Aaron Rodgers continued his brilliant four-game run with three touchdown passes and Driver had an electrifying 61-yard scoring reception as the Packers rebounded from last week's loss at Atlanta to beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-16 on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games – all 100-plus passer ratings -- as the Packers kept pace with first-place Chicago (9-3), which escaped Detroit with a 24-20 win.
The Packers, who won the coin toss but deferred just like they did at Minnesota, scored a touchdown to open the third quarter to take a 21-13 lead. It looked like a routine out of the Three Stooges. The 49ers blew coverage on Driver, who caught the ball all alone at the 38 and made safety Reggie Smith miss. Driver then ducked under Shawntae Spencer and teammate Andrew Quarless, who rolled off Driver's back. Driver then shoved aside Nate Clements at the 10 and drug two defenders the last couple of yards for the touchdown.
The Niners responded with a field goal but the Packers turned to their bread-and-butter long pass. They faked the hand-off and Rodgers rolled to his right. Greg Jennings got open deep and a perfectly thrown ball resulted in a 48-yard gain to the 3. On third-and-goal from the 1, Jennings toasted Phillip Adams at the line of scrimmage and was wide open for an easy touchdown that made it 28-16 with 3:37 left in the third quarter.
The 49ers blew two chances for big plays on their next drive, with Troy Smith throwing too late to Vernon Davis deep down the middle, allowing Tramon Williams to drill Davis and break up the pass. On third down, Ted Ginn got deep past Sam Shields but Smith's pass was too close to the sideline. The Niners punted, and Williams' 20-yard punt return put the Packers in position for a field goal and a 31-16 lead early in the fourth.
The Packers did their best to keep the 49ers in the game in the first half, settling for a 14-13 lead. On their first drive, Rodgers missed a wide-open Driver in the end zone on first-and-goal at the 6, a horrific intentional grounding call moved them back 10 yards and Mason Crosby hit the right upright from 29 yards.
Trailing 6-0, the Packers finally got in gear. On a free play with the 49ers offside, Rodgers hit Jennings from 59 yards to take the lead. On the next drive, Brandon Jackson gained 37 yards on an exquisitely executed screen to set up John Kuhn's 1-yard scoring run to make it 14-6.
But Nick Collins whiffed on a tackle and Davis strolled 66 yards for a touchdown as the 49ers got right back into the game. On the ensuing drive, Rodgers missed an open James Jones for a big play. On the next play, Rodgers hit Jones for 54 yards to the Niners' 12, but the officials inexplicably blew the play dead when the 49ers were flagged for offside.
The Packers led 14-13 coming out of halftime and faced a second-and-16 after holding on Donald Lee. The Packers caught the 49ers in a blitz, with Rodgers hitting Driver at the 38-yard line. Driver dodged and dragged the rest of the Niners' defense for a 61-yard touchdown. He hadn't had a 61-yard receiving day since Week 4 against Detroit.
Cullen Jenkins will be sorely missed if he misses time after aggravating a calf strain with 2 minutes remaining. He had two sacks, one on second-and-goal from the 2 and the other on third down after the 49ers started at the Packers' 48.
0: The number of touchdowns scored by the 49ers on first-and-goal at the 2 and first-and-goal from the 10.
"I thought Donald Driver's touchdown was the biggest play in the game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought it ignited our football team. We needed that. We had some segments there in the first half where we weren't as sharp as we needed to. We had some plays where the ball probably didn't bounce our way or a call that didn't go our way and that's football. But I thought Donald Driver's play was clearly the biggest play in the game and then we were able to take off from there."
Could this be the end of Brett Favre's 297-game starts streak? Favre sprained his throwing shoulder upon hitting the turf after being drilled by Buffalo linebacker Arthur Moats on the game's third play. An MRI is scheduled for Monday. Even though Tarvaris Jackson helped lead the Vikings to a season-high point total in a 38-14 romp, coach Leslie Frazier said Favre will start if healthy. More importantly for the Packers, the Bears rallied at Detroit 24-20 to improve to 9-3 and stay one game ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Ndamukong Suh against Jay Cutler kept the drive alive, and Cutler threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Manumaleuna for the decisive score midway through the fourth quarter. The Lions, who host Green Bay on Sunday, have lost a NFL-record 19 straight division games.
The other things you might have missed
-- Jenkins aggravated a calf strain with about 2 minutes to go and fullback Korey Hall and receiver Brett Swain had knee strains. It's early, but Jenkins sounded pessimistic about the upcoming week.
-- Rodgers has gone five consecutive games without an interception, with a career-high 177 attempts without being picked. That's a career-best stretch and ranks second in team history. He passed Favre (163) but is a long, long way behind Bart Starr (294).
-- Thanks in large part to Rodgers, the Packers have gone without a giveaway in four of the last five games. Only Rodgers' fumble last week is a blemish.
-- Rookie running back James Starks rushed for 73 yards on 18 attempts in his long-awaited debut. It was the best Game 1 showing for a rookie since Ralph Earhart's 78 yards against Boston in 1948.
-- With Driver and Jordy Nelson reaching 35 catches, the Packers have four receivers with 35 for the first time in franchise history. Greg Jennings and James Jones, of course, are the others.
-- Speaking of Jennings, he caught six passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. He's had three consecutive 100-yard games for the first time since Weeks 2-4 in 2008, and has five, six or seven catches in six consecutive games with seven touchdowns in that span.
-- The Packers are 5-1 at home this season and an NFC-best 24-8 in their last 32 home games.
-- Winds were forecast for 20 to 30 mph but rarely gusted that high. So, McCarthy said the play-calling wasn't changed by the wind, as he feared, but it did factor in the kicking game.
-- The Packers started the game with four defensive linemen (Howard Green being the fourth) and without a safety. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers used that grouping frequently when the Niners went with two running backs and two tight ends, a personnel group that helped them run for 261 yards at Arizona last week. Plus, Jarrett Bush played several snaps as Capers dusted off the rarely used dime to help match up against Davis.
-- McCarthy, on the throwback uniforms: "I thought it was awesome. Sometimes when you look on the TV, and you see some of the other teams, you go whoa, but I really liked the way our guys looked in the uniform. It was a tribute to the 1929 championship team, which anytime you have an opportunity to say thank you to the tradition and the history of the Green Bay Packers, you have to do so because it's an honor to work here. And I know everybody feels that way that is employed here. But I thought it was great for our football team. They enjoyed it, they liked the look. I think our fans enjoyed it, and it was great for a day."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.