This was a gritty one. It was good enough, and it was pretty darn exciting, too.
That was how both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt about the Packers’ inaugural 2016 performance, a 27-23 thriller over the Jaguars at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field on a hot and steamy Sunday.
The game came down to a fourth-and-1 for the Jaguars at the Green Bay 14-yard line with 23 seconds left, and the Packers’ defense swarmed Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns on a swing pass at the line of scrimmage and didn’t let him get the necessary yard.
“I was very proud of how our guys kept fighting,” McCarthy said. “The last play was an example of the finish and pursuit of our defense.”
Cornerback Damarious Randall was the first one to get to Hurns before the posse came to make it a 1-yard loss, and a season-opening win.
“It means a lot to those guys,” Rodgers said. “We put them in a tough spot and they finished the game really well. They were gassed.”
The Packers’ defense was stellar on third down all day. The Jaguars were just 4-for-15. But Jacksonville kept converting on fourth down, four times in all including once by penalty on the game’s final drive.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles (24-of-39, 320 yards, one TD, one INT, 85.4 rating) had gone to receiver Allen Robinson repeatedly when he needed to, usually over the middle. This time he tried to go horizontally to Hurns, and the Packers were right there.
“Our defense hung in there,” McCarthy said. “It came down to a gutty play.”
The second half became a ball-control type of game after the two teams traded quick touchdowns late in the second quarter.
The Packers got theirs with just 13 seconds left in the half, when Rodgers was getting his jersey yanked from behind by Jalen Ramsey. He somehow whipped a 29-yard TD pass to Davante Adams, who made a diving catch with former Packers cornerback Davon House all over him at the goal line.
It was vintage Rodgers, making something out of seemingly nothing, to put the Packers up, 21-17 at intermission.
“I thought we had that picked up,” Rodgers said of the Jaguars’ blitz, which brought Ramsey from the slot. “I saw Davante over the top of House. I just tried to give him a chance to make a play and he made a great play. Great catch.”
The fireworks sort of ended there, though. The Packers turned to the ground game with Eddie Lacy (14 carries, 61 yards) and some Randall Cobb (57 yards receiving, 11 rushing) sprinkled in. Jordy Nelson had six receptions for 32 yards and a TD in his long-awaited return.
Both teams used clock-consuming drives in the second half to add two field goals apiece and keep their defenses as rested as possible in the 90-plus degree heat.
The Packers blew a chance to go up two scores from the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter at the end of a nine-minute drive, and that snafu made the Packers’ three-and-out with five minutes left especially costly.
In both instances, McCarthy and Rodgers (20-of-34, 199 yards, two TDs, 95.1 rating) spoke of communication errors. First on third-and-goal, which the Jaguars stopped to force a chip-shot Mason Crosby field goal. Then on third down after a timeout in Green Bay territory, leading to a delay of game and a punt.
“Our communication wasn’t intact,” McCarthy said.
That was the most frustrating part of the day. The most exhilarating was what the defense pulled off with the game on the line.
Protecting a 27-20 lead, the Packers had just enough left, getting a third-down sack from Nick Perry to force a 50-yard field goal with 5:12 left that turned out to be the game’s final points.
Then on the Jaguars’ last drive, with cornerback Sam Shields (evaluated for a concussion) leaving the field, second-year corner Quinten Rollins broke up a deep ball in the end zone to Robinson three plays before the dramatic fourth-and-1 stop.
“It counts now,” McCarthy said. “This is a team that shows a unique energy. We’ve won one game. We’re being practical. Our standard of play is nowhere near where we want it to be, but it was good enough to win Week 1.
“That’s what you have to do. Get the first one in the column.”