The Packers were in deep trouble on Sunday at Miami. They should have had this game won by halftime. Instead, they were trailing 24-17 after the Dolphins had blown down field for their third consecutive long touchdown drive.
Instead, a sputtering offense scored 10 points on its final two possessions. A down-and-out defense forced a critical punt. And a bumbling special teams provided great field position for the winning drive.
“Really, the thing that impressed me so much in our victory is just the grit of our football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “just the way each phase picked up for one another.”
After falling behind 24-17, the Packers marched into scoring position but were forced to settle for a disappointing field goal when Aaron Rodgers just missed Jordy Nelson, who had gotten open in the end zone on third-and-6 from the 12. The kick made it 24-20 with 4:09 remaining.
Given the way the defense had been playing, the field goal seemed like a risky decision.
“I obviously had confidence in our defense,” McCarthy said. “There's some other things that were going on that factored in my decision. I think a defensive-minded decision-maker would agree with that and an offensive-minded decision-maker probably would not.”
The put the fate of the game on the defense. The very same defense that had allowed 239 yards and 21 points on 21 second-half plays to that juncture. The very same defense that had given up 101 yards on 10 second-half rushing plays. The very same defense with starting cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields out with injuries.
Then, that very same defense gave up a cheap first down when Brad Jones, who had replaced injured inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore, was called for a blatant hands-to-the-face penalty before sacking Ryan Tannehill.
That made it do-or-die for the defense, with 3:10 remaining and just one timeout left.
On first down, Lamar Miller gained 1 yard when defensive lineman Mike Daniels shoved his blocker aside and made the tackle with safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who quickly filled the void after outside linebacker Julius Peppers was blown off the line. The final timeout stopped the clock with 3:05 remaining. On second down, Jones and Clay Matthews flushed Tannehill from the pocket, with Matthews tripping up Tannehill as he unloaded the ball for an incompletion. On third down, Miller was stopped for another 1-yard gain. Micah Hyde’s well-timed blitz forced Miller outside, where he was strung out by Peppers and tackled by Peppers and safeties Morgan Burnett and Clinton-Dix.
On the punt, the Packers got decent pressure, which allowed Hyde to field the kick on the run. He made two defenders miss in advancing the ball 17 yards to the 40 with 2:04 remaining.
That set the stage for Rodgers and the offense. Rodgers took a beating throughout the final three quarters but hung in there. On fourth-and-10 from the Dolphins’ 48 — one play after T.J. Lang’s game-saving fumble recovery — he stood tall in the pocket and got drilled by Olivier Vernon but delivered an 18-yard strike to Jordy Nelson. Starks drug a defender 4 yards to convert a third-and-10. Rookie receiver Davante Adams, who had been slow to earn Rodgers’ trust, was on the same page as his demanding quarterback on a fake-spike play. And on the winning touchdown, with Nelson, Randall Cobb and Adams as potential targets, Rodgers went to, of course, Andrew Quarless for the winning touchdown.
“It’s those type of plays,” Rodgers said about what makes a game so memorable. “So much has to happen on a drive like that. The line has to protect well, the guys have to get open, you’ve got to throw it and catch it. A lot of times, a quarterback gets more focus than he deserves. In a situation like that, I’ve always wanted to highlight those guys. Those guys made some big-time plays. The line did an incredible job blocking the last drive and Jordy made a great catch, Davante a great, heady play and we were able to get the ball in the end zone.”
Who knows what this will mean down the road, but the Packers have shown plenty of resolve in rallying out of a big hole against the Jets in Week 2 and then not melting in the Miami heat on Sunday.
“Any time you overcome adversity, you’ve got this experience to build off,” McCarthy said. “It just checks everybody to keep playing one play at a time, the offense to pick up for the defense, the defense carrying the football team at different times of the game. That’s why you play. A couple guys go down in the second half and our defensive backs stepped up. This is an excellent character win. Adversity’s a great thing to overcome, and we’re going to see more of it at home against Carolina.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.