The Green Bay Packers are 5-0.
Read that sentence again, this time emphasizing the words “Green Bay Packers.”
It’s not, “Led by Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers are 5-0.”
For the first time since 2010, when Rodgers was rising to MVP status and the defense dominated the final two-thirds of the season, the Packers consistently are winning as a unit.
When Rodgers had two-interception games against the Bills and Saints last season, the Packers lost. With Rodgers having a two-interception game on Sunday against the up-and-coming Rams, the Packers won by two touchdowns.
The contributions ran the length of the roster and went beyond the usual list of suspects.
“Our younger guys have grown up and the young guys that have had to play early, that we probably didn’t think were going to play this year, they’ve done well,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday’s victory over St. Louis.
Let’s start with the rookies.
First-round cornerback Damarious Randall wasn’t targeted when in coverage against a wide receiver. His career is off to a strong start.
Second-round cornerback Quinten Rollins had two interceptions, including a pick-six that put the Packers in front 14-0 in the first quarter.
“We just all complement each other in the back end as well as the rush in the front end,” Rollins said. “It’s just all about playing off each other, and that’s what we did today.”
Third-round wide receiver Ty Montgomery had a 31-yard touchdown and converted a third-and-5 with a diving catch against tight coverage.
“Ty’s doing his thing,” said receiver Davante Adams, who has missed most of the last three games with a sprained ankle. “He’s kind of gotten a baptism by fire, so he’s in there making some plays, playing a little bit more than he probably anticipated. But he’s handling it well, handling some early success well. He’s a mature guy, and he’s fully capable of going out there and making plays, so he looks real comfortable stiff-arming guys and laying dudes out, so we love to see that, and I hope to continue to see it throughout the year.”
Three undrafted rookies from last year delivered. With Nick Perry lost to a shoulder injury, Jayrone Elliott made two tackles in back-side pursuit against powerhouse rookie running back Todd Gurley. He’ll be a critical player going forward if Perry misses any time. With B.J. Raji missing most of the second half with a groin injury, Mike Pennel once again became a key member of the defensive line. He was involved in two tackles; neither resulted in a gain.
Then there’s the incredible story of Joe Thomas. After a knee injury sustained last preseason, Thomas returned to the team and challenged for a roster spot during training camp this summer. He was released and not signed to the practice squad. A couple weeks later, the Packers signed Thomas off Dallas’ practice squad and lined him up at dime linebacker to free up Clay Matthews to rush the passer. In arguably the biggest play of Sunday’s game, with the Rams 7 yards from a touchdown that would have made it 21-17 or even 21-18, Thomas broke in front of a pass directed to tight end Lance Kendricks in the end zone. The deflection was grabbed by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to preserve a 21-10 lead.
In light of his road to Green Bay, did his key play mean anything extra?
“No, not really, because I didn’t finish the play,” Thomas said. “If I would have finished the play, yes, because I probably would have taken it to the end zone. It’s just a great play – great play by Ha Ha to be there to pick it off.”
And a great story that illustrates why the Packers are 5-0 for the second time in a half-century. When the top player on the roster doesn’t play to his best-of-the-best status, the players toward the bottom of the roster have delivered.
Thomas personifies that. He wasn’t good enough to be the 53rd man of the roster five weeks ago. Now, his presence corresponds with Green Bay’s stellar defensive performances for three quarters against Kansas City and the past eight quarters against San Francisco and St. Louis.
“It was from watching him on the practice field, watching him through preseason,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday of why he had belief in Thomas. “I thought the last two preseason games you saw him show up when he had some opportunities. He was familiar with a lot of the stuff we were going to ask him to do. You’ve been able to see him on the practice field and take part in that role. Normally, a young guy like that gets better and better. He gains more confidence as you go along. We’ve got a lot of young guys like that.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.