Next week's game at Lambeau Field certainly will be meaningful.
Aaron Rodgers threw for a career-high 404 yards and career-high-tying four touchdown passes, the defense forced six turnovers and the Packers stayed in the playoff hunt with their 45-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday evening at Lambeau. If Green Bay (9-6) beats Chicago (11-4), it will earn a playoff berth – quite possibly at Chicago the following week. If Chicago wins, it will earn a first-round bye and a home playoff game in the divisional round.
Rodgers, after missing last week's game with a concussion, performed brilliantly. Dancing around the Giants' pressure throughout the game, Rodgers was practically flawless. When he hit Donald Lee for a 1-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-17 with 4:44 to go in the third quarter, he was 21-of-32 passing for 321 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating 129.8.
Then came arguably the play of the game. Big Brandon Jacobs got loose down the right sidelined for a long gain but Clay Matthews chased him down from behind and poked the ball loose. The ball was headed out of bounds but Desmond Bishop tapped the ball back into play. Giants tight end Bear Pascoe was in position to recover but Tramon Williams knocked the ball away. Finally, Nick Collins pounced at the Packers' 27. While the Packers didn't do anything with the ball – in fact, they averted disaster when Rodgers lost the ball while trying to throw and John Kuhn recovered – it at least killed a potential scoring drive and swung the field position.
The Giants (9-6) entered the game leading the league in takeaways (34) and tied for the most giveaways (35). Green Bay had only one turnover and wound up with six takeaways – including four interceptions off of Eli Manning.
The Giants' fourth turnover – an interception by Sam Shields – set up Rodgers' fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 4-yarder to Kuhn off of play action that made it 38-17 with 6:58 remaining. The Giants' fifth turnover – an interception by Nick Collins – set up Kuhn's third touchdown, a 1-yard run.
The million-dollar question entering the game was whether the Giants would show up after blowing a three-touchdown lead last week at home against Philadelphia. The early feedback wasn't good.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle – who had guaranteed a victory and playoff berth – bit on a play-action fake and left Jordy Nelson wide open down the middle for an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Moments later, Manning misread the coverage and threw the ball right to Williams. A 10-play, 44-yard drive was capped with Rodgers buying time and hitting James Jones for a touchdown on third-and-goal.
The Giants, however, showed some resiliency at the expense of Charles Woodson to cut the margin to 14-7 early in the second quarter. Woodson fell in coverage on an 18-yard completion to Nicks, was flagged for holding and fell again as Nicks was left wide open for a 36-yard touchdown.
The Packers had a fine answering drive, starting from their 10 and moving to the Giants' 25 before Nelson fumbled while trying to get the first down on third-and-8. And the Packers paid a heavy cost, with Manning going deep to Mario Manningham for an 85-yard touchdown. It was a jump ball against Williams, with Williams misjudging the ball and failing on a touchdown-saving ankle grab around the Packers' 40-yard line.
This time, the Packers didn't botch their answering drive. Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for 11 and 26 yards, then Donald Driver for 6 – with a cheap-shot personal foul on safety Terrell Thomas moving the ball to the Giants' 16. On second down from the 8 on the first play after the two-minute warning, Kuhn barreled through linebacker Keith Bulluck and Rolle for the touchdown, and Green Bay took that 21-14 lead into the locker room.
You could single out any of the six takeaways, but what about a non-turnover? The Packers led 31-17 when Rodgers dropped back on third-and-1. The ball slipped out of his hand, but Kuhn was Johnny-on-the-spot to make the recovery. Had the Giants recovery, they would have been about 30 yards away from making it a seven-point game.
What can you say about Rodgers? He completed 25-of-37 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns, with a passer rating of 139.9. It was Rodgers' first career 400-yard game and the first by a Packers quarterback since Brett Favre against Chicago on Dec. 5, 1993.
Six: It's hard to win when you give away the ball on six of your 14 possessions. The Packers turned those into four touchdowns and a field goal – a whopping total of 31 points.
Rodgers, on whether the concussion helped his performance: "I think positively, yes. It was like a week off late in the season for my body. I felt all week a lot of energy. My arm felt like it was live. I threw the ball real good in practice, so I had a lot of confidence going into the game that I was going to perform this way. Now, obviously not as well as it went, but I think you can attribute that to some real good play calls at certain times and some big plays by some guys."
The Bears, who wrapped up the NFC North last week, outlasted the Jets 38-34 at Soldier Field. So much for a defensive battle between two of the NFL's top units, but Chris Harris' interception locked up the win for Chicago. Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes. Detroit (5-10) won its third in a row, with two interceptions and 17 points in the last 5 minutes to win at Miami 34-27. The Lions hadn't even won two in a row since 2007. Minnesota at Philadelphia, the Sunday night game, was moved to Tuesday night because of a major snowstorm.
The other things you might have missed
-- The Packers and Bears will play at 3:15 p.m. on Fox. The game was scheduled for noon.
-- Robert Francois started at outside linebacker, meaning the defense has gone from Brad Jones (shoulder) to Brady Poppinga (knee) to Frank Zombo (knee) to Erik Walden (quad) to Francois. Zombo was inactive; Walden rotated in with Francois.
-- Speaking of injuries, Korey Hall (knee sprain) and Atari Bigby (groin strain) exited with injuries and did not return. Cullen Jenkins missed a third straight game with a calf strain.
-- The Packers' 508 yards of offense were its most since Brett Favre led the team to 548 yards in his famous performance at Oakland on Dec. 22, 2003.
-- On the other side of the ball, the six takeaways were the team's most since recording six at Chicago on Dec. 31, 2006.
-- This was Rodgers' 10th career game of three-plus touchdown passes and no interceptions. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that breaks Kurt Warner's league-record nine such performances for a quarterback in his first three seasons as the starter.
-- Mason Crosby topped 500 points and Greg Jennings topped 5,000 receiving yards.
-- Nelson's 80-yard touchdown and 124 yards for the game were career highs.
-- Tramon Williams had his career-high sixth interception, A.J. Hawk had his career-high third interception, James Jones his career-high 49th reception and Charles Woodson his career-high fifth forced fumble.
-- The Packers are 10-1 in their last 11 home games and an NFC-best 25-8 in their last 33 at Lambeau.
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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.