Here are our selections for Player of the Game and Play of the Game from the Green Bay Packers’ 24-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
With Jordy Nelson likely finished for the season, Richard Rodgers is going to become a focal point of a new-look offense focused more on moving the chains than hitting the home run. Rodgers delivered, with his three catches for 30 yards including a 21-yard touchdown.
The successful two-minute drive at the end of the first half started with Rodgers ranging to his left to make a diving catch for a gain of 6 on an errant pass from Scott Tolzien. He then capped the drive with the touchdown. It’s possible the Steelers blew coverage on that, but Rodgers ran away from linebacker Terence Garvin and was able to stretch the ball over the goal line.
“I think we’re going to feel good at the end of the year when we look back at the season he has,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “A second-year player, he’s one of those guys that took that step. He’s had a good camp, and he’s done some really good things both last week and this week.”
Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Rodgers must pick up some of that slack.
“He’s an ascending player,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. We’re going to need both him and Andrew (Quarless) to continue to play well for us, to have guys who can get down the middle of the field and guys you can have in the red zone as security blankets.”
PLAY OF THE GAME
We’ve talked enough about Nelson’s injury.
So, moving beyond that obvious selection, it’s Don Barclay allowing a safety late in the first quarter.
On Green Bay’s opening drive, a 10-play, 80-yard dash into the end zone, Barclay had no troubles at left tackle. On the second play of the game, a 15-yard catch by Nelson, Barclay easily steered Jarvis Jones around Aaron Rodgers. On a 10-yard run by Eddie Lacy on a draw, Jones charged so far upfield that Barclay barely had to do a thing. On Lacy’s 7-yard touchdown, Barclay again handled Jones as Lacy waltzed untouched into the end zone.
It was a different story on the next possession. On a second-and-9 incompletion from the 2, Barclay got a helping hand — make that, a helping shoulder — from Lacy on Stephon Tuitt. On third down, however, Barclay was left one-on-one with 37-year-old James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year who had retired before the 2014 season. Unlike the second play of the game, when Barclay was able to push Jones beyond the pocket, Harrison got around Barclay and sacked Rodgers from behind.
That was the end of the day for Rodgers, with McCarthy being “preseason smart” with the two-time MVP and eager to get Matt Blanchard meaningful reps later in the game. Barclay stayed in the game and, on third-and-2 on Tolzien’s first possession at quarterback, gave up a sack to Jones. Jones got Barclay on his heels, then shot inside for the takedown.
The Packers took a 16-9 lead just before halftime on Tolzien’s two-minute drive. Barclay was flagged for holding when he was knocked off-balance and tackled Shayon Green. Barclay, however, easily handed Green on Tolzien’s touchdown.
“It’s exactly what he needed,” McCarthy said. “He needed to play a lot coming back from a knee injury. I know there were some plays that didn’t go very well for Don, but we’ll look at the video and look at the whole picture.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.