PHILADELPHIA – It was the best drive of the season for the Packers, yet it only produced a field goal.
But boy did it feel good.
It started with 10:18 left in the fourth quarter and the Packers, on their own 8-yard line, leading by 11 Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Seventeen plays, 78 yards, 8 minutes, 21 seconds, three points. Ballgame. Packers 27, Eagles 13.
“That’s got to be one of the most gratifying drives we’ve had here in a long time,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It wasn’t the prettiest but we were converting on third down, we converted on fourth down. It was fun to see those guys as their confidence grew.”
Those guys were the rest of the offense. A line that kept Rodgers clean all night, the receivers who kept moving the sticks, and the running backs who kept protecting the ball.
It wasn’t mistake-free, with two holding calls, but the most costly penalties were actually on the Eagles.
On third-and-5 from the Green Bay 13, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham jumped, and Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari smartly came out of his stance to draw the flag and give Green Bay the first of what would be five first downs on the drive.
“I wish Corey had snapped it,” Rodgers said of his center Linsley, as the QB naturally was hoping for a free play. “It’s a great play by Dave. Carson (Wentz) was doing it to us with the cadence, and it was nice to get one of those back.”
Rodgers celebrated the heads-up play with his blind-side protector, who had a strong night, along with fellow tackle Bryan Bulaga and the rest of the line, which needed rookie Jason Spriggs to make his first career start, at right guard.
The work wasn’t done, though.
A handful of plays later, it was third-and-12 from the Green Bay 28, and Rodgers bought time in a well-protected pocket before finding Jordy Nelson wide open over the middle for 22 yards to the 50.
A holding penalty with 3:13 left was seemingly going to stop the march and give the Eagles a chance, albeit one that was already fleeting. But no.
A completion to Davante Adams was followed by a 12-men penalty on the Eagles when the Packers lined up to punt. It set up fourth-and-5 from the Philly 35, and Mike McCarthy decided to go for it.
Rodgers went to, who else, Nelson again down the sideline for 21 yards, and that was all she wrote. James Starks ran his carry total on the drive to eight (for 16 yards) to set up the field goal, the Eagles burned all three of their timeouts, and Philly didn’t get the ball back until after the two-minute warning, down by 14.
The defense doubling its sack total from two to four on the Eagles’ final desperation drive was the cherry on top, but the 581 seconds the Packers consumed were the ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and the spoon.
“We were trying to keep Aaron in clean plays,” McCarthy said. “Excellent execution. It starts up front, and James did a good job taking care of the football.”
The execution started right from the beginning of the game, with the Packers showing signs of early efficiency that had eluded them lately.
Green Bay drove 75 yards in 10 plays for an opening touchdown, converting third downs of 1 and 4 yards that foretold a night of manageable down-and-distances, leading to 10 third-down conversions in all.
The Packers had earned just one first down on their first three drives two weeks ago at Tennessee, and then none on three drives to begin last week’s game at Washington.
Clicking early seemed to change the tone of the entire game, even when the Eagles responded with an opening TD drive of their own.
“It wasn’t like we were looking for magic plays to have a great first drive,” McCarthy said. “You look at it, they were very basic plays. It’s important to give your O-linemen playing against this D-line a chance to set their pads and get going and get after them.”
It evolved into a type of ball-control game from there, with each team getting possession just three times in the first half before a final kneel-down. The Packers even killed 7:48 in the second quarter without a score, driving 43 yards and getting barely across midfield before punting for the only time on the night.
“We knew the game was going by fast, and every possession was going to count,” Rodgers said, and the Packer scored five of six times they were trying to.
It all helped a Green Bay defense having a very rough month, and forcing two punts plus snagging an interception in the game’s first 50 minutes proved to be enough.
The Packers made sure of it with the long, fourth-quarter drive that pushed their time of possession advantage for the game to nearly 11 minutes (35:23 to 24:37).
The Packers needed closure, and they got it, both in this game and on their losing streak. They slammed the door on a lot of frustration Monday night.
“I’m proud of this football team,” McCarthy said. “I’ve said it all along, they’re a great bunch of men to coach. This is all about character and culture, and we got this game here in Philadelphia and we will build off of it.”
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