CLEVELAND – The Packers saved their season on Sunday. Again.
In far greater danger than a week ago of picking up a dreaded seventh loss, and with the winless Browns smelling their first victory of the season, the Packers once again found a way.
Rallying from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter to tie the game with just 17 seconds remaining, Green Bay won it with an interception and TD drive in overtime, escaping FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland with a 27-21 triumph.
“Obviously we knew we needed to win coming in here,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s never easy.
“I can’t say enough about our guys, the way they just keep making big plays at key moments in the game.”
The win got the Packers to 7-6 with hopes that quarterback Aaron Rodgers can return from his broken collarbone next week. McCarthy answered no questions about Rodgers or the future after the game, but the bottom line is the Packers are still alive in the NFC wild-card hunt.
The big plays at key moments made for a lengthy list in this one.
Struggling on offense after an opening touchdown drive that included a fake punt and fourth-and-1 conversion, the Packers opened things up by spreading out their receivers in the second half, and quarterback Brett Hundley got things going when he had to.
Down 21-7, the Packers converted a pair of third-and-1’s on the scoring drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth. The second conversion was on third-and-goal, resulting in a 1-yard TD plunge by Jamaal Williams, who had another productive day with 118 yards from scrimmage (49 rushing, 69 receiving, two TDs total).
The defense got two stops of the Browns (0-13) in the fourth quarter, the second after McCarthy challenged a pass to Browns tight end David Njoku on third-and-4. It was initially ruled complete for a first down with just under three minutes left. With the Packers having only one timeout remaining, the game would have been close to over.
But replays showed the diving Njoku didn’t control the ball going to the ground, and the Packers got the ball back.
“The risk-reward there is worth it, even if you don’t have a good view of it,” McCarthy said. “On the sideline, the ball was clearly moving. I know I saw that. One official, talking to him, he said the ball was moving, but he didn’t think it hit the ground. The information from the box and the sideline was to challenge.”
It paid off, and moments later came another big play, as second-year receiver Trevor Davis fielded Britton Colquitt’s 53-yard punt on his own 10, darted and dodged his way around some tacklers, and found a seam up the sideline.
He went 65 yards in all, putting the Packers on the Cleveland 25-yard line with 2:37 to go.
“I had a talk with him earlier in the week and told him he’s the guy,” McCarthy said of Davis. “He’s been on the cusp of breaking out. He breaks tackles and has the ability to finish, as you can see.”
Quarterback Brett Hundley (35-of-46, 265 yards, three TDs, 111.2 passer rating) then needed seven plays to tie the game. He snuck for a first down on third-and-1 and then ran a QB draw on third-and-2 from the Cleveland 6, diving for the goal line.
Replay reversed the initial touchdown call to down at the 1, requiring a 10-second runoff down to 23 seconds left, but Hundley calmly fired to Davante Adams for the score to even things up.
“I just wanted to get the ball back in our hands and get another opportunity to put some points on the board and give ourselves a chance,” Hundley said of the frantic fourth quarter.
All he needed was the ball one more time, and it didn’t take long to get it.
On the Browns’ initial third down of overtime, linebacker Clay Matthews was right in QB DeShone Kizer’s face as he tried to loft a deep throw. The ball floated into a pile of Packers, and rookie safety Josh Jones came down with it for his first career interception.
It was Kizer’s second interception of the game, dropping his passer rating to 99.4 (20-of-28, 214 yards three TDs) after he started the game hot and was riding running back Isaiah Crowell (19 carries, 121 yards) much of the second half.
But the crunch-time miscue ended the Browns’ hopes, as the Packers needed just six plays to finish the game from the Cleveland 42. On third-and-6 at the 25, Hundley threw a quick hitch to Adams, who broke a tackle, spun away from the defense and sprinted to the end zone for the win.
“That’s just my brother, man,” Hundley said of Adams, who finished with 10 catches for 84 yards and the two scores. “We’ve got a good connection. Davante is one heck of a receiver, and he showed it again today.”
And the Packers once again showed they’re one heck of a resilient team, pulling out an overtime triumph for the second straight week with their season on the brink.
This one looked awfully bleak when, in the third quarter, the Packers failed on fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 10, down 14-7. A mental error Hundley put on himself led to a busted play, and the Browns responded with a TD drive to go up by 14 points.
But all the mojo Cleveland had in pursuit of its first victory wasn’t enough, not with the Packers equally if not more desperate with everything on the line.
“We’re finding different ways to win, and that’s what you have to do,” McCarthy said. “We’re excited to get out of here with a win, and more excited to keep playing.”
Complete game coverage: