EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If you're looking for an indication of how the Green Bay Packers are going to pursue perfection, there was a clear sign given as incomparable quarterback Aaron Rodgers walked onto the field with the scored tied 35-35 against the New York Giants.
With the ball at their own 20-yard line with 58 seconds left, Rodgers "half-expected" coach Mike McCarthy to play it safe with a draw or a screen. If that worked, maybe get more aggressive. You get the tepid picture.
"But [Coach McCarthy] looked at me, called a play, I was like, 'All right, let's go,' and we went into the huddle with a lot of confidence and we executed the way we wanted to,” Rodgers said.
From there, Rodgers went about being the human Ginsu he has been all season. After a frustrating game that featured at least five dropped passes, Rodgers completed four straight passes, putting the Packers at the Giants' 12-yard line with time to spare. A chip-shot, 31-yard field goal gave Green Bay a 38-35 victory, a playoff berth and division title, a 12-0 record and a clear path to 16-0 with three home games and a trip to Kansas City between now and then.
How will the Packers handle that chance to run the table? Do they merge pedal and metal or get cozy with a vest? McCarthy didn't show his hand after the game.
"From my perspective, and I clearly understand the 16-0 gig and the importance of it, 38-35 [speaks volumes]," McCarthy said. "That's why you stay focused on what's at hand, because every week it's going to be a challenge. We're 12-0, but we need to get to 13-0. We have other goals in front of us before we can even entertain that. So I hope we are in position to talk about that. But right now, we really aren't."
No, the Packers aren't, but they may have little choice but to push themselves. The important subplot from what happened against the Giants, who lost their fourth straight after a 6-2 start, is that Green Bay showed how close it is to the precipice despite its record. The Packers are immaculate right now, but they are far from impervious.
On Sunday, the Packers couldn't play defense (they returned an interception for a score, but gave up 447 total yards), they couldn't really run the ball (89 yards on 28 carries) and they couldn't catch as the drops showed. On top of those problems, the Packers lost their best defensive player, cornerback Charles Woodson, to a concussion in the fourth quarter. Woodson didn't talk to reporters after the game and it is unknown how long he'll be out until he's examined by an independent neurologist.
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As for the drops, Rodgers was clearly frustrated in the second half.
"Drops are part of the game, they are going to happen, it's just frustrating when they are having a direct impact on a drive. … I don't know how many we officially had [Sunday], but more than is acceptable," Rodgers said.
Yeah, Rodgers had a rare mistake himself, throwing his fifth interception of the season, but his play was mostly brilliant. Or as McCarthy put it, "I'm running out of things to say about him."
What McCarthy says about Rodgers is irrelevant. What he says to Rodgers is crucial. Right now, McCarthy and the Packers have to lean on Rodgers and his extraordinary ability a lot. Rodgers has the skill to cover up so many things that ail the Packers.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, after the Giants closed to within a point at 28-27, Rodgers made a couple of extraordinary throws. On a second-and-10, he hit wide receiver Jordy Nelson for 21 yards, Nelson making a leaping, spinning catch and somehow getting his feet down in bounds.
"You didn't know I was a ballet dancer," Nelson said with a broad grin. "I'd like to think I'm a pretty good athlete."
Two plays later, Rodgers came back with another touchdown pass courtesy of a toe-tapping effort by wide receiver Donald Driver. But the real beauty of the play was that Rodgers scanned the entire field, starting off looking at the left sideline, quickly progressing past the left seam, the right seam and then ending up due right before delivering the 7-yard strike.
[ Related: Week 13's winners and losers ]
The Giants responded with a brilliant 69-yard drive, Manning completing 5-of-8 for 66 yards and his third touchdown pass. The lone mistake was leaving 58 seconds on the clock.
Enough time for Rodgers to work his magic after McCarthy was aggressive enough to call for it.
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