This classic, well-worn expression came wonderfully to life at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon, much to the delight of 78,431 frozen but very happy Packers fans, as their heroes passed their biggest test of the season, beating the Patriots 26-21. Beyond the fact that the Packers picked up their ninth win while staying in command of first place in the NFC North, it was the way the Packers won this game that was so impressive.
Everybody had a say in this victory on both sides of the ball, and that was especially evident on the offensive side of the ledger.
The Patriots did their best to take away – or at least minimize – Aaron Rodgers’ biggest weapons at receiver, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. But Rodgers looked beyond his Big Two to several of his younger receivers and they did not disappoint. While Rodgers threw five times to Nelson in the first half and six times to Cobb, it was rookie Davante Adams who saw the ball come his way seven times in the first half and 11 times for the game. He caught six of those for a game-high 121 yards, including one for 45 yards and another for 33.
All told, Rodgers spread the ball around to eight players and got some remarkable results, not only from Adams but from rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, who had a 32-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and running back James Starks, who snagged a beautiful 28-yard catch in traffic along the sideline as the Packers marched down to score a touchdown right before the end of the first half. The Patriots may have blanketed Nelson early but Rodgers hit Nelson with a dart over the middle and the speedy Nelson ran away from Darrelle Revis and turned it into a 45-yard touchdown with just 14 seconds left.
“I felt that there was a push off but, at the same time, I am not going to use that as an excuse,” Revis said. “He made a great play. I have a lot of respect for Jordy, Aaron Rodgers and that whole wide receiver group.”
Starks wasn’t the only running back to make a meaningful pass reception. Eddie Lacy caught three passes for 17 yards to go with his 98 bruising rushing yards. His 5-yard catch late in the game gave the Packers the ball at New England’s 10 and set up Mason Crosby’s fourth field goal with 8:41 left.
Once again, all hands on deck.
For Adams, this win was especially sweet because, had Green Bay lost this game, his outstanding performance would have been but a footnote due to his drop of a sure touchdown pass at the goal line that could have salted victory away. Going into the game, Adams thought he might have to play a bigger role than usual and he just took it in stride.
“I didn’t necessarily feel any pressure,” said Adams. “It was more like, ‘I’ve just got to rise to the occasion.’ If they put two guys over there to follow Randall and Jordy, it was a matter of making sure I do what I have to do and be available when Aaron needs me.”
And the touchdown pass he dropped?
“I didn’t feel like it really happened,” Adams said. “It was the weirdest feeling I’ve had in my life but I got over it and we got the victory. That’s all that matters, really. The ball came one second, it was in my hands and I was already (Lambeau Leaping) in the stands in my head. But I’ve got to focus better on the ball and I’m sure we’ll have to talk about it after the game.”
Adams knows his role with the receiving corps is only going to grow, and he saw his performance against New England as just one more step in that direction. The Packers need him to provide balance to a passing game in which Cobb and Nelson had provided more than half of the receptions, yards and touchdowns this season.
“This is just another piece,” said Adams. “I’ve been trying to build, every time I’m on the field, that trust with A-Rod and to continue to be on the same page with the rest of the receivers. We work as a unit and that’s when we’re most deadly, so I’m playing my part in the unit and doing the best I can to make sure I’m always available to be a viable target for Aaron. I feel every game like I’m going to get my chances. It’s not like Aaron wasn’t going to throw at Revis. We think if we’re doing our best and they’re doing their best, our best is going to be better than what they’re doing. I was open a few times tonight and he found me.”
Adams made several nice catches over the middle, including one when he was crushed by linebacker Dont’a Hightower and momentarily left the game. Again, it’s all part of his plan and his development within Green Bay’s receiver package.
“That’s what sets receivers apart,” Adams explained. “The good ones take the hit and catch it because you’re going to get hit either way. So, if you go through there and tiptoe to catch the ball, they’re going to hit you regardless. My job is to catch it and, if I get the wind knocked out of me, I’ll take a couple of plays to get it back and get back in there.”
Tight end Andrew Quarless snagged two catches for 17 yards, which may not sound like much. But all 17 of those yards helped preserve the Packers’ final field goal drive, including producing a big first down. Quarless said this game registered big time on his personal satisfaction scale.
“This is definitely one of the best victories we’ve had all year and something that we needed going into the last stretch of the season,” said Quarless. “Early in the week, coach (McCarthy) talked about it being a clash between two elite teams. That’s what it was. It took 60 minutes of football and that’s what we showed them. I never believe the hype before a game like this and I just try to focus. When the film work is done and the studying is in, you do it on the field.
This was a big win because they are on top of their division and they just beat the Lions. I know they were very confident they could come out here and get a ‘W.’ I talked to the tight ends before the game and just told them we’ve got to do more. We’ve got to work harder and we’ve got to give more. Everybody stepped up today. I loved it and I loved those guys for making plays. A lot of times, they (Nelson and Cobb) got double-teamed and that kind of frees up the middle for me. It was a great effort and we just want to continue to get better.”
Another young player who stepped up was rookie tight end Richard Rodgers. Again, the box score only notes two catches, but one of those was his first-quarter touchdown.
“When we get opportunities, you’ve got to step up, and that’s what Aaron expects us to do and that’s what we expect to do ourselves,” said Rodgers. “When we get a one-on-one matchup that we like, we need to capitalize and that’s what we did today. I’m pretty sure they had double coverage on Jordy on (my) touchdown pass. So the single safety was over to the right a little bit. The guy guarding me was off and I had an opportunity to run by him and that’s what I did. I ran to green grass. It was good to score and, obviously, this was a meaningful game. We needed to make plays and I got to make a play.”
Cobb, who delivered a dagger to pick up a first down on a third-and-4 play with 2:28 left and allow the Packers to run out the clock, tipped his hat to Adams and understood how the youngster must have felt when he dropped the big pass.
“It happens,” said Cobb. “But he had an excellent game. They took some things away from us but he just had a phenomenal game. He’s going to continue to get better, week in and week out. When we’re performing like that it’s going to be tough to stop us. Our defense played well, too. Special teams gave us opportunities. Rodgers and Brady are great players, great quarterbacks. But it takes all 11 guys to make it happen on the field.”
All hands on deck.