Nov 25, 2010 ~ by Mark Bradley, AJ-C
~So the Falcons sit atop the NFC? Alert ESPN and Peter King
The Falcons have the NFC’s best record. They’re 8-2, having won eight of nine. In November alone they’ve beaten Tampa Bay, which is 7-3; Baltimore, which is 7-3, and St. Louis, which is 4-6 but was 4-1 at home before the Falcons showed up.
And yet: The ESPN.com home page as of 9:25 a.m. Monday asked two questions. “The NFC’s best team? Why not the Eagles?”
And Peter King of SI.com lists the Falcons No. 5 in his Fine Fifteen, with not one but two NFC teams above them. Asks King of Green Bay, which he ranks No. 1 in the league: “Who’s played better over the past month? Beat the Vikes 28-24, the Jets 9-0, the Cowboys 45-7, the Vikes again 31-3.”
Note to P.K.: Uh, maybe the Falcons? (And aren’t the Vikings and Cowboys, against whom three of those four Packer victories have been achieved, the NFL’s biggest duds? Didn’t one just fire its coach? Isn’t the other about to fire its coach?)
Understand: I’m ordinarily not one who believes The National Media Never Gives Atlanta Teams Any Credit. I don’t think there’s a vast right- or left-wing conspiracy out there to ignore our fair city. (And I would stipulate that Green Bay isn’t exactly the hub of 21st Century journalism.) That said …
The Falcons are playing pretty darn well. They’ve beaten the Saints (No. 6 according to King), the Ravens (No. 7) and the Bucs (No. 12.). They’ve lost only to the Eagles (No. 3) and the Steelers (No. 8), both of those coming on the road.
Side-by-side comparison: The Packers have beaten two teams that hold winning records; the Falcons have beaten three.
Further comparison: The Eagles have beaten four teams that hold winning records, the Falcons among them. And Philly beat the Falcons soundly using its backup quarterback. You can make the case, I submit, that the Eagles might — I said might — deserve to be placed ahead of Atlanta, but I don’t see a reason to elevate Green Bay above a team with a better record.
What’s that ? You say the Packers will play here this Sunday? How intriguing. And how convenient.
Guess we’ll do this the old-fashioned way. (Or, for you college fans, the non-BCS way.) Guess we’ll settle this on the field.
Full story HERE
Nov 25, 2010 ~ by Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
~1. Packers WR Greg Jennings vs. Falcons CB Brent Grimes: Jennings is perhaps the second hottest receiver in the NFL, behind Roddy White. Jennings has caught 32 passes in his past five games after catching 14 in his first five. He is tied for third in receiving touchdowns with nine. Jennings averaged 16.3 yards per catch in the past five games. The scrappy Grimes is second on the team with three interceptions and will have a busy day if the pass rush doesn’t get to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
2. Packers CB Tramon Williams vs. Falcons WR Roddy White: Williams, a former undrafted free agent from Louisiana Tech, has taken over for Charles Woodson as the Packers’ top cornerback. He has nice size at 5-foot-11, 191 pounds and likely will shadow White for most of the game. He had a key interception of Brett Favre on Sunday that helped the Packers build a 17-3 halftime lead. No one has been able to slow White this season, and he torched Woodson and the Packers in Green Bay in 2008.
3. Packers LT Chad Clifton vs. Falcons DE John Abraham: Expect a well-rested Abraham to continue his assault on quarterbacks. He was rested for Sunday’s game against St. Louis as a precautionary measure. He played with the same injury against Baltimore and registered two sacks.
Clifton is having a spectacular season and has helped stabilize the unit with his play. The Packers don’t have much of a rushing attack, so it’s somewhat remarkable that the pass protection has been so stable. With improved protection, Rodgers has moved into the top 10 in passer rating. He ranks ninth with a 95.7 mark and is tied for third in touchdowns with 19.
Full story HERE
Nov 24, 2010 ~ by the great Bob McGinn
~Green Bay – Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, a pair of upwardly mobile third-year starters, will meet Sunday at the Georgia Dome in a game rich with playoff implications.
The Falcons (8-2) own the best record in the NFC and would take a giant step toward home-field advantage with a victory. The Packers (7-3) are looking to keep pace with Chicago in the NFC North and extend their winning streak to five games.
“The quarterbacks are going to control this game,” an executive in personnel for a recent Falcons’ opponent said.
“Rodgers is where Matt Ryan wants to go. If it wasn’t in Atlanta, then I’d give the edge obviously to Green Bay. But I’d pick Atlanta because (Ryan) plays a totally different game in the dome.”
Rodgers, the 24th pick in 2005, is in his sixth season but is just a year and a half older than Ryan, who was the third pick in ’08. Rodgers played only three seasons of college football whereas Ryan spent five years at Boston College.
As a rookie in October 2008, Ryan exhibited poise beyond his years in leading Atlanta to a 27-24 victory at Lambeau Field. Ryan was excellent with a passer rating of 94.1 but Rodgers, courageously playing with a sprained right shoulder, performed as well if not better at 109.4.
Counting playoffs, Ryan owns a rating of 86.4 and a record of 28-13 (.683). Meanwhile, Rodgers’ rating is 97.6 and his record is 24-19 (.558).
“It should be a lot of points,” an NFC scout said. “The quarterbacks are pretty close. I’d take Rodgers because he has more experience, but Ryan is definitely on the come. Atlanta plays better at home. I’d take Atlanta.”
Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 18-3 at home compared to 10-12 on the road. As a counter-point, coach Mike McCarthy has a 21-17 record on the road, including 10-3 in domes.
“I’m picking the Packers,” another personnel man said. “Green Bay is not a better offense because Atlanta has a running game, but they are a better passing team. I’m not sold on the Atlanta defense, but they are playing good. I just don’t think Atlanta has seen that good of a passing game. Green Bay should be able to eat them up in that area.”
This season, the Falcons are 5-0 at the Georgia Dome, where Ryan’s rating is 98.1. They’re 3-2 on the road and his rating is 87.5.
“You’re talking about a close game,” the NFC scout said. “Atlanta’s secondary isn’t strong, which plays well for Green Bay. But the Packers are vulnerable at safety, which doesn’t bode well with Atlanta’s passing attack.
Because Atlanta can run the ball and is OK on defense, that gives them the nod.”
Third-year coordinator Mike Mularkey gives opponents much to prepare for: loads of formations and personnel groupings, the insertion of a sixth O-lineman (T Will Svitek) on some first downs and a no-huddle look used about 15 times each week that’s become a tempo-changer. The Falcons’ seventh-ranked power ground game (129.0) incorporates stretch and sucker plays that set up extensive play-action passing. They rank third in turnovers (10) and sixth in yards (371.4) and points (25.6).
WR Roddy White (6-1 ½, 211) has become a great player. He runs exceptional routes, really competes for the ball and doesn’t drop many. He can overpower or weave past tacklers. His 40-yard dash time was just 4.49 seconds in ’05 but he manages to get deep and uses his 41-inch vertical jump to secure the ball. Another major threat is Tony Gonzalez (6-4, 247), perhaps the finest receiving TE ever. At 34, Gonzalez has lost some burst and fluidity. Still, he can line up wide, in the slot or in-line, find windows and take the ball away from defenders. White and Gonzalez are almost impossible to stop. As a blocker, Gonzalez usually gets in the way. Other WRs are Michael Jenkins (6-4 ½, 214) and Harry Douglas (5-11 ½, 183). Jenkins, a 58-game starter, is a long strider with deep sideline speed and inconsistent hands. Tough but little, Douglas is best catching quick passes and darting up field. Backup TE Justin Peelle (6-4 ½, 251) is competent.
The five regulars have been starting together since ’08 and for all 10 games this year. There isn’t a great player in the bunch, but there’s is no weak link, either. RG Harvey Dahl (6-6, 303) and RT Tyson Clabo (6-7, 329) push, shove and generally get after people. Dahl, an original free agent in ’05 now with his third team, continues to improve in protection and mauls for the run. Clabo, an original free in ’04 now with his fourth team, isn’t the most supple athlete and can be beaten outside on dip-and-rip moves. But he hates getting beat and usually doesn’t. LT Sam Baker (6-4 ½, 301), the 21st pick in ’08, compensates for having short arms by being technically sound and naturally athletic. He has become OK in the run game but better speed rushers give him fits. LG Justin Blalock (6-3, 326), a second-round pick in ’07, is very strong, very smart and a solid starter. C Todd McClure (6-1 ½, 296), an 11-year starter, is undersized but still plays just fine.
Matt Ryan (6-4 ½, 217) is a fiery, charismatic leader with a 28 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. As a third-year player, he is in complete command of a high-volume offense, follows his progression from sideline to sideline and gets the ball out on time. He’s a touch-type passer with average-plus arm strength. On Sunday, he threw a pass that carried 57 yards. He has enough speed (4.89) to take off and run, but that’s not his strong suit. He exudes maturity. Backup Chris Redman (6-2 ½, 225), 4-8 as a starter with a 79.3 passer rating, is a tough, pure pocket passer.
In ’08, Michael Turner (5-10 ½, 247) pounded the Packers for 121 yards in 26 carries.
The Steelers, 49ers, Eagles and Ravens held Turner to 176 yards (2.6 average), but he averaged 114.7 (5.2) in the other six games. He has huge legs, pumps them on contact and moves piles. He probably still runs in the 4.55 range. His receiving skills are marginal. Jason Snelling (5-11, 234), who operates as a FB, RB and third-down back, has replaced injured Jerious Norwood on third downs and provides effective early-down breaks for Turner. Snelling isn’t fast (4.79) but he is rugged and an able receiver. Ovie Mughelli (6-1, 250) is among the last of the battering-ram FBs. He’ll hit anything that moves, and usually moves it.
Coach Mike Smith permits third-year coordinator Brian VanGorder to call the game. The 4-3 scheme is similar to what Bob Sanders used in Green Bay from 2006-’08. In order to compensate for a small line, the Falcons slant and stunt. The base look is Cover 2. The Falcons rank seventh in points (19.2), tied for 11th in takeaways (20) and 17th in yards (339.5).
The Falcons played it safe Sunday in St. Louis, deciding two hours before kickoff that RE John Abraham (6-3 ½, 263) should sit with a groin injury. But Abraham, who has 97 ½ sacks in 11 seasons, should be fine.
His acceleration isn’t what it was, but years ago he didn’t have the great inside counter move that he does now. He remains an elite pass rusher.
LE Kroy Biermann (6-3, 255), a fifth-round pick from Montana in ’08, has adequate speed (4.75), top strength, charges hard off the edge and will not quit. Backup DE Chauncey Davis (6-2, 271), a 24-game starter in six seasons, produces more than first-round bust Jamaal Anderson (6-5 ½, 291). Three-technique DT Jonathan Babineaux (6-2, 300), a second-round pick in ’05, can be disruptive because of outstanding quickness. He’s solid overall, but will buckle against double teams. Rookie NT Corey Peters (6-3, 305), a third-round pick, has kind of a bad body but is doing a better job recognizing blocking combinations. He gives way sometimes to Vance Walker (6-1 ½, 304), a seventh-round pick in ’09 with long arms and a penetrating style. DT Peria Jerry (6-2, 295), the 24th pick in ’09, still isn’t fully recovered from a blown knee suffered 14 months ago and isn’t offering much as a third-down rusher.
MLB Curtis Lofton (6-0, 241), a second-round pick in ’08, plays every snap. He attacks the run hard, is instinctive and knocks runners backward. He struggles getting off blocks, and his coverage is so-so. WLB Mike Peterson (6-1 ½, 226), a decorated starter for the Colts and Jaguars, is 34 and playing out the string. Having played for Smith in Jacksonville, he understands the defense. He’ll still pop people, but don’t ask him to extend in coverage. At SLB, Stephen Nicholas (6-1, 236) starts in base before giving way to rookie Sean Weatherspoon (6-1, 244) in nickel. Nicholas is tough, strong and runs well (4.65) but is a late reactor. Weatherspoon, the 19th pick, just came back from a sprained knee. He’s fast (4.55), loud-mouthed and a lusty hitter.
Former Texans RC Dunta Robinson (5-10 ½, 183), the 10th pick in ’04, plays with swagger, challenges receivers, has top speed and is tough. He also will gamble and lose. LC Brent Grimes (5-9, 183), a free agent from Shippensburg in ’07, gets picked on. He’s smart (24 on the Wonderlic), highly emotional and big on effort. He plays to his 4.55 speed, giving cushion and trying not to get beat deep. Usually, he holds his own. Nickel back Brian Williams (5-11 ½, 208), a nine-year veteran, ran just 4.56 in ’02, is coming off a blown knee and can be exploited. FS Thomas DeCoud (6-1 ½, 192), a two-year starter, and SS William Moore (6-0, 221) are vulnerable deep. DeCoud plays more of a cerebral game than Moore and is seldom out of position. Moore, a second-round pick in ’09, is a hard-hitting physical specimen but does blow assignments.
Well-traveled K Matt Bryant, 35, is 22 of 25, including game-winning FGs of 46 yards in New Orleans and 43 against San Francisco. P Michael Koenen kicks off very well. As a punter, he doesn’t have a big leg (39.9) but does well in terms of direction and hang time. His net of 33.3 ranks 30th. Dual return specialist Eric Weems (5-9, 195) is too cautious on punts (15 fair catches, nine returns). He isn’t fast but runs recklessly on KOs and averages 26.0.
Full story HERE
Nov 23, 2010 ~ by Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel
~Minneapolis — No matter how you feel about Brett Favre – if you once loved him and now despise him, if you consider him the greatest player ever to wear a Green Bay Packers uniform or a spiteful, petty, dishonest, traitorous old man – it was hard not to feel just a pinch of sympathy for him Sunday.
Once a three-time NFL most valuable player and just last year still among the best quarterbacks in the game, Favre is finishing out his career with a team in a death spiral and looking every bit like a 41-year-old man in a young man’s game.
As purple-clad fans fled the Metrodome and Packers fans stayed behind to savor the closing minutes of a 31-3 beat-down of Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, chants of “Go, Pack, go!” must have rung hollow in Favre’s ear flaps.
This isn’t why he came back for a 20th season, but it’s his reality: The Vikings are 3-7 and going nowhere fast.
Favre is playing out the string, a Hall of Famer reduced to irrelevance save for a mythic consecutive-games-played streak that may, at some point soon, come to an end.
Asked after the game if he ever imagined things could go this badly for the Vikings, Favre said, “No. Nope. I know you want me to elaborate on it. This has got me at a loss for words. ‘Disappointing’ would be an understatement.”
If this was, indeed, the last time he faced his former team, the Packers said goodbye with a sack, an interception, seven quarterback hits and 60 minutes of harassment that forced Favre into a pedestrian 17-for-38, 208-yard day.
“I love him to death,” said Packers receiver Donald Driver, who caught 36 touchdown passes from Favre during the halcyon days in Green Bay. “But when you play this game, there’s no friends until it’s all over. I’m happy that we beat him.”
Favre insisted he was long past any hard feelings he harbored for the Packers’ organization, yet it’s hard to imagine a regular-season game he wanted to win more than this one, especially after he limped off Lambeau Field on Oct. 25 to a resounding chorus of boos after a 28-24 loss.
But the Vikings have been unable to rise above injuries and dissension in the locker room, and it appears coach Brad Childress is on the verge of losing his team, if he has not already lost it.
Though the Vikings say they’re not pointing fingers, they got in each other’s face on the sideline, and TV cameras caught Favre exchanging words with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after the quarterback threw an interception deep in Packers territory with his team trailing, 10-3, in the second quarter.
It was Favre’s NFL-leading 17th interception. He is headed for the seventh 20-interception year of his career one year after throwing just seven.
“If Darrell didn’t care, if I didn’t care, we may have been laughing over there,” Favre said. “Darrell was trying to more or less rein me in and say that there is more football left, which I knew. . . . He knows that I get really frustrated, as every guy should. I was telling him that I was OK.”
Childress didn’t exactly give Favre a ringing endorsement when asked if he considered pulling the quarterback.
“I have to look at the tape,” Childress said, “but I didn’t see the upside of taking him out.”
In the game’s closing minutes, kicker Ryan Longwell and a few other Vikings consoled Favre in the bench area.
“They just came over and said to keep your head up,” Favre said. “They said, ‘I know it’s not what we envisioned when we came to your place’ (in Hattiesburg, Miss., to talk Favre into coming back for a 20th season).
“We’re in it together. I’m not going to say, ‘I told you guys,’ or ‘I shouldn’t have came back.’ I’m here. We’re in this thing together, either way, win or lose.”
As Favre walked off the field, a handful of Packers made their way through a phalanx of photographers to pat the quarterback on the helmet or shoulder pads and wish him well.
“One thing we always say is that we miss one another,” Driver said. “I asked him if he would be OK and he said, ‘Yeah,’ and then he said, ‘I love you.’ I said, ‘I love you, too.’ And that was it.”
Safety Nick Collins told Favre to “keep his head up and keep playing.”
“He said, ‘Y’all keep going. You’re playing good. You can do it,’ ” Collins said.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins said he felt sympathy for Favre, who also is being investigated by the NFL for allegedly sending lewd photos and racy text messages to a former New York Jets employee.
“We’ve been watching him the whole season, watching everything he’s going through,” Jenkins said. “You feel bad for him as a former teammate. He’s a pretty cool guy. You don’t wish bad luck on anybody. It’s just one of those things. He’s having a tough year and hopefully he’ll be able to get past it, whatever direction he goes in after this season.”
The more pressing question: Which direction will Favre’s season take next?
Asked if he was concerned about his quarterback remaining “engaged” for the last six games, Childress said, “That’s always a concern as a coach. Everybody’s got to be engaged and has to contribute the best they can. Again, that’s what those guys get paid for.”
Favre said all the right things when asked if he wanted to play out the string.
“I have played 20 years because of my passion and competitive nature,” he said. “I know that hasn’t changed. It sure was hard for me to walk off the field today after a loss like that, (or) last week, and for that matter at any point in my career.
“I take so much pride in the way I play and what is expected of me, which is always maybe a little bit more than the next guy.”
Long before the current generation of young Vikings fans started wearing purple No. 4 jerseys, Favre replaced an injured Dan Majkowksi in the Packers lineup and the legend began.
Today, in the winter of his career, gray-haired and battered by years of collisions with marauding linebackers and blitzing safeties, Favre has come full circle.
The ends to these things are rarely pretty.
Full story HERE
Nov 22, 2010 ~ by Peter King, CNNSI
~Packers make case for NFL’s Best
Green Bay 31, Minnesota 3.
Somewhere, in some deep place, Rodgers had to be feeling some measure of tremendous satisfaction, but he wasn’t going to show it in that embrace, and no matter what he thought of Favre, he realized the moment and knew it was only right to treat Favre with the dignity he hopes he’ll receive when replaced. Maybe sometime around 2024.
Hearing my question about what went on between he and Favre, Rodgers said, “I’d rather keep that private. I don’t think it’d be right to share it.”
Just the right answer.
The Packers, for what it’s worth, look like the best team in the league to me after 10 games for a couple of reasons (and if you want to say it’s the Patriots, I couldn’t argue much, or the Eagles or Falcons or Jets or even the Saints).
The defense has gotten early instability settled; coordinator Dom Capers has figured out the right personnel combinations, and the corner combo or Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson — who has turned into the kind of leader a head coach dreams of — is playing as well as any corner tandem in the league. Green Bay’s allowed 10 points in the past 12 quarters. The Packers shut out the Jets at the Meadowlands. In the past two weeks, they didn’t let two bad teams breathe.
Offensively, it’s been about Rodgers’ dominance — 75-percent passing, seven touchdowns, no picks in the past two weeks — and about the rediscovery of Greg Jennings.
A few weeks ago, coach Mike McCarthy saw how Jennings, a legit number one receiver, was being overlooked in the offense week to week, and he began to emphasize more plays for Jennings, more shots for him as the primary target. And he’s exploded since then. Check out the difference in Jennings’ first five games and his second five:
On Sunday, Rodgers’ first of three touchdown strikes to Jennings was a great example of the new emphasis about getting the ball to him, and about Rodgers’ patience. Chased from the pocket, Rodgers kept surveying the field while keeping half an eye on Jennings because of what the Pack thought was a favorable coverage matchup. As he rolled left, Rodgers finally saw a wide-enough opening to get the ball through, and fired it, and Jennings caught it for the score. And the rout was on.
“This is exactly the way I saw us playing this year,” Rodgers said after his four-TD, no-pick day. “No offense to them, but when we play a team and we’re playing the way I know we’re capable of playing, we feel there’s no way they can stop us. And that’s the way we’re playing right now. It’s a good feeling to work the way we have and then have everything go the right way.”
Full story HERE
Nov 22, 2010 ~ by Mike Vandermause, Press-Gazette
~MINNEAPOLIS – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in no mood to gloat on Sunday, even if he had every right to do so.
Rodgers soundly outplayed Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the Packers’ 31-3 romp at the Metrodome. His performance proved once again why General Manager Ted Thompson made the correct decision two years ago when he traded Favre and made Rodgers the Packers’ starting quarterback.
But Rodgers resisted any temptation to say “I told you so.” He said there was no extra satisfaction in leading the Packers to a season sweep of Favre and the Vikings, who were all but eliminated from playoff contention with the embarrassing loss.
Since Rodgers became the Packers’ starter in the summer of 2008, he has been booed, sworn at, second-guessed and doubted by at least a small segment of the fan base.
If his dismantling of the Vikings doesn’t silence or satisfy the skeptics, nothing ever will. Rodgers completed 22 of 31 passes for 301 yards, four touchdowns and a 141.3 passer rating in the hostile, noisy Metrodome. It was a memorable, near-flawless effort.
The 41-year-old Favre, meanwhile, looked every bit his age. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes, threw a game-turning interception and posted a 51.2 passer rating.
But this wasn’t about Rodgers vs. Favre, at least not according to the Packers quarterback.
“I think if anything, if the last couple years have told me anything, it’s that this game is bigger than myself,” said Rodgers. “It was around long before I started playing, it’s going to be around long after I’m done playing. And I just try to keep that perspective and realize that I’m blessed to be able to play this game.”
With the help of a stellar defense, Rodgers has guided the Packers to a 7-3 record this season and into a first-place tie with the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. In 42 regular-season games as a starter his record is 24-18. Favre’s record after his first 42 starts with the Packers was 23-19.
Faced with the difficult task of replacing Favre, a quarterback legend in Green Bay and future Hall of Famer, Rodgers has handled the assignment with class, humility and a take-charge attitude on the field.
“All that other stuff, it takes care of itself,” said Rodgers. “One way or another, I’m proud of the way our team has handled it, I’ve handled it, and we’re on the other side of it (now).”
Last year the Vikings swept the Packers behind a pair of brilliant games by Favre. But Rodgers had no reason to hang his head with passer ratings of 110.6 and 108.5 in those losses. In four games against the Favre-led Vikings, Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdown passes and just three interceptions and averaged 317 passing yards.
Center Scott Wells is impressed with more than Rodgers’ arm. He likes his scrambling ability.
“Any time you have a quarterback that can extend the play and get outside the pocket and make things happen, that’s huge,” said Wells. “Aaron does an excellent job, makes some great reads and some great throws on the run, on the move, so it’s great he’s able to do that. It’s awesome for our offense to have somebody that can do that.”
But Rodgers refuses to get caught up in statistics or comparisons. What’s paramount in his mind is how well the Packers are playing heading into the stretch run.
“We’re a 7-3 team going in the right direction,” he said.
Rodgers won’t make fans forget about Favre’s exemplary career in Green Bay, nor should he have to. But the Packers are secure in knowing they’re in good hands with Favre’s replacement.
Full story HERE
Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Mike Spofford, Packers.com
~MINNEAPOLIS – After posting just 8 yards of offense and one first down in the opening quarter on Sunday, Green Bay’s offense was in need of a spark, and wide receiver Greg Jennings was the one to provide it.
The Packers went three-and-out on two of their opening three possessions, and it appeared they might do so once again on their fourth drive. But on third-and-9 at the Green Bay 23, Jennings beat rookie cornerback Chris Cook down the right sideline and made a juggling catch near midfield before cutting it across the middle for a 47-yard gain to the Minnesota 30.
“The game can be changed by one play, and we had a spark on offense,” Jennings said. “I caught the ball on the sideline and then other guys stepped up and started making plays. Once you see one guy make a play, someone else makes a play and everything starts to come back where you want it to be. That’s what happened. We were able to start sustaining drives and move the ball.”
Jennings’ game-long catch on Cook didn’t result in a touchdown as the Packers were forced to settle for a 42-yard Mason Crosby field goal to even the score at 3, but they certainly seemed to find their rhythm offensively after that.
After Green Bay’s defense forced a three-and-out on Minnesota’s next series, the offense took over at the Packers’ 20 and quickly went to work. Rodgers completed three passes to start the drive to three different receivers for 30 yards, and then three plays later, connected with wide receiver James Jones down the right sideline for a 39-yard gain to the Minnesota 11.
Rodgers dodged a bullet on the next play, as his overthrown pass intended for Jennings was nearly intercepted at the goal line by a diving Husain Abdullah. But the duo hooked up on the next play, with Rodgers spinning away from pressure to his left before finding an open Jennings in the end zone for the 11-yard touchdown.
“I was running a little hook route over the ball, and it actually worked out,” Jennings said. “He was extending the play with his feet. He scrambled and I was running to the corner. He kind of stopped and he pointed back in. He threw it behind (Abdullah) and I was able to come up with a catch.”
The Packers took a 17-3 lead to the break and didn’t waste much time adding to it as Jennings came up with another big play, this time on second-year cornerback Asher Allen. Rodgers ran a play-action fake to running back Dimitri Nance and found Jennings near the sideline at Minnesota’s 35. Jennings came back to the ball and put a nifty move on Allen, spinning away from him to easily take it the rest of the way for the score.
“That’s kind of crazy because I watched film the first time we played them, and someone that put a move on him kind of got him turned around like that in a previous game they had,” Jennings said. “It was kind of like déjà vu all over again, except I was running the ball. It worked out.”
Jennings made it a career performance by adding one more touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. On third-and-1 at the Minnesota 22, Rodgers again ran a play-action fake, this time to running back John Kuhn, before lofting a perfect throw to Jennings in the end zone with Allen blanketing him.
Most of the damage by Green Bay’s receivers came against the young duo of Allen and Cook, something wide receiver Donald Driver said the Packers felt they would be able to accomplish with veteran corner Antoine Winfield covering the slot receiver.
“Honestly, any defender, as a receiver your mindset is you’ve got to win your one-on-one matchup,” Jennings said. “I think across the board we felt like if we were given the opportunity, we were going to have to win, regardless of whether it was myself, Jones, Drive, Jordy.
“We felt like we are capable of winning our matchups each play, and that’s what took place today.”
Jennings became the first Packer to post three touchdown receptions in a game since wide receiver Javon Walker did so at Indianapolis on Sept. 26, 2004. Jennings finished the afternoon with seven receptions for 152 yards (21.7), the second-highest yardage output of his career behind only a 167-yard performance at Detroit on Sept. 14, 2008.
After a sluggish start to the season that included a three-game stretch with a total of six receptions for 65 yards, Jennings has returned to his big-play ways ever since. Sunday afternoon was his fifth straight game with six-plus receptions as he became the first Packer since wide receiver Sterling Sharpe (12 straight) to post six or more catches in five consecutive games.
“Greg is one of the best receivers in the league,” Rodgers said. “We are very fortunate and blessed to have him on our team. Just find him ways to get the ball. I think he did a great job for us. When you throw just a comeback to him and he turns into a big-time touchdown, it makes you look like a lot better quarterback.
“When (tight end) Jermichael (Finley) went down (with a knee injury in Week 5), we made a conscious effort in our mind, myself pulling the trigger and the coaching staff, to find more ways to get Greg the ball.”
Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Tom Fanning, Packers.com
~MINNEAPOLIS – With Green Bay leading 10-3 late in the second quarter, the Vikings appeared poised to swing the momentum back before the half as they drove deep into Packers’ territory. But a defense that has thrived on turnovers of late came up with another at just the right time.
Minnesota had quickly moved down the field with a 17-yard pass from quarterback Brett Favre to wide receiver Sidney Rice and a 16-yard run by wide receiver Percy Harvin, the latter converting a second-and-14 for the Vikings to put the ball at the Green Bay 25.
On the next play, Favre threw a slant to Harvin, but cornerback Tramon Williams jumped the route for an interception at the 18-yard line, and his 14-yard return plus a 15-yard low-block penalty on Vikings wide receiver Greg Camarillo gave the Green Bay offense possession at the Packers’ 47 with 1:03 left and three timeouts remaining. It was the Packers’ 12th takeaway in 12 quarters.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers quickly moved the offense down the field, capping the drive off with a throw to wide receiver James Jones in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown and a 17-3 halftime advantage. It was quite the swing after the Vikings seemed to be ready to cut into the 10-3 deficit just a minute earlier.
“It felt good for the simple fact that it was a timely play,” Williams said. “They were in scoring range and it was a play to stop their momentum. The offense came out and scored and probably pretty much changed the game.
“Once the offense came out in the second half and scored, I think that pretty much took the air out of the crowd. As a defense, we just kept pounding away and we kept them out of the end zone.”
Williams said he was able to read Minnesota’s formation on the play, and once he saw the pattern that tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was running, he knew where the ball was going and was able to react.
“I read the No. 2 receiver (Shiancoe),” Williams said. “He did an out route, so I knew the slant was coming. I was just playing off and not going too fast … but when he threw it I just broke on it.
“It was a timing route. Timing routes usually come out either/or if someone is covering it, so it was just an opportunity to make a play.”
Williams’ interception wasn’t the only takeaway by Green Bay’s defense in the first half, with fellow cornerback Charles Woodson coming up with a key play to squelch another potential Minnesota scoring drive earlier in the second quarter.
With the Vikings facing a third-and-8 at their own 46, Favre found running back Toby Gerhart on a short pass over the middle, and he made linebacker Brandon Chillar miss to pick up the first down. But at the end of the play, Woodson came in and chopped the ball out of Gerhart’s hands, and linebacker A.J. Hawk recovered at the Green Bay 35 to keep the Vikings’ lead at 3-0.
“It doesn’t matter where you get it or who has momentum, when you get a turnover it is demoralizing to the other team,” Woodson said. “In that case they did have a drive going. They picked up yardage on that particular play, and I saw an opening.
“One thing I am going to do, I am always going to try to take a shot at the ball.”
The two second-quarter takeaways provided a spark for a defense that posted three second-half interceptions of Favre in the first meeting this season. It was just one aspect of the defense that improved markedly from last year’s matchups against Minnesota, with Green Bay also getting to Favre throughout the afternoon on Sunday.
Linebacker Clay Matthews got the only sack of the day, which pushed his season total to a league-high 11½, but Favre was under considerable pressure from a multitude of directions. Six different players were credited with hits on Favre on his way to a 51.2 passer rating (17-of-38, 208 yards, one interception).
“We just moved around real fast and guys were where they were supposed to be,” Woodson said. “Last year in this game, (we) were just out of position a lot of times and they came up with some big plays. This year was much different. We were able to get to him this year. Last year I remember a play where he had eight seconds or something like that back there to throw the ball. This year was not going to be like that.
“We put the pressure that we needed to get on him, move him around in the pocket, and then stay tight in the secondary. Let our linebackers run around and make plays and make tackles, and we came up big today.”
It wasn’t just Sunday that the defense has done that as it has allowed just 10 total points over the past three games. That total is the lowest by the Packers since they gave up the same number in a three-game stretch in 1974 (Nov. 10-24). The three points allowed on Sunday by the defense matched the franchise record for the fewest given up at Minnesota, tying the mark set by Green Bay on Nov. 14, 1971, in the Packers’ 3-0 loss at Metropolitan Stadium.
The Packers moved into a tie with the division-rival Chicago Bears for the top scoring defense in the league at 14.6 points per game, but the tests keep on coming. Next week it arrives in the form of an Atlanta Falcons team that sits atop the NFC at 8-2 and is tied for the best home record in the league since 2008 at 18-3 (.857).
“We still have a long way to go, but we are on a little roll right now,” Matthews said. “We feel good about this team. It is really jelling and coming together. We know what type of talent we have. It’s very similar to last year. Hopefully we can keep this going, but there is always room for growth.
“We are going to see a great team next week, so we have got to keep preparing and getting ready and hopefully we can get another victory and move forward.”
Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Mike Spofford, Packers.com
~MINNEAPOLIS — Through the first seven games this season, Head Coach Mike McCarthy continued to harp on the fact that his offense was turning the ball over too much, and it needed to change.
Indeed, the Packers had turned the ball over 13 times after seven games, well off the pace of a year ago when the team established a new franchise-low with just 16 giveaways for the entire regular season.
But a big part in Green Bay’s current winning streak, which continued Sunday with a dominant 31-3 victory at Minnesota, has been the way the offense has protected the ball. The Packers didn’t turn it over on Sunday for the third straight contest, the first time since 1963 that they’ve accomplished that feat.
“That’s one thing we’ve talked about all season long — if we don’t turn the ball over, then we’ll win the majority of the games,” said receiver Donald Driver, who returned to action from his quadriceps injury and had four catches for 31 yards.
“To go three games where we haven’t turned the ball over, that’s tremendous. Now we have to continue that streak. If we can continue that streak throughout the rest of the year, you don’t know where we can go.”
Dating back to Week 7, the Packers’ last turnover was an interception Aaron Rodgers threw in the end zone in the second quarter against the Vikings at Lambeau Field. That means Green Bay has gone 3½ games, or 14 quarters, without a giveaway.
“That’s how we’re going to win,” Rodgers said. “When we’re doing those kind of things, we’re tough to beat.”
Rodgers did come close to breaking the streak, though. In the second quarter, with the Packers in the red zone and threatening to score, Rodgers and receiver Greg Jennings weren’t on the same page on a short route over the middle and the throw was off target. It sailed toward the goal line, where Vikings safety Husain Abdullah had a great chance to pick it off, but it bounced off his chest and was incomplete.
Rodgers took advantage of the reprieve and found Jennings for an 11-yard touchdown pass on the very next play, giving the Packers a 10-3 lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day.
During this stretch with the offense not turning the ball over, the defense has snagged 12 takeaways. At halftime of the first Minnesota game, the Packers for the season were minus-4 in the turnover ratio and are now plus-8, an incredible turnaround in less than a quarter of a season. Last year, the Packers led the league at plus-24.
Cheap, but it counts
If you’re going to lead the league in sacks, it helps to get some breaks along the way, and Packers linebacker Clay Matthews got one on Sunday.
In the first quarter, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre scrambled away from pressure and headed toward the sideline. Unable to find anyone open, Favre gave himself up and slid down 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage. Matthews was the closest Green Bay defender to him and was the first one to touch him, which counted as a sack, giving Matthews 11.5 sacks on the season.
“I’ll take them how I can get them,” Matthews said. “It seems like sometimes when you beat your guy clean, you can’t get them, and other times you fall into some. It’s part of the game and I’ll take it.”
That was the Packers’ only official sack of Favre on the day, but they pressured and hurried him quite a bit. The press box statistics credited the Packers with seven quarterback hits, led by Matthews with two.
Last season, cornerback Charles Woodson put on a clinic when it came to stripping the ball, forcing a team-high four fumbles, which tied his career high.
Well, Woodson got another one on Sunday and has matched his total from last year with six games yet to go.
On the second snap of the second quarter, Minnesota faced third-and-8 on its own 46-yard line. Favre hit rookie running back Toby Gerhart over the middle for a 10-yard gain to pick up the first down, but as Woodson crashed in from Gerhart’s right side to make the tackle, he swatted the ball out and linebacker A.J. Hawk recovered to thwart the scoring threat.
“I saw an opening, and one thing I’m going to do is I’m always going to try to take a shot at the ball, and I was able to get it out,” Woodson said.
Minnesota would have had a first down in Green Bay territory. Instead, the Packers took over on their own 35 and trailed only 3-0.
Better than half
In their last game, against the Cowboys, the Packers converted 10-of-15 third downs for their most efficient day on third downs in five years. On Sunday, they followed that up with a solid 8-of-15 showing (53 percent) to convert more than half of their third downs for the second straight game.
That’s the first time the Packers have topped the 50-percent conversion mark in consecutive games this season. Twice last season, the Packers converted better than 50 percent on third downs in back-to-back games. First was against San Francisco (10-of-18) and Detroit (9-of-16) in Weeks 11-12, and then again against Pittsburgh (10-of-16) and Seattle (8-of-14) in Weeks 15-16. The Packers went 3-1 in those four games.
Over these past two games, the Packers have improved their third-down conversion rate for the season from 35.1 percent prior to the Dallas game to 41.1 percent now.
Getting his feet wet
The Packers finally got running back Dimitri Nance involved in the offense. Acquired following Ryan Grant’s season-ending injury in Week 1, Nance had seen only sporadic snaps until Sunday, when he got the call early in the game on a third-and-1 running play and converted with a nice second effort.
He went on to rip off an 11-yard run in the third quarter and then was the primary ballcarrier in the fourth quarter when the offense rested several starters. He finished the game with 12 carries for 37 yards, leading the team in both categories.
The Packers went with Nance as the No. 2 running back on Sunday ahead of John Kuhn, who did not have any carries with regular fullback Korey Hall sidelined. Quinn Johnson and Kuhn handled all the fullback responsibilities.
Rookie James Starks is still waiting in the wings as well, having returned from his hamstring injury, but Starks was not active for Sunday’s game.
“Dimitri has earned this opportunity,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was time really to get him going and give him some opportunities. He’s a fine young running back and it was great to give him some carries and we need to continue to grow with him and Brandon (Jackson), so I was pleased to finally get that rotation going.”
Backup safety and special teamer Anthony Smith had an ankle injury and did not return to the game, though X-rays were negative. Fellow safety Atari Bigby left the game with a hamstring injury.
Cornerback Pat Lee left briefly with a knee injury but returned to the game.
Nov 21, 2010 ~by Mike Spofford, Packers.com
~MINNEAPOLIS – As Sunday’s game began, the Packers’ offense looked to be headed for a Metrodome disaster.
Instead it turned into a demolition.
The Packers shook off a sluggish – if not dysfunctional – beginning on offense against the Vikings and went on to throttle Minnesota, 31-3, to win their fourth straight game and remain tied for first place in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears at 7-3.
In what was probably quarterback Brett Favre’s final game against his former team, the Packers may have put the final nail in their division rival’s coffin, dropping the Vikings to 3-7 and all but mathematically out of playoff contention.
If this is indeed Favre’s last season, the final ledger will show him 2-2 against Green Bay. But as frustrating as it may have been to lose twice to the Vikings last season, this year’s sweep of the struggling neighbors is all that matters right now.
“We definitely want to beat them while they’re down,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “We don’t want to give them any life in the division. It felt good to deliver a blow like that. That was our intention.”
For a moment it looked like Favre might have the last laugh. How bad was the Packers’ start? Three possessions, one first down, two sacks, 14 total yards. Real bad, and the Metrodome crowd was all amped up as a result.
But the Packers took a collective deep breath and, in a testament to both their skill and poise, got their act together. A juggling 47-yard catch down the right sideline by Greg Jennings jump-started the offense on the way to four straight scores that turned an early 3-0 deficit into a 24-3 lead a few minutes into the second half, and the rest was academic.
“We just came to the sideline and said, ‘Hey we’re not doing a million things wrong, we’re doing one thing wrong. Let’s just make the correction and get it done,’” left guard Daryn Colledge said of the two early sacks. “Everybody said, ‘All right, let’s do that,’ and everybody calmed down.”
So did the crowd, as Jennings’ big play led to a field goal that tied the score and another deep ball to James Jones for 39 yards set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jennings for a 10-3 lead.
Then the defense, which had kept the deficit manageable by holding the Vikings to only a field goal on their first four drives, made the play that truly turned the game around.
With a first down at the Green Bay 25 and just under 2 minutes left in the half, Favre tried to hit Percy Harvin on a slant. Cornerback Tramon Williams jumped the route and intercepted the ball, and the momentum never left Green Bay’s side the rest of the day.
The turnover set up a 53-yard drive for another Packers TD that came on a 3-yard fade to Jones with just 5 seconds left in the half.
When the Packers then took the second-half kickoff and drove 73 yards for yet another score – a 46-yard catch-and-run by Jennings – it was 24-3 with 12 minutes left in the third and the offense had suddenly put up 260 yards in barely more than a full quarter of play.
“We all said, ‘Hey, we got our mistakes out of the way. Let’s move past it and get this thing going like we know we can,’ and we did,” right guard Josh Sitton said.
“For us to start slow like that and turn around and pick it up, especially that drive right before the second half, just shows the character of this team. Hopefully we can build off this momentum and keep it rolling.”
They weren’t done yet, either. Rodgers threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, and third to Jennings, from 22 yards out early in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points. That gave Jennings seven catches for 152 yards and a career-best three scores.
It also gave Rodgers 301 yards on 22-of-31 passing, his first four-TD game in the regular season, and a 141.3 rating – the second-highest of his career behind a 155.4 mark last season at Cleveland. He also added 21 yards rushing on three scrambles, none bigger than the 15-yarder on the opening third down of the second half to keep Minnesota’s defense frustrated.
“When he gets in a zone like that, there is no quarterback better,” Jennings said. “He is so accurate, able to extend plays with his legs, then he can run when you give him the lane. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense when you have a quarterback back there who can do everything you don’t want him to be able to do. It’s exciting for us.”
So is the play of Green Bay’s defense, which was impressive for the third straight game. After the early field goal, the Packers shut the Vikings out over the final 51 minutes and made things miserable for Favre.
He finished just 17-of-38 for 208 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for a 51.2 rating, the fourth time this season his rating has been at that level or below and second against Green Bay (50.4 rating in Week 7).
It certainly was a far cry from his two dynamite performances against the Packers a year ago (135.3 and 128.6 ratings) when the Packers – as the players have reflected upon it now – put too much pressure on themselves to try to beat him.
“I think last year we read a little too much into it,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We got ourselves too excited about playing against Favre and that whole dynamic. This year we came into these matchups just knowing we needed to go out and play good football, and good things would happen. We played good football for four quarters, and got a big win.”
The defense also continued its strong run that has seen it allow just 10 points over the past three games and one touchdown in the last 13 quarters.
Green Bay’s big lead forced the Vikings to abandon the run after Adrian Peterson had gained 51 yards on 11 carries in the first half. He finished with 72 yards on 14 rushes. The Vikings also didn’t crack 300 total yards until a meaningless 12-yard completion to Gerhart on the game’s final snap.
“I just told the defense when they play like that, we’re not going to get beat,” Rodgers said. “When they give up three points against a high-powered offense like that, there’s no way with the kind of firepower we have on offense that we’re going to get beat.”
The win sets up what’s turning into a critical NFC showdown next week in Atlanta, where the Falcons have the best record in the NFC at 8-2, one game ahead of Green Bay, Chicago, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the winner of Sunday night’s Giants-Eagles clash.
The Packers deserve credit for getting themselves back in the hunt as quickly as they did. At 3-3 following consecutive overtime defeats to Washington and Miami, and with so many other NFC teams starting to make their playoff push, the Packers had no time to waste, and didn’t.
“I don’t think anybody had their head down after the overtime losses,” Colledge said. “We knew we played close games and lost in the end because we made mistakes. It wasn’t because somebody was dominating us or we were getting blown out.
“We’ve overcome the injuries, we’ve overcome the overtime losses, and now we’re rolling, and that’s what we need to continue to do. We need to go down to Atlanta and continue this trend.”