At 7-0, Packers have answer for everything
October, 23, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Andy KingQuarterback Aaron Rodgers was nearly flawless in leading the Packers past the Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers have produced any number of memorable moments over the first seven weeks of the NFL season. My personal favorite came late in Sunday's 33-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers, of course, had built their lead with a near-perfect performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who competed 24 of 30 passes for three touchdowns against the Vikings' undermanned secondary. Of those six incompletions, only one was an off-target throw. (Two were dropped, two were obvious throw-aways and one was a spike to stop the clock.)
Yet when it came time for the Packers to eat the final 2 minutes, 30 seconds to preserve their lead, the Packers turned to what coach Mike McCarthy jokingly called their "phone booth" running game. Rodgers handed the ball on six consecutive plays to tailback James Starks, who tallied 55 yards and three first downs to close out the game. Before that, Starks had managed 20 yards on seven carries.
"They knew we were going to run the ball and we knew we were going to run the ball," Packers guard T.J. Lang said. "At that point, it's basically who wants it more. ... It's a great feeling when you can take the ball, get it in your hands and not give it back until you've won the game. That was a great way to go into our bye."
Indeed, the Packers are 7-0 heading into their bye week, and there is little doubt they are the NFL's best team. I have no idea whether they'll go undefeated, a largely irrelevant discussion to their championship aspirations, but they sure have the look of a team that is going to be every bit as difficult to beat in its final nine games as it was in its first seven.
The end of Sunday's game was a reminder of how multifaceted and well-rounded this team is. The Packers have a schematic response to every possible bout with adversity and are built to win games in almost every way imaginable. They have a place-kicker in Mason Crosby who is 18-for-18 this season and demonstrated Sunday that his range is at least 58 yards. And in some respects, the Packers are just scratching the surface. (Yes, you saw it correctly: Rookie Randall Cobb took a handoff from the tailback position on the first play of the third quarter.)
"We walked out of here with our running game being on at the end and a quarterback who is on fire," said tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught a touchdown in the third quarter. "We've been playing well for a long period of time. You think about 16 games, and the sky is the limit for us."
There's not much more we can say about Rodgers, who is the first player in NFL history to record a passer rating of at least 110 in each of his first seven games to start a season. On Sunday, he quite literally missed almost nothing. He was the first quarterback this season to have fewer than two off-target throws in a minimum of 30 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. (That throw was a missed third-down conversion to receiver Greg Jennings in the third quarter.)
It's gotten to the point that McCarthy is so confident, he is routinely deferring the coin toss when the Packers win it. On Sunday, he said he wanted to "make sure that we had the ball coming out in the second half" and obviously wasn't concerned about what might happen in the emotional early going of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder's first start.
Sure enough, the Packers trailed 17-10 in the second quarter and 17-13 at halftime. But when you have a quarterback who isn't missing anything, you can confidently sit back and wait for your opponent to make a mistake. That happened on the second play of the third quarter, when Vikings safety Husain Abdullah lost sight of receiver Greg Jennings in a zone defense.
Rodgers didn't miss him, however, and hit Jennings for the easiest 79-yard touchdown play you'll ever see. The Packers never relinquished the ensuing lead.
"It really doesn't matter who is on the opposing team defending us," Jennings said. "We have the mindset that we're going to beat out our guy. You can call it arrogance. You can call it real confidence. You can call it anything you want. You've got to have some type of confidence in yourself. We feel as a group and as a unit we can beat our guy and get the job done."
The same is true for the Packers' defense, which continues to give up more yards than you would like, but is also continuing to make drive-killing plays at critical moments. The Packers entered the game with the NFL's second-most interceptions (11), and on Sunday cornerback Charles Woodson added two more to that total. Those plays set up two of Crosby's field goals, and it's probably no coincidence that they represented the final margin of victory.
"I've never been 7-0," Woodson said. "So I guess you've got to say by far this is the best team I've been on. We know we're going to have more games like today where we are going to have to gut it. … I think it's actually good for us to have this kind of game going into the bye. Understanding that when we come back that it's not always going to be easy."
It doesn't matter if it is easy, painful or somewhere in between. These Packers are built to get it done. McCarthy, of course, said he won't start considering playoff scenarios until the Packers have 10 victories.
At this rate, they'll be there before Thanksgiving. Hang on, folks. This is just starting to get interesting.