Pursuit and finish.
It’s the Green Bay Packers’ mantra this season. Those three words were evident on the clinching fourth-down stop at Jacksonville in Week 1. And they were evident again on Aaron Ripkowski’s third-and-1 conversion in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s win over the New York Giants.
It was a simple fullback dive, one that Ripkowski’s predecessor, John Kuhn, had run so often and so successfully. With the ball on the Giants’ 23, Ripkowski took the ball and ran behind excellent blocks from right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga to get the first down. But the fun had just begun.
Ripkowski was hit by Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon at the 21. At the 20, there were three Giants defenders swarming Ripkowski. But Lang and tight end Richard Rodgers continued their push. At the 18, left guard Lane Taylor joined the pile. Then, it was center J.C. Tretter. Then, Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari joined the mass of bodies and continued to push. Finally, offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, who was lined up as an extra tight end, and running back James Starks arrived. Ripkowski got as far as the 10 before the Giants finally put on the brakes and pushed Ripkowski back. Or so it seemed. Taylor got in one more push and Bulaga rejoined the fray and forced Ripkowski back up to the 10.
The final tally: A gain of 13 yards, with 11 coming after contact.
“That’s huge,” Lang said. “That’s one of our main focal points is finishing the play, covering the ball, pushing piles, making sure our guys aren’t getting hit, getting bent back. I’m excited to watch that play on film. It’s going to be one of those that’s probably going to be on the highlight film for next week. That was a big play for us to pick up that third down and get the crowd back into it, get the sideline back into it, get the energy back and take a few more minutes off the clock.”
Said Taylor: “It was awesome. It was a good finish. When that one stopped, I think the whole offense was in there pushing – even the little scrawny guys. It’s awesome. It gets you jacked up.”
It wasn’t the only big extra-effort play that helped spur the Packers to a 23-16 victory.
Earlier in that drive, the Packers faced a third-and-9. Aaron Rodgers threw a short pass to Randall Cobb, which he caught at 23-yard line -- 7 yards short of the first-down marker -- and seemed doomed to wind up well short of the line to gain. Instead, Cobb spun out of three tackle attempts at the 26. The hustle of Taylor and Tretter allowed Cobb to get the first down and a gain of 17 yards.
“Just ran an out route, was able to make the catch, make the first defender miss,” Cobb said. “Then I felt the contact from the next one, so I was able to just tried to lower my body mass and be able to take the shot. I was able to break that, and then I saw a little crease. So, I just tried to get through it, and hopefully if I could break that last tackle and spin, then it could’ve been an even bigger gain. But I just tried to make sure I picked up the first down.”
After the Giants kicked a field goal to pull within 7-3 midway through the second quarter, the Packers took possession at their 20-yard line. The first play was a handoff to Eddie Lacy, who was stacked up at the line of scrimmage. Instead of being dropped in the backfield, he cut back, ran through two tackle attempts and rumbled up the sideline for a gain of 31. That set up a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams that put the Packers in command, 14-3.
“It gets everybody pumped up,” said Lacy, who gained 81 yards on 11 carries before exiting with an ankle injury. “Guys on the sideline, the defense watching, they get pumped up. The offensive line watching you or they become part of it, like the Ripkowski run. It gets them juiced up. Everybody gets fired up and it just gives us more momentum.”
While the Packers’ inconsistent execution on offense continued on Sunday night, they were able to get away with some mistakes because of those extra-effort plays. Rodgers went 23-of-45 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and Jordy Nelson had a couple of key drops, including one that led to the first interception and killed a drive that was knocking on the door of the red zone.
“It’s tough to win in this league,” Rodgers said. “We had a good night running the football. Against two premier pass rushers who are getting paid a lot of money, we did a good job. We took a couple shots but, other than that, it was a pretty clean night. I could stay in the pocket and that’s a big credit to those guys up front, and then you look at the finish there on Ripkowski’s run. That was pretty outstanding to see us get down there. We’ve just got to do a better job in the red zone. Third down has been a focal point for us. We did a good job tonight on third down again, but red zone -- we’ve got to cash those in so we can close a game out like that.”
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.