HOUSTON – Maybe the Packers’ receiving corps doesn’t need Greg Jennings after all.
Of course, the Packers want to get Jennings back from his groin injury as soon as possible, but they showed on Sunday night at Reliant Stadium that the offense can be just as explosive without him.
As Jennings missed his second straight game, Jordy Nelson tied his career highs with nine catches and three touchdowns, Randall Cobb set a career high with 102 receiving yards and James Jones enjoyed his third straight two-TD game as the Packers’ offense got rolling early and often in a 42-24 win over the previously unbeaten Texans.
“Offensively we came out fast like we wanted to,” said Jones, who had only posted a single two-TD game in his career, last season on Christmas night, before these last three weeks. “We put some pressure on them, put some points up early.”
Indeed, with the help of a critical offsides call on a first-quarter punt, the Packers ended up scoring on their first drive of a game for the first time this season.
A couple of other Texans penalties kept alive a third-quarter drive that resulted in a touchdown to give the Packers a 28-10 lead. Green Bay seemingly took advantage of every Houston mistake.
But this game was also about the performance of the receivers, who were called out by their head coach after the loss in Indianapolis when he said the offense had favorable matchups on the outside and didn’t win them.
On Sunday, Nelson owned Houston’s top cornerback, Jonathan Joseph, for 121 yards and the three TDs. Combined with Cobb’s 102 yards, the Packers had a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game for the first time since Week 16 of the 2010 season, when Jennings and Nelson both went over the century mark in a rout of the Giants that began the run to a Super Bowl title.
“I don’t think you can ever see a game like this (coming),” Nelson said. “It’s always about doing your job, all the way across the board. As an offense, we hadn’t been doing that this year. We did it for most of the game today.”
Making some great catches helped, too. Jones’ first TD was a diving 6-yard grab near the sideline that he juggled momentarily as he went down and secured it. Then his 18-yard TD for the Packers’ final points early in the fourth quarter was a dandy, as he reached around cornerback Kareem Jackson, got a palm on the ball and deflected it to himself, hauling it in as he went to the ground.
Jones now has seven TD receptions on the season, tying his career best after only six games. He also had seven last year.
In all, quarterback Aaron Rodgers tied the franchise record with six TD passes on Sunday and put up a sterling 133.8 passer rating. It was the Packers’ offense of 2011 showing itself for only the second time in 2012, but it was even more efficient than in the Week 4 win over New Orleans.
“He was in the zone tonight,” Jones said of Rodgers. “He was out of the pocket making plays with his legs, in the pocket making great throws. I just think we as receivers ran some pretty good routes today. Got open. They came up and challenged us press man-to-man and we took advantage of it.”
That was the same press man coverage the Packers couldn’t beat in the second half against Indianapolis last week. The performance speaks to Nelson’s comment about “everyone doing their job.” Rodgers was only sacked twice on roughly 40 dropbacks, a credit to the pass protection, which had mirrored the offense as a whole with its ups and downs.
Even tight end Tom Crabtree got in on the act with a career-long 48-yard TD catch when a bootleg pass was wide open. He rumbled downfield for the score as swiftly as he did back in Week 2 on that fake field goal against the Bears.
It seemed as though nothing had looked that easy for the Packers since then.
“We felt like a lot of stuff that was going on, we were doing it to ourselves,” Jones said of the offensive inconsistencies. “We felt a lot of mistakes were on us. Make a big play, get a sack. Make a big play, drop a ball. Today we put together a complete game.”
The question is whether it will jump start another run of offensive dominance that was on display for most of 2011.
“It can,” Nelson said. “But we have to get back to work. You can’t get comfortable.”
At 3-3 and still in third place in the NFC North, there’s no reason to feel that way. The Packers claimed all week they weren’t lacking for confidence, and it showed Sunday. Now there’s an impressive, important performance for that confidence to build on.
“A good win like that doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” Crabtree said. “Hopefully, it’s a matter of keeping things rolling.”
Additional coverage - Oct. 14