GREEN BAY – Operation run the table remains intact.
So does Aaron Rodgers’ hamstring, thankfully.
“I didn’t do anything to create a major setback,” Rodgers said after leading the Packers to a 21-13 win over the Texans on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
That’s good, because the Packers are going to need Rodgers to be as healthy as possible to continue their late-season run that is now at two straight wins.
A visit from NFC West-leading Seattle looms next week, and the Lions are keeping the pressure on the Packers by posting a big road win over the Saints at the Superdome on Sunday.
Detroit (8-4) hosts the NFC North’s last-place team, Chicago, next week while leading Green Bay (6-6) by two games. Should the Lions hold serve at home in the early kickoff window next Sunday, the Packers will take the field in the late afternoon needing a victory to avoid falling three games behind with three to play.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy is doing his best, at least publicly, to block out all the big-picture talk, but his players are well aware of where they stand.
“You can’t run the table if you don’t win today,” Rodgers said. “We were fortunate to get this one today. We’re back to .500. We would have appreciated a little help from the Saints, but we still have a lot of things in front of us.
“We’re moving in the right direction.”
Rodgers is saying that because the defense has held two straight opponents to just 13 points, and the special teams showed progress with a more explosive return game on Sunday.
He’s also running an offense that, while overall not nearly as consistent or efficient as six days ago, again executed late in a game when it had to. Strangely, the Packers didn't score from the Houston 2-yard line in the first quarter, but scored from their own 2-yard line in the fourth.
Equally valuable on Sunday was the return of the big-play connection with receiver Jordy Nelson, whose three grabs on the two late TD drives totaled 81 of his 118 yards on the day.
“I don’t know how much more Jordy needs to prove,” McCarthy said. “He’s going through what every great player goes through that first year back from a major injury. He practices every day, and those are the little things that are probably the most important because I think his performance speaks for itself.
“Those guys played big today and they played big when we needed it.”
It started with a 32-yard TD pass on which a Texans cornerback stumbled, leaving wide open in the end zone. Rodgers said he loosened his grip a little just to make sure the wet ball would come out OK, and he gave Nelson credit for his concentration on a play that only looks easy.
“For him, it’s probably a tough catch,” Rodgers said. “He can feel the guy coming, the ball is in the air forever, and he has to body catch it because of the weather. I’m glad he held onto that.”
Nelson also held on when he took a shot from safety Corey Moore along the sidelin
e on a 21-yard laser from Rodgers. Last but not least, Rodgers went up top on third-and-6, and Nelson took the ball away from cornerback Kareem Jackson for a 28-yard gain. The first and third catches in the fourth quarter were Nelson’s two longest gains in the past five games.
“It never changed with him,” Rodgers said of his confidence in his longtime teammate, who with 69 catches, 872 yards and 10 TDs three-quarters of the way through the season is perhaps making a bid for comeback player of the year. “I’ve always been confident throwing him the ball, on any type of play.”
Rodgers verbalized his confidence in the Packers’ locker room as a whole when he talked about winning out two weeks ago. The mission is one-third complete, as December arrived in more than one way this week.
“As a football fan and historian you love games like this,” Rodgers said of the snowy, wet conditions on Sunday. “These are fun ones. This is Lambeau Field in the winter that we love.”
The Packers will need to embrace the weather, because as they try to keep winning, they’ll be playing their next three December games outdoors – two at Lambeau sandwiched around a trip to Soldier Field in Chicago.
Rodgers admits any quarterback would rather have a “perfect environment,” but the Packers won’t have that until Week 17 at Ford Field in Detroit.
It’s winning in these conditions that will be needed to make the pristine ones matter.
Spofford: Packers' offense comes alive when needed most
Hodkiewicz: Nelson shakes off snow with strong finish
Hodkiewicz: Scoreless first half keys defense's gritty performance