Rodgers Leads Perfect Drive

Fifty-eight seconds proved to be an eternity for the Packers, who remained on course for an undefeated season with a winning final drive. The next goal for the NFC North champions is to clinch homefield advantage. And if they do that, McCarthy said he's "locked and loaded" to talk about 16-0.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For a moment, at least, the focus wasn't on 16-0. It was on 58, as in seconds.

That's the amount of time Aaron Rodgers had to negotiate a significant portion of North Jersey real estate early Sunday evening, after the New York Giants had forged a 35-35 tie with the Packers.

Not a problem, as it turned out, especially after Green Bay started at its own 20 following a touchback. There was a dart to tight end Jermichael Finley for a gain of 24. A rainbow to wide receiver Jordy Nelson for a pickup of 27. And after a short pass lost 1 yard, another tracer, this one to wideout Greg Jennings, for a 18-yard advance to the New York 12.

Timeout, Packers, with 3 seconds left.

Mason Crosby needed only to make a 31-yard field goal at the gun to win it, 38-35.

Only then could anybody start talking about 16-0 again. And goodness knows, folks wanted to do so. Packers coach Mike McCarthy was not one of them. He chose instead to discuss more immediate matters, like the fact that his team, now 12-0 and a winner of 18 straight, had secured a playoff berth. (Hours later, the Packers clinched the NFC North, when Detroit lost in New Orleans.)

Their next goal is to nail down homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and the first-round bye that comes along with it. They do all that, McCarthy said, and he will be "ready, locked and loaded" to talk about 16-0.

Rodgers felt the same way, calling a playoff berth "the first step" en route to greater things.

But that last drive, in which the Packers covered 68 yards in five plays — that was something to savor.

"Those are the fun ones," Rodgers said, "when you end up like that."

McCarthy called it "a classic two-minute drive," and something the Packers regularly practice. They have not, however, had to execute such a march all season.

"We saw 58 seconds; some teams would be like, ‘We ain't got enough time,'" Finley said. "That's almost too much time for us."

Rodgers said he half-expected McCarthy to call for a draw to start the final drive and depending on how successful it was, try to inch downfield for a field goal. But McCarthy chose to be aggressive.

"Going into the huddle," Rodgers said, "[there was] a lot of confidence, and we were able to execute the way we wanted to."

It had been an uphill fight all day. Eli Manning threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns, including a 67-yarder to backup tight end Travis Beckum just 1:36 into the game. And the Giants, who began play last in the league in rushing, ran for 100 yards on 20 carries — 59 of those on eight attempts by The Artist Formerly Known as Brandon Jacobs. (The Giants fullback's season high is 72 yards, and he came in averaging just more than 3 yards a pop.)

Nor did the New York defense, which allowed 449 yards and recorded just two sacks, play as poorly as the stat sheet might indicate. Giants defenders repeatedly harried Rodgers, the result being that he didn't quite perform up to his lofty standard. His quarterback rating was 106.2 — still excellent, but a season low — on 28-for-46 accuracy, for 369 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw an interception, just his fifth of the year.

And his normally sure-handed receivers did not have the best of days, dropping (by most counts) six balls — a number, he said, that is "more than acceptable" but still "part of the game."

"There was some frustration out there, for sure," Rodgers said. "We didn't play the way we wanted to at times on offense."

Finley — who finished with six catches, including a 12-yarder for a touchdown — was guilty of two of those drops.

"It's tough for a playmaker, because you want to make plays," he said.

There were other times when it wasn't clear playmakers had actually made the plays they were credited with making. Touchdown catches by Jennings in the third quarter and Donald Driver in the fourth — Driver's second of the game — withstood replay reviews, even though Jennings seemed to juggle the ball in the end zone before it was slapped away, and even though Driver might have stepped out of the back of the end zone before making his catch.

No matter — Driver's score made it 35-27 with 3:34 left. Then Manning took the Giants 69 yards in nine plays against a defense that had lost Charles Woodson to a concussion earlier in the period. Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for the touchdown from 2 yards out, and D.J. Ware ran for the two-pointer.

But 58 seconds still remained.

"I think the first play is the most important play, obviously," Rodgers said. "That kind of determines the drive."

And on that play he fired to Finley, running an out pattern against linebacker Jacquian Williams toward the right sideline.

Finley said he saw a safety giving Williams help over the top, and came up with "the best move of (his) career." Williams also undercut the route and missed deflecting the ball, allowing Finley to continue down the sideline. He stepped out of bounds at the Green Bay 44 with 51 seconds left.

The Giants remained in man coverage on the next snap, and Nelson ran a stop-and-go against cornerback Will Blackmon — a route adjustment, he and Rodgers said. Rodgers delivered the ball to him along the left sideline, despite pressure from defensive end Justin Tuck.

"I just wanted him to throw it to me," Nelson said. "Good ball. Got it out there. I don't know what pressure he was under, but he did his job, got the ball out and we were able to make a big play to get us in field goal range."

The catch wasn't the best of the four Nelson had in the game. He somehow managed to tight-rope the left sideline on a 21-yarder earlier in the period, leading him to joke later that the had been a ballerina in his younger years.

"You just adjust to the ball," he said. "I hopefully can say that I'm somewhat of an athlete, and can adjust to the ball. Aaron put it out there, and you've just got to go make a play. You don't really think much of it."

His latter catch took the Packers to the Giants' 29 with 44 seconds remaining. A swing pass to running back Brandon Saine lost a yard, but Jennings then made the last of his seven receptions.

On came Crosby. Down went the Giants.

Somebody later asked Rodgers if the Packers needed such a drive.

"I'm sure that's going to be something that you (media) guys talk about," he said. "I don't mind when we're up two scores and taking a knee at the end. But it gives us confidence that if we're in a situation like that again, that we can go down and hopefully have the same result."

That they executed as they did on this occasion meant that some big numbers are still attainable, some sizable goals still within reach.


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