There are times a team just absolutely has to have it – a drive.
It’s needed to respond, to keep momentum or to snatch it back. Move the ball, chew up the clock and, best of all, get some points.
The Packers had their share of clutch drives in 2010. Here are the 10-best, ranked in ascending order.
10. A hot hand in Chicago, Sept. 27
The Packers were in control against the Bears in this early-season Monday night showdown when Chicago’s Devin Hester ran back a punt 62 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Trailing in the game for the first time, 14-10, quarterback Aaron Rodgers went to work. Taking what the defense was giving him, Rodgers completed six straight passes – none longer than 14 yards. Then John Kuhn broke off an 18-yard run to make it first-and-goal.
Rodgers’ completion streak ended, but on third-and-goal he finished off the 12-play, 72-yard march with a 3-yard scramble, diving just inside the pylon for the touchdown. The Packers regained the lead and even though they eventually lost the game, Rodgers had begun showcasing his game on a national stage.
9. Playing keep-away from 49ers, Dec. 5
A year earlier at Lambeau Field, San Francisco had rallied from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter and scared the Packers, losing by only six. This time, the Packers had just a two-touchdown lead at 31-16, but they didn’t give the Niners a chance.
Taking the ball with 11:45 left in the game at their 20, the Packers ran the ball nine straight times, including one scramble by Rodgers for 50 yards. Rookie James Starks’ 16-yard scamper was the highlight.
Four more runs in the next five plays, plus a defensive offside penalty, moved the ball into the red zone before two passes came up short of the first down and forced the Packers to settle for a field goal.
That was more than enough, though. The Packers had run 17 plays for 74 yards and consumed 8:35, one of only two scoring drives on the year longer than 8½ minutes (a FG drive of 9:13 late in the Dallas blowout was the other).
San Francisco didn’t get the ball back until just 3:10 remained and the 49ers were down three scores.
8. Undaunted in New England, Dec. 19
Backup quarterback Matt Flynn had just thrown an interception that was returned 36 yards for a touchdown by Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, putting New England back in front, 21-17.
Surely, this would be when Flynn would crumble in his first NFL start and any thoughts of an upset would fade. Not so.
Flynn promptly guided the Packers 69 yards in 13 plays for a go-ahead touchdown. Kuhn leaped over a tackler on third-and-1 to pick up a first down and Flynn hit seldom-used running back Dimitri Nance with consecutive passes totaling 16 yards.
Brandon Jackson added 16 yards rushing on four carries and Kuhn finished it off by taking a short pass from Flynn in the flat, cutting back to the middle and leaping over defenders again and into the end zone.
The Packers had the lead, again, and a backup quarterback who proved he wouldn’t flinch.
7. A cult hero is born, Oct. 3
This is the only drive on this list that didn’t result in points, but only because the Packers didn’t need to score. Killing the clock was the goal, and they did that.
Leading Detroit, 28-26, the Packers took over on their own 13-yard line with 6:32 left – or more accurately, Kuhn took over. Kuhn ran the ball seven times in the next 11 snaps, with the Lambeau Field chants of “Kuuuuuhn” getting louder with each carry.
He gained 34 yards rushing, picking up three first downs. The last one came on an 8-yard run to convert third-and-7 with under a minute left, allowing Rodgers to take a knee on the final play.
6. On the board first, Feb. 6
The first three drives in the Super Bowl ended in punts, two by the Steelers and one by the Packers. Then Green Bay struck first.
After unsuccessfully trying a deep shot to receiver Greg Jennings on the first play, Rodgers stuck to the short stuff and found a rhythm. He hit Jordy Nelson for two 9-yard passes, sandwiched around an 8-yard run by Starks.
Jackson turned a short dump-off over the middle into a 14-yard gain and Starks picked up 7 more on the ground.
Then, on third-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 29, Rodgers took another shot. Nelson was one-on-one with cornerback William Gay down the right sideline, and Rodgers’ throw settled perfectly over Nelson’s shoulder as the receiver shielded Gay from the ball.
There were tense moments later, but the Packers never gave up that lead.
5. Keeping the crowd at bay, Jan. 9
In the third quarter of the NFC wild-card game, the rabid Philadelphia crowd was ready to take over. Rodgers had fumbled while getting sacked on the first drive of the second half and, two plays later, the Eagles were in the end zone, cutting Green Bay’s lead to 14-10.
The Packers didn’t buckle. With the fans at a fever pitch on two consecutive third downs, Rodgers hit Donald Driver for key conversions, the second a 20-yard gain. Starks broke loose for a 19-yard run and Kuhn took a short pass for 16 more.
Even a holding penalty couldn’t stall things. Right after losing 10 yards, the offense executed a beautiful screen, the 11th play of the 80-yard drive. Jackson patiently waited for his blockers and scored from 16 yards out, giving the Packers what proved to be the winning points.
4. Forcing overtime, Oct. 17
In week six against the Dolphins, the offense for the first time faced a true must-score possession. Get a touchdown or you lose.
The Packers trailed, 20-13, with 5:15 left and started on their own 31. Nelson was the early star, catching back-to-back passes for 37 total yards. Then on fourth-and-7 from the Miami 29 at the two-minute warning, Rodgers hit Jennings over the middle for 20. Still alive.
When Kuhn was stopped on consecutive runs at the goal line, the game came down to one play: fourth-and-goal from the one with 16 seconds left.
Rodgers originally lined up in the shotgun, but seeing a hole in the Dolphins’ defensive front he got sneaky. He came up to the line, motioning as though he was changing the play, which he was. Only rather than step back into the shotgun, he caught Miami off-guard when he got under center, quickly tapped Scott Wells for the snap and walked across the goal line standing up for the game-tying touchdown.
The Packers eventually lost in overtime, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that the 12-play, 69-yard drive was Green Bay’s most clutch of the season to that point.
3. A big-time answer, Jan. 15
Momentum swings are a way of life in postseason football, and when it swings the wrong way, especially on the road, it’s imperative the visiting team answer.
The Packers did that in the second quarter of the NFC divisional playoff at Atlanta. Moments after the Packers tied the game, 7-7, Atlanta’s Eric Weems returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards to give the Falcons the lead again. The Georgia Dome was rocking, especially after Starks muffed the kickoff return to leave the offense starting from its own 8.
Most impressively on this drive, the Packers gained 83 yards before they even faced third down. Driver had a catch-and-run for 24 yards before Rodgers hit Jennings for 12. Then Rodgers scrambled out of trouble and found Jones along the near sideline, down which he tip-toed for a 34-yard gain.
The only third down came at the Atlanta 9 and here the Packers caught a break. An illegal contact penalty on Falcons cornerback Christopher Owens in the end zone negated a sack by Jordan Babineaux to make it first-and-goal.
Kuhn finished off the 92-yard march with a 1-yard plunge behind B.J. Raji, the nose tackle inserted into the goal-line package as a fullback that week. The game was tied and the Packers never trailed in the rest of the postseason.
2. No better way to start, Jan. 23
The Packers’ execution was so pristine on the opening drive of the NFC Championship it looked as though there’d be no stopping them.
Starting from his own 16, Rodgers connected with Jennings for 22 yards, then for 26 more on the second snap. Starks ran for 6 yards off the right side and caught a pass for 6 more. Nelson was open over the middle for 22 yards and, in just five plays, it was first-and-goal on the 2.
Starks didn’t get in on first down, but with Raji coming in to play fullback, again, Rodgers faked a handoff and bootlegged left, crashing over the pylon for another Sports Illustrated cover shot. The Packers were in control.
1. Never a doubt, Nov. 28
It may seem strange to rank a drive from a Packers’ loss as the best of the season, but this one was just too impressive.
In Atlanta in week 12, the Packers trailed by seven and got the ball with 5:59 left on their own 10. With just 10 points on the board through the game’s first 54 minutes, 90 yards felt like 900, at least to the fans.
Not for Rodgers, though. He connected twice with rookie tight end Andrew Quarless for 11 and 19 yards. Jackson broke off a run for 8, Rodgers scrambled for 7 and Jennings caught a pass for 15.
A 9-yard reception by Jackson set up the first of two fourth downs. On fourth-and-1 from the Atlanta 21, Rodgers dodged trouble in the pocket and improvised with a nifty shovel pass to Jones, who sprinted for 18 yards to the 3.
A sack and a false start then set up the do-or-die play: fourth-and-goal from the 10. Rolling left to buy extra time, Rodgers unleashed a throw whose velocity alone made viewers jump off their couch. Nelson snagged it in the end zone and got both feet down in bounds to tie the game in the most dramatic of fashions.
The sideline celebration had barely quieted when Weems’ kickoff return and a facemask penalty set up the Falcons for a last-second field goal.
The game’s final result may prevent this drive from being remembered historically as one of the most thrilling of the season, but it shouldn’t.
Mike Spofford is a 1995 Masters graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University who worked as a sports reporter for two daily newspapers in Wisconsin, covering the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. Spofford has been a packers.com staff writer since 2006.