From Greg A Bedard, MMQB at SI.com
~CHICAGO- The Packers were on the brink of elimination a month ago. Then out of nowhere … fullback John Kuhn throws the block of his life, springing Aaron Rodgers to find Randall Cobb for a game-winning TD and the NFC North crown.
He’s a Super Bowl champion and a Super Bowl MVP, to say nothing of his regular-season MVP award. So in the grand scheme of things, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not need this moment.
But when you follow in the footsteps of Brett Favre and call Lambeau Field home, your own little piece of folklore never hurts. So on a classic winter’s eve on the shores of Lake Michigan, in a freezing rain that turned into snow, Rodgers returned from a left collarbone injury to play in a winner-take-all season finale at Soldier Field. Though his Favre moment came with a lot of help from fullback John Kuhn and a breakdown in the Bears’ secondary, the details hardly mattered: A team that didn’t win a game in November ended up wearing the NFC North crown.
Kuhn called the Packers’ final play a “leap of faith.” For the Packers faithful watching the season come down to 4th-and-8 with 46 seconds left to play, Rodgers’ 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb was a prayer answered. A miracle even: It was Green Bay’s third fourth-down conversion on a 15-play, 87-yard drive that chewed up 5:46 and resulted in an improbable 33-28 victory.
“It was wild, just to finish our season off like that,” said nosetackle Ryan Pickett, one of the longest-tenured Packers. “The way we played, it kind of mirrors our season. We’ve been down and then we find a way to fight back.”
The Packers were on the verge of elimination after a demoralizing 40-10 loss to the Lions on Nov. 28 that capped a five-game stretch in which they lost four and tied the lowly Vikings. But they had one final surge, winning three of their last four, including Sunday’s de facto playoff game against their bitter rivals.
Rodgers might have entered folklore after returning from a seven-game absence, but the narrative could have been vastly different when coach Mike McCarthy set himself up to be second-guessed for eternity by not going for two with 11:38 left in the game. Eddie Lacy ran for a six-yard touchdown and Mason Crosby tacked on the extra point, pulling Green Bay within one, 28-27. But McCarthy probably figured there were more touchdowns to be had in this back-and-forth affair, which had seen five TDs scored to this point since halftime. Instead, the scoreboard remained frozen like the 62,708 fans watching from the stands.
On the Packers’ final drive, McCarthy was gutsier. With 4:41 to play, he went for it on 4th-and-1 from Green Bay’s 22. Kuhn picked up the yard on a plunge. Just after the two-minute warning, on 4th-and-1 from Green Bay’s 44, Jordy Nelson plucked his 10th and final reception nearly off the turf for six yards. But there they were again with 46 ticks remaining, facing another do-or-die fourth down in a do-or-die game.
The Bears knew any sort of conversion meant the Packers would be in field-goal range, so they called an all-out Cover Zero blitz for the first time. “They brought a different defense than they had all game,” said Packers backup QB Matt Flynn. “Big situation. They brought the house.”
Bears coach Marc Trestman explained the aggressive call against a quarterback who is normally lethal against the blitz. “We can sit back in zone and give him the opportunity to make a play, or we can try to make him rush the throw and we had good pressure on,” Trestman said.
The Packers lined up in a 3×1 set with James Jones, Cobb and Nelson to Rodgers’ left, and tight end Andrew Quarless to the right. Instead of having a running back in the backfield as an outlet for Rodgers, the Packers deployed Kuhn for exactly this blitzing situation—only Rodgers has more intimate knowledge of the Packers’ offense and blocking schemes than the eight-year fullback.
While Rodgers was busy figuring out where he would go with the ball to exploit the best matchup, Kuhn barked out a late check for the offensive line. “Chilly! Chilly!”
“As usual, the guy making the smart play at the right time,” Rodgers said.
The original protection called for left tackle David Bakhtiari to block down to his right, leaving dangerous end Julius Peppers as the free rusher. Kuhn’s check called for Bakhtiari to stay on Peppers and leave nickel back Isaiah Frey for Kuhn to block on the inside.
The problem? Bakhtiari didn’t hear the call.
“I actually, to be honest, wasn’t aware he was screaming a protection call,” Rodgers said. “But he got us in a good protection call and was coming over to get his responsibility, which was the nickel, who was in the strong side B gap. The left tackle didn’t hear the check. We actually squeezed down.”
It all happened in a split-second. Kuhn recognized that Peppers was going to be running free at Rodgers and came all the way across the formation, getting enough of Peppers to protect the quarterback. “John in his intelligence and great reactions just came across and cut Julius,” Rodgers said. “John Kuhn is a big-time football player.”
With Rodgers now rolling to his left, it was up to the Bears’ coverage to stop the play. Instead, they had busted coverage. While safety Major Wright did his job playing man-to-man (and illegally knocking Nelson to the turf), safety Chris Conte and cornerback Zackary Bowman were playing zone.
Even after the game, the Bears still didn’t have the call straight.
“It’s man coverage,” Trestman said.
Said cornerback Tim Jennings: “It wasn’t man-to- man, it was one of those check zones, fire zones. I think we blitzed everybody. We need to make a play in the back end, we can’t allow that. Every guy has to be held accountable for what their job is, and we just didn’t get it done.”
Cobb instantly recognized that Conte was squatting on his prescribed curl route at the first-down marker. So after six strides, Cobb raised his hand and continued on a go route. “I saw that the safety was flat-footed and stayed on the move,” he said.
At that point, it was up to Rodgers to elude the long grasp of Peppers, get outside the pocket, turn his shoulders downfield and get the ball to a wide-open Cobb.
“It’s not easy to go to your left and make a play like that and he did,” said Trestman, a noted quarterback guru. “You have to marvel at the fact that he was going to his left and made that kind of throw. If you’re going to run a quarterback out of the pocket, you want him to go to the opposite of his arm … he’s a great player.”
Finally, it was up to Cobb to put the finishing touches on the play.
“It felt like the ball was in the air for so long!” he said. “I had a bunch of thoughts going through my head: You better not drop this. If you drop it they’re going to kill you. You better catch it. Just catch the ball. Body-catch it if you have to. Do what you have to do, just make the catch.”
At 7:25 p.m. CT, 2.27 seconds after leaving Rodgers’ hand, the ball finally dropped out of the sky and into Cobb’s arms at the 10-yard line. He took it in the rest of the way, and the left-for-dead Packers had the game-winning touchdown, the NFC North title and a playoff berth—and Rodgers had his own can-you-believe-it? moment.
“It’s the best one right now, I can tell you that,” McCarthy said. “That’s how you feel in these kinds of games. It is definitely one of those games when you are sitting on a porch one day and it will come up in conversation.”
Original story here
Posted by Brian E Murphy, from Associated Press
~CHICAGO — Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb came back just in time to lift the Green Bay Packers to the NFC North championship.
Rodgers fired a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb in the final minute, and the Packers beat the Chicago Bears 33-28 to capture the division title.
Back after missing seven games with a broken left collarbone, Rodgers found a wide-open Cobb on fourth-and-8 to wipe out a one-point deficit with 38 seconds left.
Green Bay will host San Francisco next weekend in the wild-card round.
The Bears had one final drive, but Jay Cutler’s deep pass to Alshon Jeffery was intercepted by Sam Shields on the final play.
That gave the Packers (8-7-1) their third straight division title and fifth postseason appearance in a row. It also kept the Bears (8-8) out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
Things weren’t looking great for the Packers after Chicago’s Brandon Marshall spun away from Tramon Williams in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 28-20. But the Packers answered with a touchdown drive.
Eddie Lacy ran in from the 6 after a 22-yard pass from Rodgers to Andrew Quarless went through safety Chris Conte’s hands, making it a one-point game.
Then, on the winning drive, Green Bay converted twice on fourth-and-1 before Rodgers eluded pressure unleashed that winning pass to Cobb.
It was a strong finish after a shaky start for the superstar quarterback, and it gave him some payback against the team that nearly ended his season.
Rodgers was intercepted on the Packers’ first two possessions, with Conte picking him off in the end zone on the first one. He also threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns in his first appearance since Nov. 4. He got knocked out of that game on an early sack by Shea McClellin at Lambeau Field, sending the Packers into a 2-5-1 slide.
Jordy Nelson had 161 yards receiving, and Cobb, in his first appearance since Oct. 13, won it with his catch. James Starks ran for 88 yards. Eddie Lacy, hobbled by a knee injury, finished with just 66.
For the Bears, their first season under Marc Trestman ended the same way five of the previous six did under Lovie Smith — on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
They had a chance to wrap up the division last week, only to get pounded 54-11 at Philadelphia. And with another opportunity, they came up short against their longtime rivals.
This one is sure to spark memories of Green Bay’s victory in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field on the way to the Super Bowl championship — and fuel more questions about Cutler’s ability to win big games.
With a playoff spot on the line and his contract set to expire, Cutler threw for 226 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He is now 1-9 against Green Bay, including that conference final and a loss with Denver in 2007.
Matt Forte ran for 110 yards and two scores. He also had 47 yards receiving with a touchdown catch.
Alshon Jeffery had 80 yards receiving, and Brandon Marshall had 74.
Two unusual plays late in the first half turned a 7-3 deficit into a 13-7 advantage for the Packers.
Green Bay had a first down at the Chicago 17 when a sack and strip against Rodgers by Julius Peppers turned into one unusual touchdown. Jarrett Boykin ran across the field, picked up the loose ball as play stopped. One thing, though: The whistle never blew.
With Rodgers standing nearby, Boykin turned and headed 15 yards to the end zone. Rodgers then threw his hands up to signal a touchdown, and after a replay review, it stood.
That stunned the crowd and gave the Packers a 10-7 lead.
Green Bay caught another big break on the Bears’ next possession when Jeffery fumbled a pass at the Chicago 41. Morgan Burnett picked up the ball and lateraled to Sam Shields, who returned it to the Chicago 28. That led to a 27-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to make it a six-point game at the half.
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By Tommy Oates, Wisconsin State Journal
~CHICAGO — The build-up has been all about the quarterbacks.
For the Green Bay Packers, the question was whether Aaron Rodgers would be able to play after missing seven starts due to a broken collarbone. For the Chicago Bears, it was whether Jay Cutler should be replaced by backup Josh McCown after a shaky return from his own injury-related absence.
But while the discussion leading up to the winner-take-all game in the NFC North Division has been quarterback-driven, today’s winner most likely will be the team that can get its defense to play like defenses traditionally play in the NFL’s most storied rivalry — tough, physical and opportunistic.
That hasn’t happened often this season for either team. Indeed, for two franchises from the old Black-and-Blue Division, the Packers and Bears suddenly have become teams that are much better equipped to win shootouts than bloodbaths.
There have been plenty of bloodbaths in this 92-year-old rivalry, even recently. Including playoff games, the Packers and Bears have played 18 times since 2005 and only three times in those 18 games has a team scored more than 27 points.
With Rodgers finally back in the lineup for the Packers and Cutler having more offensive weapons than perhaps any Bears quarterback ever, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of these teams hit 27 by halftime. Yes, the defenses are that bad.
For two teams with radically different defensive approaches, the reason for these meltdowns is largely the same — not enough great players. Units once teeming with big-play specialists are now bereft of difference-making players.
Actually, the only thing different about their decline was the timetable. The Packers’ defense has been in a three-year slide while the Bears’ defense collapsed just this season.
But more on that later. First, the gory details.
Just last Sunday, in a game in which they could have clinched the division title, the Bears gave up 54 points to the Philadelphia Eagles. For a defense that had been the backbone of the team under former coach Lovie Smith, it was the low point in one of the more dramatic falls in recent NFL history, one that has negated the offensive gains made under first-year coach Marc Trestman.
The Eagles game was the fourth time the Bears allowed 40 or more points this season, the same number they gave up in the previous nine seasons combined. The Bears rank 30th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed in the NFL. They are particularly poor against the run, having given up 5.4 yards per rush — the NFL’s worst mark since the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961.
The Packers’ defense might have laughed at those numbers earlier in the season, but no one’s laughing anymore. Green Bay ranks in the bottom 10 in the NFL in points and yards allowed. Should the Bears score 40 today, it would break the Packers’ single-season record of 439 points allowed, set in 1983.
And the problem is getting worse, not better. The Packers have given up 33.8 points per game in their past four outings.
Although both quarterbacks have been slowed a bit (Rodgers) or completely shut down (Cutler) by the other team’s defense over the years, they had to be licking their chops this week. Simply put, neither defense throws a scare into anyone anymore.
Although different in scheme and style, both defenses are predicated on forcing turnovers. Both historically use pressures, sacks and turnovers to get off the field. But since both are virtually devoid of playmakers at this point, the sacks and takeaways haven’t come at their usual pace.
Since the Super Bowl-winning 2010 season, when the Packers allowed a mere 240 points, they have experienced a slow drain of playmaking ability. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins left in free agency, safety Nick Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury, cornerback Charles Woodson also left in free agency and linebacker Clay Matthews was lost just last week after re-breaking his thumb. Even cornerback Casey Hayward, who showed an aptitude for big plays as a rookie in 2012, has played only a handful of snaps this season due to injury.
In Chicago, the talent drain among the key defensive difference-makers occurred more quickly. Linebacker Brian Urlacher retired during the off-season when the Bears wouldn’t re-sign him, cornerback Charles Tillman was put on injured reserve recently, linebacker Lance Briggs has been playing hurt all season and defensive end Julius Peppers is nearing the end of the line.
As the playmakers have departed, neither team has replenished its supply, either due to neglect or poor personnel decisions. The people happiest about that have to be Rodgers and Cutler. Going into today’s game, both have solid running attacks and dynamic receiver groups to work with for perhaps the first time.
There will be no shortage of firepower in the game, so whichever defense can rise up and get itself off the field on third down more often will give its team a trip to the playoffs. As hard as it may be to believe, that favors the Packers.
Original story here
From Victor Ketchman, Packers.com
~GREEN BAY–Wide receiver Randall Cobb will be evaluated on Saturday and a decision will be made on whether or not to take him off injured reserve and activate him for Sunday’s game in Chicago.
“We gave Randall a bunch of work today. We’ll see how it goes,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday.
“Randall Cobb is a playmaker. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hand. Our offense is based on making the quarterback successful. Football comes very natural to him,” McCarthy said.
Cobb sustained a leg injury on Oct. 13 and was assigned to the injured reserve list, though he was designated for return.
McCarthy confirmed that linebacker Clay Matthews has undergone a second surgery on his thumb, which he reinjured this past Sunday while sacking Ben Roethlisberger.
More from McCarthy:
McCarthy said the approach with Cobb was to push him as much as possible on Friday and see how he feels on Saturday after the extensive work.
“The push has really come the last two weeks for Randall Cobb,” McCarthy said. “You could see he was coming on strong. I thought he did some good things last week, but he wasn’t ready. He’s fighting through the soreness and the things you would expect, coming back from the seriousness of his injury. He looks good.
He’s got fresh legs. He’s doing all the little things. The fine-motor-skill things he was able to stay on top of.
“We just have to make sure he’s ready to go.”
With Matthews out, the Packers are back to where they were earlier in the season at outside linebacker, counting on rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer to back up Nick Perry and Mike Neal.
“This experience of playing a lot of players, particularly younger players a little earlier than you’d like, we’re hoping to see the benefits come crunch time,” McCarthy said. “And we’re at crunch time.”
Regarding the decision to play QB Aaron Rodgers this week, McCarthy said any concern for the risk of re-injury will not affect the play-calling. If that were the case, Rodgers wouldn’t be playing.
“That goes back to the decision,” McCarthy said. “It’s time for Aaron to play. We’re going to cut him loose, and we’re going to go play. We’re going to play to win.”
Original story HERE
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com Senior Editor
~Ted Thompson went against the grain and made USC’s Nick Perry his first round pick in last year’s NFL Draft.
Rather than trade a mid to late-round pick for former TCU first round pick Jerry Hughes, who had been a non-fit as a stand-down DE in the Colts’ system, Thompson chose to roll the dice with the larger man in Perry.
This despite the fact that Perry himself admitted he felt more comfortable and natural as a hands-down DE in a 4-3 defense.
Almost two seasons in now, and the results with Perry as an OLB have been about the same as Hughes was for three years as a DE in Indianapolis: Less than Desired.
Enough about missing on Hughes though, which still pains me.
Perry has, at times, displayed that power that made Thompson gamble on the former Trojan. But as physical as he looks, he’s been injured almost as often as he’s made impact plays.
With no Matthews the rest of the year, it is time for Perry to stay on the field, and start crushing quarterbacks, running backs, and blockers getting in his way.
Jay Cutler, when given time, will pick apart the Packers secondary. With tall targets in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Martellus Bennett, those guys are mismatches for any secondary, if the quarterback has time to throw. When Matthews was suited up, he often got the best of the Bears LT and harassed Cutler into forced throws. Those were often interceptions for the Packers secondary.
However, that was when Nick Collins and Charles Woodson were lurking back there.
Now, you have a team full of safeties for Green Bay who have a combined zero (0) interceptions on the whole season. Zip.
Sam Shields and Tramon Williams each had key late picks of Tony Romo two games ago, but that was the famous December 4th quarter RomoCoaster. And that was with Matthews pressuring.
Now, no Matthews. And that means Perry, as well as Mike Neal, need to raise their game and wreak havoc around the edges getting after Cutler.
If Perry does breakout and have his first impact game of his career, the Packers have a good chance of beating Chicago, winning the division, and getting into the tournament.
But if Perry is quiet again, or breaks down like an old Dodge, then the Packers defense might doom both the Packers season and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ Packers coaching tenure.
By Douglas Farrar, SI.com
~On Thursday, Packers fans got a nice post-Christmas present. FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig reported that Rodgers will indeed start on Sunday for the first time since breaking his collarbone against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 4. Rodgers took all first-team snaps during practice open to the media for the first time since his injury — something that’s usually reserved for the starter this late in the week. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported that Rodgers was the first-team quarterback for all drills but 11-on-11s, which the media was not allowed to see. Reports later indicated that Rodgers did indeed take the helm for all practice drills.
Without Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers are 2-5-1. Rodgers has been at practice for several weeks since the injury, and getting more reps as time goes on, but head coach Mike McCarthy has been tight-lipped about Rodgers’ return timeline. There’s no time like the present, as the 7-7-1 Packers have to beat the 8-7 Bears at Soldier Field in the regular-season finale if they want to win the NFC North.
And then, at his post-practice presser, McCarthy announced the good news.
“We’re preparing for the Chicago Bears with Aaron Rodgers as our starting quarterback,” McCarthy said. “Our goal coming into this week was to have this announcement Tuesday for our team meeting, but that did not happen. All the evaluation and communication was not concluded at that point. So, we waited to tell the team until today. We felt, obviously, that the first people who needed to know about it was our football team.”
Rodgers said that it was “exciting to be back after a long layoff and a tough period. It’s exciting to be back in the mix with the guys.”
On Tuesday, Rodgers said that his recovery has been slower than anyone anticipated.
“I’m feeling better and not thinking about my injury at all,” Rodgers said on his weekly ESPN Wisconsin radio show. “I think ultimately it comes down to, it’s big on the medical side. Is the bone healed or is there a large risk of going back out there that’s too great, that the organization would not want to put me out there?
“Obviously I want to be out there. I know what’s at stake. This is an important week for us. We’re somehow back in this position to be able to get into the playoffs. What a better way to do that than against the Chicago Bears?”
McCarthy said the same day that he and general manager Ted Thompson have been monitoring the situation closely.
“I think No. 1 for the football team and also Aaron Rodgers, I think it’s important for us to make a quicker decision. This has obviously been frustrating and stressful for Aaron, rightfully so, but also our football team. I want them to know who the quarterback’s going to be.”
Rodgers told Jason Wilde during the show that he’s not concerned about being rusty despite missing seven full games.
“I’ve been focusing on my conditioning a lot, doing some extra conditioning, making sure my wind is good. But it’s about taking the reps in practice and finding that timing and rhythm. I’ve played a lot of football, so I don’t think there’s a major hurdle to get over and to get back and be effective. To me it’s always come down to preparation. Do I feel confident in the plan, confident in my ability to execute the plan? If I do, then I expect to play well on Sunday.”
Since he became the Packers’ starter in 2008, Rodgers had only missed one game due to injury, when he suffered a concussion in 2010.
Backup Matt Flynn has completed 124 passes in 200 attempts for 1,392 yards and eight touchdowns, and has been intercepted five times in Rodgers’ place this season.
ORIGINAL story HERE
From Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay — For the Green Bay Packers, it was one mistake too many.
With 1 minute, 51 seconds left, quarterback Matt Flynn scrambled, fumbled and now the Packers season is (again) in jeopardy. Troy Polamalu forced the critical turnover. And Green Bay couldn’t complete a frantic comeback and lost to the Steelers, 38-31.
With the loss, the Packers fall to 7-7-1. And now, they’ll need a little help from the Philadelphia Eagles tonight against Chicago to stay alive.
If the Bears win, Green Bay is eliminated. If the Bears lose tonight, the NFC North title will be decided when the Packers and Bears meet next Sunday at Soldier Field.
Against the Steelers, Green Bay showed some fight again. Trailing 31-21 after a Flynn pick-six, the team clawed back to tie this one at 31-31 on John Kuhn’s 1-yard scoring plunge. At a cold, snowy Lambeau Field, the Packers rushed for 151 yards. But the defense had trouble of its own against Pittsburgh.
After holding the Steelers to a field-goal attempt, outside linebacker Nick Perry was flagged for encroachment. Then, Le’Veon Bell’s 1-yard touchdown gave Pittsburgh the lead with 1 minute and 25 seconds to go.
Micah Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to give Green Bay a chance late. But Flynn’s final pass attempt to Jarrett Boykin sailed incomplete.
Flynn finished 21 of 39 for 232 yards with one touchdown and an interception (that was a pick-6).
Player of the Game: Bell. He was a handful. Eddie Lacy may be having the better season, but Bell was a force today. He rushed for 124 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown.
Turning point: The Flynn fumble. Last week, the Dallas Cowboys committed the costly turnovers to turn the game. This week, Green Bay was in the giving mood.
Big Number: 42 years — John Brockington’s rookie rushing record held up before Eddie Lacy broke it on Sunday.
What went right: Green Bay ran the ball at will much of the day. Rookie Eddie Lacy (84 yards, two touchdowns) did the damage early, torpedoing into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdon. And when Lacy bowed out with an ankle injury, James Starks (43 yards) picked up the slack. Defensively, A.J. Hawk leapt for one interception that led to a field goal.
Receivers continued to make difficult catches, too. Jarrett Boykin caught the ball on the back of a cornerback’s helmet and James Jones (nine receptions for 84 yards) did his part, as well.
What went wrong: Stopping the run was a problem again for the Packers. One week after DeMarco Murray ran wild before disappearing from the Dallas game plan, the rookie Bell was a handful. The strong, shift, leaping back from Michigan State hurdled Morgan Burnett on one 25-yard run. Antonio Brown was difficult to track on the slick Lambeau Field track. His 36-yard reception teed up one touchdown, and he finished with 105 receiving yards.
Penalties at crucial moments didn’t help Green Bay—B.J. Raji had one hands to the face flag that kept a Pittsburgh drive alive, capped by Matt Spaeth catching an 11-yard touchdown inside Sean Richardson.
Perry’s penalty was a killer. And another penalty late led to a 10-second run-off before Flynn’s final pass.
Special teams woes persisted. In addition to the blocked kick and odd “illegal batting” penalty, the Steelers executed a fake punt on one touchdown drive. …On the pick-six, tight end Andrew Quarless bumped into Flynn and the quarterback’s pass was intercepted and returned 40 yards to the end zone by Cortez Allen.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews re-injured his broken thumb and did not return. Green Bay couldn’t sustain a pass rush, finishing with only one sack and three hits on Roethlisberger.
Full story here
From Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~ARLINGTON, Texas — If this was Matt Flynn’s last start in place of Aaron Rodgers, it was quite a memorable one.
Flynn threw four touchdown passes in the second half, Eddie Lacy had the winning score on a 1-yard plunge after an interception by Tony Romo gave them one more chance, and the Green Bay Packers matched the biggest comeback in franchise history in a 37-36 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
Romo tossed two interceptions in the final 3 minutes, the first one giving Green Bay a chance for the go-ahead score with the Cowboys in position to run out the clock with a 36-31 lead.
Lacy scored with 1:31 to go for Green Bay’s first lead since the first quarter and after the Packers trailed 26-3 at halftime.
“It took me everything not to cry,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team won its second straight without Rodgers after going winless in the first five, including the Chicago game when the star QB got hurt. “I’m just drained. Just the sheer emotion. It was incredible.”
Playing on the same field where Rodgers was the MVP when they won the 2011 Super Bowl, the Packers matched the 1982 team in a September game against the Los Angeles Rams for the largest rally.
The Packers (7-6-1) kept their playoff hopes alive with Rodgers possibly returning next weekend. He was close to medical clearance, but missed his sixth straight game with a broken collarbone. He was wearing a headset on Green Bay’s sideline.
“Most guys would pack it in — ‘Guys, it’s not our season. Let’s go home and get ready for next year,’ ” said Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams, who had an interception overturned on review before a game-clinching pick that was ruled incomplete and reversed on replay. “It’s not that vibe here.”
The vibe in Dallas could negative for a while, with Dez Bryant walking off the field before the game ended and refusing to talk to reporters in the locker room, simply shaking his head at them after finishing with 153 yards and a touchdown.
“This is one of the hardest losses that I’ve experienced,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “That’s a shame that we’ve lost that ballgame.”
The Cowboys (7-7) blew a great chance to pull even with Philadelphia in the NFC East but still control their playoff fate. They finish with Washington and the Eagles.
“We still control what we feel like we can get done,” Romo said. “It just doesn’t feel like it right now because we let it slip away.”
With Dallas leading 36-31, Bryant made a lunging first down after a catch just before the 2-minute warning that looked as if it would Dallas help hold off a huge Green Bay rally. But Romo threw behind Miles Austin after escaping a sack and Sam Shields intercepted at midfield.
The Packers steadily moved downfield before the plunge by Lacy, who had 141 yards rushing.
Behind for the first time since the first quarter, Romo threw a ball too far in front of Cole Beasley, and Williams made a diving grab that was initially called incomplete. When the video review overturned the call, Flynn ended the game with kneel-downs.
“Right now, words really have no effect,” Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr said. “Complete debacle the second half. We’ve just got to get better, man.”
Williams had an earlier interception overturned on review with Dallas clinging to a 29-24 lead. He cradled a deflected pass in his arms and had a weaving return to inside the Dallas 10, but replayed showed the nose of ball hitting the turf.
The Cowboys went on to score when Bryant made a leaping grab over M.D. Jennings and got two feet down in the back of the end zone for a 36-24 lead.
Flynn answered with his fourth straight scoring drive to get the Packers back within five. A Dallas defense that gave up eight straight scoring drives to Chicago in a loss last week let the Packers get touchdowns on five straight drives after halftime.
“What a feelin’!” said Flynn, who threw for 299 yards with one interception. “As we were taking a knee, we were thinking ‘Is this real? Is this happening?’ ”
Romo threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns, but couldn’t avoid two more critical mistakes in a career at least partially defined by them.
DeMarco Murray had 134 yards rushing and a touchdown for Dallas. … Dan Bailey had five field goals for Dallas. Mason Crosby hit a 57-yarder for the Packers. … Packers DE Johnny Jolly left the game with a shoulder injury. TE Brandon Bostick came out with a foot injury. … The Cowboys ended up without their top four linebackers after Justin Durant (hamstring) and Ernie Sims (hip) were knocked out. They were already playing without Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.
Original story here
By Drew Olson, ESPN Wisconsin
~GREEN BAY — We’ve all had bad days at work.
Remember the time your breakfast burrito oozed on to your dress shirt before a big presentation? When you mistakenly congratulated a co-worker — who it turns out is not pregnant? The day you misplaced the Penske file?
Think back to your worst day… was it nationally televised?
Matt Flynn’s was.
Green Bay’s backup quarterback was battered — physically and mentally — during a crushing 30-point loss on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit that put the Packers’ playoff hopes on life support.
“Last Thursday was a bad day at the office,” Flynn said. “That’s the only way to look at it. You don’t really go back and look at the film and try to really learn from that one. We got our butts kicked all over the field, and that’s one of those games that you just forget about and move on and don’t think about it.”
There is something to be said for a short memory. With temperatures in the teens and Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines for a fifth straight start, Flynn guided the Packers to a 22-21 over Atlanta Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
“It feels good to, offensively, be able to move the ball and complete some passes,” said Flynn, who shook off a bizarre “pick-6” interception at the end of the first half, boos from the faithful going into halftime and a handful of sacks in a 24-for-32, 258-yard performance that included a 12-point comeback capped by a 2-yard TD to Andrew Quarless.
“For me, personally, it definitely helps confidence in myself and it definitely helps confidence in the team around me. We’re excited that this wasn’t an offensive win, or a defensive win, or a special teams win. This was a complete team win.
“I think that’s why you saw the smiles coming off the field and in the locker room, and I think that’s what we’re most excited about is that when we had to have a stop, we got the stops. When we had to have a score, we got the scores. It’s one of those things that as a team we feel really good about.”
The Packers will take a 6-6-1 record into Dallas next week. Rodgers, who is coming back from a broken collarbone, may or may not be back when they do.
“I know he’s itching to get out there and with him out there, obviously it gives us our best chance to make this run,” said Flynn, who likened Rodgers to a “big brother.”
What advice did Rodgers impart during the game Sunday?
“Some things are personal things, but he just talks about how happy he is for me and happiest when I get up there and have some success,” Flynn said. “He’s always had my back and he’s one of those guys I’m really thankful for.”
The Falcons were plenty thankful when Sean Weatherspoon’s 71-yard interception return gave them a 21-10 just before halftime.
Flynn’s pass was tipped at the line by Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry, bounced off linebacker Paul Warrilow’s foot and into the arms of Weatherspoon, who rumbled past several spectating Packers, broke a tackle by T.J. Lang and lumbered into the end zone.
“Just one of those crazy, weird plays,” Flynn said. “I think we all thought it was incomplete. I think most of us thought – maybe we were hearing things – but most of us thought we heard a whistle and just kind of stopped. We didn’t really know what was going on but in no way did we think they had an interception or anything like that. But it’s a weird play, bouncing off a guy’s foot and right to a guy. To be able to overcome that and move the ball and just put that behind us, I think this team’s mentally strong in putting bad things behind us.”
The Packers rebounded with Flynn hitting some key passes, including a 46-yard deep ball to Jordy Nelson and some key strikes to tight end Andrew Quarless.
“The thing about Matt is he’s always very calm, and that’s great to have an in a guy that’s running your offense,” tight end Ryan Taylor said. “It’s great to have a guy in the huddle that’s even-keeled. Whether you’re down by 11 or you’re up by 1 and needing a first down to win the game, he’s always the same guy. It’s nice to have a guy like that in the huddle. It keeps everybody calm. It keeps everybody going.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy praised Flynn, too.
“I thought Matt played well,” McCarthy said. “I mean, you look at his stats.He had the interception on the fluke play, hit the big-shot play to Jordy. Frankly, (we) should have probably given him more opportunities to do that. Sometimes you get to those things more than you like, and sometimes you don’t. He did an excellent job in the no-huddle. Start the game there with a 19-play drive, or 18-play drive plus the one penalty. So, I was very pleased with the way Matt Flynn played today.”
Flynn’s use of the tight ends was cited by several players as a key factor in the victory.
“(We were) giving them some good, clean routes that they can run that they’re real familiar with and they did a good job of getting open,” Flynn said. “Andrew (Quareless) played a great game. When you’ve got teams that are locking on Jordy and things like that, you’ve got to really utilize your tight ends. So, we gave them a chance to make plays and they did it.”
As a result, the Packers will head into the work week with their playoff works still alive.
“We know we’re a good team,” Flynn said. “We know that we can play with anybody in the NFL. We’ve got talented guys, we’ve got guys who care and will leave it all out there. When we were down, this is the NFL. “It’s hard to get wins in the NFL. They’re a good team over there, and I know they’ve had their struggles, but I think they would say the same thing. They’d say they’re a better team than what their record shows. They came out here and played hard and adapted to the cold well and made it real hard on us. But hopefully this gives us a little momentum going forward.”
Original story here
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~The Packers were 5-2 -and on their way to becoming 6-2- with MVP Aaron Rodgers leading the way.
One cracked collarbone later, and 5 games later, the Packers still have 5 wins, and at 5-6-1, have fallen out of playoff contention and into Draft Position Mode.
Do you remember when Greg Jennings was whining in Minnesota, about Rodgers getting too much praise and credit in Green Bay?
Yeah, what’s that point you were trying to make again Greg?
Had Rodgers not gotten injured that night against Chicago, the Packers record would most likely be 10-2 right now, or 9-3 had they lost one of the games they (would have been) favored in.
That (10-2) would be in contention for the #1 or #2 seed in the NFC Playoffs and a first-round bye. And that’s how it’s been basically since 2009, Packers in playoff contention.
We’ve all seen it. It’s a disgrace out there. An embarrassment. A joke with no laughs, unless you’re a Bears, Lions, or Vikings fan.
The game versus Matthew Stafford’s Lions was the most one-sided NFL game I can ever remember, and that includes expansion teams like the 1976 Buccaneers and more recent Jaguars and Panthers.
The Turkey Day Demolition was as one-sided as an Alabama vs. Middle Cupcake University would be.
The 40-10 final score was a lot closer than the game really was.
The Packers defense, uncharacteristically, actually forced 4 turnovers, with 1 of them directly resulting in the Packers only touchdown on the Nick Perry strip-sack and Morgan Burnett fumble scoop and score.
Reggie Bush also fumbled on his way into the end zone on the Lions opening drive, after starting the game by carving up the defense into the red zone.
And one of Stafford’s other interceptions was an end zone pick by Sam Shields, in which it would have been a touchdown to Calvin Johnson, had the pass been a foot, or 2 feet, or 3, higher.
The first downs were 30-7 for the Lions.
The Packers had a total of zero rushing first downs in the game. None. Zilch.
The Lions had 14 first downs rushing. And 16 passing.
The leading Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Eddie Lacy, had 16 yards rushing on the day, 1.6 yards per carry.
The Lions had 241 yards rushing, 5.1 per carry.
And Stafford added 330 yards passing.
The Packers had 102 net yards passing, and 56 of them came on a final garbage-time drive circus catch by James Jones.
Again, can you ever remember an NFL game that one-sided?
It’s more like a big time college program against a patsy small school being fed to the wolves.
A more accurate score would have been 54-3 or possibly 61-3.
The 3 points the offense actually “earned” was a 54-yard field goal from Mason Crosby following a short drive that started at the 40-yard line thanks to the Lions kicker kicking the ball out of bounds for some reason. That was a 23-yard drive.
How can this all be?
How can just missing Rodgers have this big of an impact?
What about the 2010 GM of the Year, Ted Thompson?
He has been praised by some for “building through the draft” more than any other GM.
His “tree” has gotten John Schneider a GM job in Seattle, where his Seahawks have the best record in the NFL right now.
John Dorsey took over as Kansas City GM this January, a team that had the NFL’s worst record last year and was preparing for the #1 overall pick in April’s draft, not for the playoffs.
A year earlier, the Oakland Raiders hired away Reggie McKenzie to be their new GM.
But Thompson has been ignoring free agency, sometimes to the chagrin of Packer fans.
While many fans were clamoring for some veteran additions to the ILB and S position, Thompson prefers to go with youth, build from within.
He over-drafted a guy from Maine who was not on anyone else’s draft chart, Jerron McMillian. He paid Morgan Burnett almost Pro Bowl money even though he has yet to become an above-average player. He cast away team leader Charles Woodson for those young guys.
The defense, compared to the offense especially, has been healthy. The only frontline starter out for the season is 2nd year cornerback Casey Hayward, who was the nickel-back last year.
Clay Matthews has missed some games with the broken finger, and hasn’t been 100%, obviously, since his return.
It was midway through this year where we saw the stat about teams with players that had played games with any other teams besides their current team.
The Green Bay Packers had only 3 at that time: Ryan Pickett, John Kuhn, and Seneca Wallace.
The next lowest in the league, had 10 more.
This is not a coincidence, no accident.
Whether it’s Thompson’s belief that other teams “taint” the players (something that Greg Jennings might believe), or it’s because few other players have a desire to come to Green Bay, this is Thompson’s Modus Operandi.
With the MVP Rodgers piloting the team, it was able to mask a lot of problems. Sure, like at the Bengals this year or the opener at the 49ers (when Colin Kaepernick had his best day ever as a passer with over 400 yards), Rodgers was not able to carry the team to a victory.
Without Rodgers? The team is the worst team in the NFL. Only the Jaguars and possibly Vikings could argue that statement.
Basically, Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Dorsey, McKenzie, and Schneider all owe their jobs and accolades to Rodgers. Without him, they’d be flipping burgers somewhere, not GM’s or Coach of the Year recipients.
The NFL’s Top 10 Cap Numbers for 2013 Salaries:
1. Eli Manning (QB)-New York Giants: $20.85 Million
2. Matthew Stafford (QB)-Detroit Lions: $17,825,600 Million
3. Peyton Manning (QB)-Denver Broncos: $17,505,600 Million
4. Drew Brees (QB)-New Orleans Saints: $17.4 Million
5. Jared Allen (DE)-Minnesota Vikings: $17,065,186 Million
6. Darrelle Revis (CB)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $16 Million
7. Tamba Hali (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs: $15,464,706 Million
8. Cortland Finnegan (CB)-St. Louis Rams: $15,002,275 Million
9. Julius Peppers (DE)-Chicago Bears: $14,387,533 Million
10. Adrian Peterson (RB)-Minnesota Vikings: $13.9 Million
You might wonder where Tom Brady is as well. Brady had the NFL’s largest cap number at $21.8 million until he took a steep hometown discount during an offseason contract renegotiation that freed up $8 million in 2013 cap room for the New England Patriots.
Brady, as you might recall, also had a serious injury a few years ago, when his ACL was torn in their opening game at Kansas City.
Matt Cassel took over for him, having never even started a game in college at USC, and he went 11-4 as the Patriots starting QB.
The Packers have gone 0-4-1 without Rodgers.
Peyton Manning’s Colts were a perennial playoff team. Without him, in 2011, they became the worst team in the NFL. They also were rewarded for it by getting Andrew Luck in the 2012 Draft.
We’ve never seen the Saints without Brees, but I would expect they would suffer big time without him too. Maybe not as badly as the Packers are, and Colts did, because I think the Saints defense under the leadership of Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, would not fall apart like a cheap suit.
If the Packers are essentially a 12-4 team with Rodgers, as they are, and they are about a 2-14 team without him (that’s assuming they find a way to win 2 games, which they have not yet despite 3 home games), then Rodgers alone is worth about 10 wins a year.
How much is that worth?
The team Salary Cap number is $123 Million for 2013.
The team wins nothing without him. And they win 10-14 games with him.
What percentage should he get?
I believe if his contract was up now, his agent would have an easy case to get Rodgers to the next plateau of $30 Million a year.
How could anyone argue otherwise?