GREEN BAY – If the early stages of a season are for forging a team’s identity, the Packers are working on a pretty good one on offense.
For the second straight week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers engineered a crucial touchdown drive in a one-point game in the fourth quarter, going the length of the field in double digit plays to swing momentum fully in his team’s favor.
Against the Seahawks on Sunday, he did it with a new personnel package that removed the running back and utilized four receivers and a tight end. Head Coach Mike McCarthy called the set an effective “change-up” that was thrown at the right time, and more importantly, executed very well to turn a 17-16 deficit into a 24-17 lead.
“I thought it was the most important drive in the game, not only to go down and score, but to keep the ball. We took a lot of time off the clock,” McCarthy said. “It was a critical point in the game. Aaron orchestrated it very well. He was patient with it.”
The 10-play, 80-yard march took 6:16, far less than the 9 1/2 minutes the Packers consumed when adding to a 17-16 lead in Chicago in Week 1, but it was arguably more impressive against Seattle's vaunted defense. It got going with an 18-yard strike to Randall Cobb on second-and-15 (following a false start penalty) on the first play of the fourth quarter. At that point, the call went to the new personnel group, and the offense never even needed to convert a third down.
“We pushed the ball down the field when we had to, when it warranted it, but we also did a lot of short throws getting us seven, eight, nine yards and that was effective,” said Associate Head Coach and play-caller Tom Clements.
The drive also continued the coming-out party of rookie receiver Ty Montgomery (pictured). On that possession, Montgomery had three receptions for 24 yards, with his first NFL catch gaining 17 as he bounced off a couple of Seattle tacklers and stayed on his feet along the sideline. He then added a 13-yard grab to convert a third down on the Packers’ final drive for the clinching field goal.
“That was fun to see,” Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “You saw him break some tackles, make a fantastic catch. You saw his balance, his ability to change directions, and he got the ball north and south.”
Rodgers is always pushing the ball downfield when he gets the defense to jump offside, and Montgomery did his part there, too, drawing a 52-yard pass interference penalty on a free play late in the first half that led to a field goal.
Earlier, on the game’s opening TD drive, Rodgers was at his best on the free plays. He caught the Seahawks with 12 defenders on the field for a gift first down. Then, on two snaps defensive end Michael Bennett jumped early, Rodgers hit Cobb for 22 yards and James Jones for a 29-yard TD.
“We work at it in practice all the time,” Clements said, referring in contrast to how some teams will always start a play over in practice when there’s a pre-snap penalty rather than let it play out. “We play the play as if it’s in the game. When it happens in the game it’s nothing new for us.”
On special teams, the Packers did an effective job corralling dangerous return man Tyler Lockett, who broke one punt return for 22 yards but otherwise was held in check on six total returns (two punt, four kickoff).
Kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay had strong games to help the cause against Lockett. In addition to becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Crosby had three touchbacks and three other kickoffs that carried at least halfway through the end zone.
Masthay emerged further from his preseason struggles with solid averages (46.3 gross, 39.0 net) on three punts, including a 46-yarder that went out of bounds and gave Lockett no chance. On that one, Masthay also handled a rare off-target snap from Brett Goode and got a decent punt away.
“We all know what he can do,” Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook said of Masthay. “He’s been like a pitcher that gets in a slump or a batter that gets in a slump. Thank God he’s coming out of it.”
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