This is going to sound like heresy, but the Green Bay Packers seriously need to build a dome.
No, this is not a complaint about the freezing cold that comes in December and January. Rather this is a plea for the chance to see something ridiculously awesome every week. There is nothing quite like watching quarterback Aaron Rodgers when he's indoors.
"It's hard to explain," the league's reigning MVP said after leading the 4-3 Packers to a 30-20 win at St. Louis. "I just always enjoy playing in a controlled environment. I think a lot of it is that we have an athletic team that plays fast and playing inside helps an athletic team."
Fair enough, but "enjoy"? Seriously, that's like saying Kim Kardashian "enjoys" attention. On the heels of lighting up the Houston Texans for six touchdowns last week to get Green Bay's season back on the right track, a "focused" Rodgers posted another sensational game by going 30-of-37 for 342 yards and three touchdown passes.
"I would say that I'm focused, not angry," said Rodgers, who lightly disputed a claim from last week by the NBC Sunday Night crew that he was upset before the game against Houston. Some of that may be a matter of semantics. Rodgers admitted being "frustrated" before the game by all the questioning of the team.
"We hadn't been playing well and I knew that it was on me to get us back on track, particularly going into Houston," Rodgers said. "But I wasn't angry and I'll just leave it at that. That was an interesting production meeting. That's all I'll say."
Those nine TD passes and zero interceptions over the past two games are part of a bigger trend. Over Rodgers' past eight indoor games, which include a Super Bowl win over Pittsburgh and a playoff game at Atlanta, Rodgers has completed 201 of 283 passes (71.0 percent) for 2,623 yards, 25 touchdowns and one interception.
Double that and you have a 5,306-yard, 50-touchdown and two interception season.
And yeah, that's only one pick. That came two weeks ago in a stunning comeback win by Indianapolis after the Packers were up 21-3 at halftime – Green Bay's only loss in this eight-game span. That run, which includes five games either in the playoffs or against playoff-caliber teams, works out to a rating of 127.9. That’s better than his NFL record rating of 122.5 he compiled last season.
Again, this is done at a time when the defense should have a distinct advantage because of crowd noise and playing on turf. Instead, Rodgers and the Packers have made that football truism into an absurdity.
Sort of like the absurd throw Rodgers made to put the game out of reach on Sunday. It's one of the most outrageous throws you will see a human being make … even if there wasn't a defense covering the play. His 39-yard touchdown pass to second-year wide receiver Randall Cobb was like something from a carnival act. The laws of physics shouldn't allow someone to throw ball the way Rodgers did as he was scrambling to his left and was forced to throw against his body.
"That's something we work on a lot in practice, the second-reaction plays," Rodgers said with a certain nonchalance that belies the pinpoint bullet he delivered after throwing the ball with an unusual three-quarters delivery. "It's just nice to be able to turn things you do in practice and apply them in games, take advantage of certain moments when you develop muscle memory."
Fox analyst Brian Billick reacted to the replay of the throw by saying, "This [throw] had Hall of Fame written all over it." Billick then tried to back off the premature Cantonizing of Rodgers, but he wasn't wrong.
This throw was the kind of thing that's nearly impossible in a practice environment, let along live action. And to think, Rodgers was just going to run for a first down until he saw Cobb throw his hand up to show he was breaking open.
Facing third-and-9, Rodgers used a "freeze count" to draw St. Louis offside. After the snap, Rodgers was looking downfield before getting flushed out of the pocket to the left.
"I was going to just run it and then I saw Cobby down there and reacted," said Rodgers, who then took advantage of his limber body, a bit of a "dancer" move that figures to make the folks at State Farm happy. "When your hips are that open, you just feel you can be a little more accurate if you drop it down three-quarters on the delivery," Rodgers said.
OK, David Cone fans will understand that pretty easily, but you're not then supposed to deliver a tracer-bullet throw to a moving target 39-yard down field.
Then again, when Rodgers is under a big top, he tends to make it a circus act.
Here are the winners and losers for Week 7:
• Eli Manning may not have had the best comeback in his family during the past week, but this was still a stunner. Manning came up with the 22nd fourth-quarterback comeback win of his career just six days after brother Peyton set an NFL record with his 37th on Monday night at San Diego. Manning outdueled Washington's Robert Griffin III in the process, hitting Victor Cruz for the 77-yard game-winner just 19 seconds after Griffin put the Redskins ahead. As great as Griffin was in this game, Manning made his counterpart's outing a little easier with two interceptions. As usual, Manning was unfazed by his mistakes as he dropped the pretty pass to Cruz over the top of the Redskins' defense, which continues to be a problem. Washington has yet to allow fewer than 22 points in any game this season.
• While the Cleveland Browns continue to struggle to find consistent offense and avoid stupid mistakes (we'll get back to that in a moment), rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon continues to make a quick transition to star status. That might be a bit premature, but Gordon is certainly on a great run. He had two catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, though he also had a brutal drop that would have resulted in a fourth-quarter score in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts. That's the third consecutive game in which Gordon has caught a TD pass. Overall, he has seven catches for 240 yards and four scores in that time.
• On a brutal day for the Baltimore Ravens during a blowout loss to the Houston Texans, rookie kicker Justin Tucker gets the prize as the only bright spot (yeah, it was that bad). Tucker hit field goals of 51 and 54 yards, making him four for four for the season from 50 or longer.
• The Chargers had a large chunk of insult added to their injury this week. Following the loss to Denver after blowing a 24-0 lead on Monday night at home, the Chargers got to watch former standout wide receiver Vincent Jackson have the best statistical game of his career with seven catches for 216 yards and one touchdown during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss to the New Orleans Saints. Jackson, who had a 95-yard reception on the day, nearly forced the game to overtime with a toe-tapping catch at the end of the game. Unfortunately for Tampa, Jackson's heel was just out of bounds as he came down. Jackson has 27 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns. He's well on his way to eclipsing his career highs of 68 catches, 1,167 yards and nine touchdown catches (which he has done twice) and justifying the five-year, $55.55 million contract he signed in free agency. More important, Jackson is proving the Chargers wrong about their belief that he wasn't a complete receiver and that he was more of a creation of quarterback Philip Rivers. It should say much that Rivers is averaging only 7.1 yards per pass attempt this season. That's down more than a yard from his 8.4-yard average of the previous four years. To think, the Chargers could have gotten Jackson signed to a five-year, $40 million contract before the 2010 season. Instead, San Diego played hardball and eventually lost him.
• There wasn't anything terribly impressive about what Indianapolis or quarterback Andrew Luck did on Sunday against Cleveland (no, Luck's two TD runs don't even qualify). However, it's worth noting that the victory put the Colts at 3-3 for the season. With that, Luck and the Colts have as many wins as Peyton Manning led the Colts to in his rookie season in 1998.
• The New York Jets may have suffered a tough overtime loss to the New England Patriots, but the offense continued to look solid again, and much of that is attributable to the presence of tight end Dustin Keller, who missed four games earlier this season with a hamstring injury. While Keller, who had seven catches for 93 yards and one touchdown against New England, isn't in the class of some of the NFL's top at his position, he's very important to quarterback Mark Sanchez. In three games with Keller, Sanchez has completed 58 of 86 passes (67.4 percent) for 676 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. In four games without Keller, Sanchez completed 58 of 132 passes (43.9 percent), 777 yards, three TDs and five interceptions.
•Dear Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: Yeah, we all feel your frustration, particularly after you lose a fumble and throw an interception in a game that you lose by five points at home to the Dallas Cowboys. The 1-5 Panthers have now lost four games by six points or fewer. However, don't be surprised if things get a lot worse before they get better. The Panthers go on the road the next two games to play Chicago and Washington. One can only imagine how upset Newton is going to be if the Panthers continue to lose and, in particular, if he loses in the matchup with Robert Griffin III, the guy who is making Newton's sensational rookie season last season look almost mundane.
• Dear New Orleans safety Roman Harper, congrats for surviving against Tampa Bay on Sunday for your second win of the season. However, your interview from earlier in the week in which you stated the Saints would have been undefeated if not for the bounty scandal is exactly the wrong thing to say. Frankly, it's an excuse-makers' attitude. Yeah, the bounty scandal has been brutal. But the bigger issue in many ways has been how the team has handled it. Fact is, the Saints have yet to have a player miss a game as a result of the scandal. Moreover, only one player (defensive end Will Smith) could have missed a game (Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita aren't with the Saints anymore and Jonathan Vilma was out the first five games with an injury). Losing coach Sean Payton has clearly been brutal, but Harper should know better than anyone that the New Orleans defense has been a huge culprit as well. The Saints got lit up again Sunday in a loss to Tampa Bay (Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 420 yards) and have given up the fourth-most points in the league (182 for an average of 30.3 points per game). Instead of worrying about the bounty scandal, Harper would be better off focusing on his coverage assignments.
• OK, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, if you really expect to be a $17 million or $18 million-a-year quarterback, you have nine games to prove you're capable of taking over a team. If Sunday is any indication, the 6-foot-6 Flacco is not up to the task. Flacco was 21 of 43 for 147 yards, one touchdown, four sacks and two interceptions in Houston. Yes, the Ravens probably weren't going to beat Houston on Sunday, all things considered. But Flacco has a chance to become the face of the Ravens and be the guy who leads them through this brutal stretch without linebacker Ray Lewis. In the weak AFC, Baltimore has plenty of opportunity to salvage this season … if Flacco is up to it.
• If Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has any sense of honor, he will quit now and save good friend and Bills head coach Chan Gailey the agony of having to fire him. With the exception of beating Arizona, Kansas City and Cleveland (three teams that are offensively challenged, to say the least), the Bills defense continues to get worse, not better. On Sunday, the Bills defense got lit up for 35 in a home loss to Tennessee, 37-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselback and running back Chris Johnson. Johnson put up numbers (18 carries, 195 yards, two touchdowns) out of a high school game. It was the fourth time the Bills have allowed at least 35 points. Sure, one of those was against New England and Tom Brady. But Wannstedt's defense has made Hasselback, Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith look like Hall of Famers. Fact is, the only time Wannstedt has been a good coach was when he was Jimmy Johnson's caddy in Dallas. This is ridiculous, particularly after the Bills invested so much in upgrading the defense this offseason.
• Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton has a great opportunity to take control of the job if he can just do a couple of things. First, work on getting just a hair more athletic in the pocket to avoid some undue hits. Second, don't make silly mistakes like the one that resulted in the game-changing interception by Minnesota Vikings' safety Harrison Smith during Sunday's loss. That pick was a killer.
• There's no question that New England's running game is improving steadily with second-year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. However, it's also clear that when the Patriots need to run a four-minute drill at the end of games to keep the opposing team from getting the ball, the running game still just isn't very good. That has been shown the past two weeks at Seattle and against the Jets on Sunday. Just as it happened with the Miami Dolphins during Dan Marino's career, the Patriots seem to have lost the ability to impose their will at the proper time.
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