarthy said.
It has become the head coach’s weekly mantra: Attack early. He has the quarterback to make that philosophy work.
Rodgers finished the day by yielding to backup Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter. By then, Rodgers had thrown for 408 yards and four touchdowns, marking only the third time in his career he had reached the 400/4 plateau. The 408 yards passing total is a regular-season high for Rodgers.
“We had a good day today but we’ve got to get better,” McCarthy said.
Better? Well, the Packers’ top-ranked run-defense allowed running back Willis McGahee to rush for 103 yards, but their 31st-ranked pass-defense held Kyle Orton to 273 yards and intercepted him three times.
McCarthy would have a hard time selling the get-better theme to NFL fans in general, as the Packers’ 4-0 start and the manner in which they have achieved it has the football world wondering where and when the Packers’ first loss might occur.
The win allowed the Packers to keep pace with the Detroit Lions, who rallied for a win in Dallas that left the undefeated Lions tied with the Packers for the NFC North lead.
Greg Jennings caught seven passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, Nelson caught five for 91 yards and a touchdown, James Jones and Donald Driver made their first touchdown receptions of the season, and Driver also made a miraculous recovery from a knee injury that caused him to leave the field on a cart. He returned to action in the second half looking no worse for the wear.
Sam Shields and Charlie Peprah joined Woodson in the interceptions category, and linebacker Desmond Bishop led the Packers with nine tackles and recorded the Packers’ only sack of the day.
The Packers travel to Atlanta next weekend for a key NFC game. Additional coverage - Packers vs. Broncos