GREEN BAY—Speaking with reporters at his locker earlier this week, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers began rattling off all the things he remembers from Green Bay’s last trip to Miami, way back in 2006.
Underneath an ultra-hot sun, the Packers recorded Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s second career victory on the strength of a number of big moments, and Rodgers’ recall of those – despite being a backup QB at the time – was impressive.
He mentioned a nifty touchdown catch by tight end David Martin off his shoetops on a post route, Charles Woodson’s first Packers interception (which he returned for a touchdown), and Ahman Green’s 70-yard TD run, which set off a wild sideline celebration amongst then-offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and then-assistant offensive line coach James Campen, who six games into the season had finally seen their painstakingly implemented zone-blocking scheme bust a big one. Had offensive line coach Joe Philbin, now the Dolphins head coach, been on the sideline and not in the upstairs booth, he undoubtedly would have joined in the celebratory hug.
Rodgers even remembered that Joey Harrington, who threw 62 passes that day and kept the Packers defense on the field for a whopping 83 plays, was Brett Favre’s counterpart at quarterback.
“I’m showing off a little bit there,” Rodgers cracked.
It’s funny, though, Rodgers didn’t mention the early moments of that game, because it looked as though the second-year QB might be thrown into the fire sooner than later.
Left tackle Chad Clifton had eaten some bad seafood the night before the game, which forced the Packers to start their rookie left guard, Daryn Colledge, as Favre’s blind-side protector. It began disastrously.
Pro Bowl pass rusher Jason Taylor drilled Favre in the back on Green Bay’s second possession, forcing a fumble the Dolphins recovered and turned into a TD. On the Packers’ next drive, Favre got clobbered from behind by Taylor again, and fumbled again, though the Packers recovered that time to escape the first quarter down only 7-0.
Reporters in the press box wondered if Favre was going to make it through the game. The young Colledge, coincidentally now with Miami, was overmatched playing out of position against an elite rusher. But McCarthy adjusted his protection scheme, Colledge settled down, Taylor wasn’t heard from the rest of the game, and the Packers went on to chalk up a much-needed win following a 1-4 start.
So what does that trip down memory lane have to do with Sunday’s upcoming game in Miami, aside from the expected repeat of a hot, mid-80s Florida day?
If there’s one thing that could derail a Packers offense that looked unstoppable through the air two weeks ago in Chicago and found its running game last week against Minnesota, it’s a pass rusher who could make a Taylor-like impact.
That guy on the current Dolphins is veteran defensive end Cameron Wake, and the Packers can’t let Wake get going, because his track record suggests a player who feeds off his own success.
The 32-year-old has been in the NFL since 2009 (he didn’t make it with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in ’05 and played in Canada in 2007-08) and has made a habit of getting sacks in bunches.
Last season, 5½ of Wake’s eight sacks came in two games. In 2012, 7½ of his 15 sacks came in two games. In 2010, seven of his 14 sacks came in three games, including a three-sack showing at Lambeau Field. His third sack that day came on third down in overtime, and the Dolphins used the ensuing punt to drive for the game-winning field goal.
Wake has posted two or more sacks in nine career regular-season games. For comparison’s sake, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, also in the league since ’09, has done that 10 times. Taylor did it 26 times in a 15-year career.
Barring another bad meal, Wake won’t be facing a rookie or backup on Sunday like Taylor did in Miami eight years ago. Lining up now at left defensive end (as opposed to outside linebacker in 2010), Wake likely will spend the bulk of the game battling veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who was a rookie making his second NFL start in that game at Lambeau four years ago.
Miami’s sack production has been spread out this year, with five different players posting either 1½ or two sacks thus far. McCarthy commented this week that, collectively, the Dolphins’ pass rush “jumps off the film.”
Defensive end Derrick Shelby (two sacks) is suspended, however, which will put a greater onus on Wake to produce. Wake has two sacks this season. Not surprisingly, they came in the same game, Miami’s big opening win over New England, and he forced Tom Brady fumbles on both.
“He’s a name everyone’s familiar with,” Rodgers said of Wake. “He’s been playing at a high level for a long time.”
The best thing for the Packers is if, eight years from now when Green Bay travels to Miami again, Rodgers doesn’t remember anything about him from Sunday’s game.
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