Report Card: Packers Survive Giants Challenge

The game-winning two-minute drill earns the passing game high marks in a 38-35 win over the Giants. On the other hand, the pass defense reverted to form by allowing four completions of 20-plus yards.

PASSING OFFENSE: B — Clutch was the operative word for Aaron Rodgers and his top passing targets as the unbeaten Green Bay Packers eked out their closest victory during their 18-game winning streak that extends back to last December. Rodgers added to his unsurpassed stardom this season by completing four passes in as many plays for 68 yards in an elapsed time of only 55 seconds to get Mason Crosby in position for his game-winning field goal as time expired. Tight end Jermichael Finley (six receptions, 87 yards, touchdown) started the decisive drive with a 24-yard catch-and-run up the right side. Wideouts Jordy Nelson (four catches, 94 yards) and Greg Jennings (seven catches, 94 yards, touchdown) sandwiched critical plays of 27 and 18 yards around a 1-yard loss by rookie back Brandon Saine on a checkdown — Nelson's stop-and-go route against overmatched ex-Packers defensive back Will Blackmon and sensational grab near the sideline was the best of the bunch. Donald Driver, the graybeard of the receiving group, surfaced earlier with his first two-touchdown game in six years and was Nelson's equal with the deft footwork at the boundary. A four-touchdown performance from Rodgers is old hat — he's done it four times this season — but his season-high 46 pass attempts and 369 yards resulted in by his lofty standards just a "subpar" passer rating of 106.2. Rodgers completed only 28 passes, victimized by six drops (a seventh was wiped out by a Giants penalty) and his lone interception on a bad throw over the middle deep in Packers territory. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse had a poor outing against the relentless end Jason Pierre-Paul (two quarterback hits, two batted passes) as well as backup Dave Tollefson (sack).

RUSHING OFFENSE: D — Rodgers also had to carry Green Bay's anemic run game, leading the team on the ground for the first time this season with 32 yards in four scrambles (long of 13). The loss of James Starks for the rest of the game with an aggravated ankle sprain in the second quarter exacerbated the woes. Not counting Rodgers' improvised output, the Packers managed all of 57 yards in 24 rushing attempts for a horrendous average of 2.4 yards. The committee of four backs had five runs for negative yards, three by starter Ryan Grant (13 carries, 29 yards). He ran into fullback John Kuhn on one play and tripped over the left leg of Newhouse on another — both resulting in losses. Green Bay struggled to generate anything outside the tackles, save for an 8-yard run by a patient Grant in the final quarter as he set up his blocks on the perimeter before turning back inside.


Hakeem Nicks scores against Sam Shields.
Al Bello/Getty Images
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus — After turning things around 180 degrees in the Thanksgiving win at Detroit, the Packers' defense reverted to its troubling habit of giving up big pass plays. Eli Manning attacked the porous secondary with several deep shots and capitalized with four passes of more than 20 yards, highlighted by tight end Travis Beckum's stunning 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the third play of the game. Beckum blazed past Charlie Peprah to get open for the catch in Packers territory, and the former Wisconsin standout made Peprah and fellow safety Morgan Burnett look silly by eluding their lax tackle attempts the last 35 yards. Cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson have had better days. Williams gave up downfield completions of 51 and 42 yards to Hakeem Nicks (seven catches, 88 yards, two touchdowns) and Victor Cruz (seven catches, 119 yards), respectively. Woodson committed two penalties (including roughing the passer) in a span of four plays in the second quarter, was helpless on a short fade to Nicks in the back of the end zone and later left the game with a concussion. Replacement Jarrett Bush fell down in coverage as Cruz picked up 22 yards on a pass during the Giants' score-tying drive toward the end. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews enabled Green Bay to save some face against Manning (23-of-40, 347 yards, three touchdowns). Matthews jumped in front of back Ahmad Bradshaw in the flat as blitzing inside linebacker D.J. Smith forced the Manning throw that Matthews returned 38 yards for a touchdown to start the second quarter. Shortly before halftime, Matthews knocked the football out of Manning's hand as he set up to throw, resulting in a sack and a fumble that nose tackle B.J. Raji casually recovered amid the confusion of the call.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus — Green Bay allowed 100 rushing yards (this time on the nose) for the fourth straight game and the sixth time in the last seven outings. The Giants, buoyed by the return of lead back Ahmad Bradshaw after a lengthy absence because of a foot injury, averaged a solid 5.0 yards per carry. Bradshaw (11 carries, 38 yards) had some success early in the game. The imposing Jacobs came on late in the first quarter and inflicted the most damage with eight carries for 59 yards (7.4 average). He rumbled to runs of 11 and 14 yards his first two attempts — the latter had the makings of a 75-yard touchdown as Jacobs cleared the second level before Burnett reached in to make an ankle tackle. Jacobs also had an explosive run of 18 yards and scored from 1 yard out. Situational back D.J. Ware made it to the end zone with ease on a draw play up the middle out of shotgun formation for the two-point conversion that tied the score with the fateful 58 seconds left.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Crosby's 30-yard game-winner, his first since he kicked the Packers to a three-point win over Philadelphia in his pro debut on opening day 2007, made amends for the 43-yard attempt he pushed wide right on the final play of the first half Sunday. Crosby also made a tackle on Blackmon on one of a few sizable kickoff returns by the Giants. New York, however, didn't have any punt-return yards as Tim Masthay extended his recent stretch of tremendous punting. Masthay averaged 44.2 yards in five kicks (long of 55) and placed four inside the Giants' 20, including one that hit at the 5 and took a favorable bounce that Bush downed at the 1. Randall Cobb had a ho-hum day on returns for the Packers, averaging 25.3 yards on kickoffs and only 3.0 yards on punts. Yet, he heeded the instruction from the sideline to take a knee in the end zone on the Giants' kickoff after they tied the score and thus give the offense the full 58 seconds to drive most of the field and win the game in regulation.

COACHING: B-minus — Warts and all in this game, particularly the big plays allowed by the defense and the rash of dropped passes on offense, the Packers prevailed in their most challenging game to date. For that, they are NFC North champions for the first time in four years, heading back to the playoffs and on their unbeaten roll at 12-0. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy made a more concerted effort to run the football, but he should know that it's wishful thinking to get any kind of meaningful production from the collection of unspectacular backs on the roster. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers made do with a short-handed lineup, but not having inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk seemed to limit the pressure Capers probably would have liked to have put on Manning and possibly cut down on his frequent downfield opportunities.


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