Only the Packers can prevent 16-0 now
December, 4, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Bill KostrounAaron Rodgers and the Packers stayed calm and in control to survive a tight game against the Giants.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- That'll do it. The Green Bay Packers will finish this season 16-0 unless they decide they don't want to. They took the best shot Sunday of arguably the best team they're scheduled to face for the rest of the regular season, and at the first moment when the outcome appeared in doubt, the Packers flew downfield with scary precision and perfect clock management for the game-winning score.
Sunday's 38-35 victory over the New York Giants served notice that the only team likely to stop the Packers' march to 16-0 is the Packers themselves, either through a self-destructive defeat or a late-season decision to rest their starters. They'll play three of their final four games at Lambeau Field, where they haven't lost in 14 months, and each of their remaining opponents -- the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions -- are dealing with issues that could bring them to the Packers at far less than full strength.
That the Packers finished Sunday's game with another two prominent players sidelined, on top of the three starters that were declared inactive for the game, speaks to the Packers' current strength. Cornerback Charles Woodson's concussion makes him a candidate to miss next week's game against the Raiders, but the Packers left MetLife Stadium on Sunday with the supreme confidence that they found yet another way to win.
"We can be taken to the line," receiver Greg Jennings said, "but at the same time we can make the comeback and win these close games. … We had to be that fighter that would punch back and not let them sneak away with one today, and we were able to do that."
As promised, the Giants got after the Packers' passing offense for a good portion of the game, sacking quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice and unofficially hitting him on six other occasions. But twice in the fourth quarter, the Packers fought back emotional surges from the Giants.
Rodgers completed eight of his final nine passes for 110 yards, engineering a touchdown drive after the Giants had closed to within 28-27 and getting in position for Mason Crobsy's 31-yard field goal after the Giants tied it at 35. The second possession was particularly illustrative of why it's going to be so tough for someone to beat the Packers this month. Based on interviews in the Packers' locker room, here's what I can tell you about it:
The calculator in Rodgers' brain had been spinning on the sideline, considering various scenarios for when the Packers might regain possession. As it was, they got it back at their 20-yard line with 58 seconds and one timeout remaining.
Rodgers said he was "half-expecting" coach Mike McCarthy to call a draw on the first play to minimize the chance for a turnover deep in Giants history. (That's an indication of how well Rodgers thought the Giants' defense was playing.) But in what several players described as a calm huddle, Rodgers got an aggressive playcall from McCarthy.
"Things were just relaxed for us," guard T.J. Lang said. "It was the same approach we always have, no matter what the score is or how much time is left in the game. There was a little more urgency, but nobody was going to try to play out of the system or make some superhero play."
Rodgers figured the Packers needed to get to their 40-yard line within their first two plays to give the drive a chance. They got past it on the first one, a 24-yard catch-and-run to tight end Jermichael Finely against a surprising straight man defense.
"I probably made the best move of my career on that play," Finley said.
From their 44-yard line, the Packers were again surprised to see the Giants match up their receivers in a man-to-man defense with a single-high safety. The Giants didn't want to play a classic late-game zone, but most everyone would recognize the mismatch of man coverage against the Packers' fleet of receivers. The Packers didn't miss it.
"We made an adjustment on that one," Rodgers said. "Jordy did a little double move and gave me enough room on the sideline to put it in a spot where he could get it."
The play netted 27 yards. In two plays, using a total of 17 seconds, the Packers had moved 51 yards and were in field goal position. An 18-yard pass to Jennings made it a chip-shot for Crosby, and the Packers calmly drained the clock to three seconds before setting up the field goal.
"That drive was really just an example of us trusting the things that we've done in practice so many times," Rodgers said.
So there you have it. The Giants gashed the Packers defense for 447 total yards and 24 first downs, despite holding the ball for only 26 minutes, 57 seconds.They made one costly mistake, an Eli Manning interception that linebacker Clay Matthews returned 38 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and committed a modest six penalties. They had the Packers perhaps one incompletion from playing for overtime. But with the game in the balance, they couldn't so much as slow down the Packers' machine.
The Packers didn't just find a way to get in field position. Their tight end made the move of his career. Two receivers ran precise routes. And as a team, the Packers flew downfield in a rage hat separated them from every team in this league.
"This is exactly what we needed," Matthews said. "Of course, we would love to have blow out victories each and every week. But when it comes down to it, there are some good teams out there and the Giants are no exception. They fought hard. They brought us to the last play. Fortunately were able to march down, get a much needed victory in a much-needed way."
What we saw Sunday was the most impressive installment yet in what has the makings of a historic season. I'm ready to say it. This is a 16-0 team. Whether they do it is entirely up to them.