The Green Bay Packers picked a fine time – and the unlikeliest of times – for a season-long 98-yard touchdown drive.
The Packers snapped a 7-7 tie with their longest touchdown drive of the season, then backed it up with an 89-yard touchdown drive, to slip past the Houston Texans 21-13 on Sunday at snowy Lambeau Field.
In the first half, the Packers wasted drives starting at Houston’s 24 and Green Bay’s 47 and 40. Because of that, one long Houston touchdown drive in the third quarter tied the game. Then, a questionable fourth-down decision by Packers coach Mike McCarthy backfired, giving Houston the ball near midfield. The Texans failed to take advantage but Shane Lechler’s punt stuck the Packers at their 2-yard line with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.
“We just needed to put something together,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It starts with one first down when you’re backed up.”
The first of those first downs came when receiver/running back Ty Montgomery converted a third-and-1 from the 11 with a 13-yard run in which he stiff-armed linebacker Benardrick McKinney at the first-down marker. Then Rodgers hit tight end Jared Cook for a gain of 10 on third-and-8. The touchdown was a 32-yarder to Nelson in which cornerback Robert Nelson slipped and fell to the turf around the 15, leaving Nelson wide open in the end zone.
The Packers forced a punt, then followed its longest drive of the season with perhaps its most impressive to deliver the knockout punch. Rodgers fired downfield passes to Nelson for gains of 21 and 28 yards. A 19-yard run on an end-around by receiver Jeff Janis moved the ball to the 3, and fullback Aaron Ripkowski powered it in on the next play to give Green Bay a 21-7 lead with 4:11 remaining.
“We had some good field position early in the game and kind of squandered it,” Rodgers said. “Our last few drives were back on the 2 (and) 11. For us to put together two drives of over 180 yards of offense was pretty special. We had a couple good drives last week to close the game out. Did the same this week.”
Houston answered Ripkowski’s touchdown quickly, capped by Brock Osweiler's 44-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins. Kicker Nick Novak slipped on the extra point attempt and missed, leaving it 21-13 with 1:51 to play.
Green Bay receiver Davante Adams recovered the onside kick to essentially end the game.
Rodgers, who was questionable with a hamstring injury and clearly limited on a treacherous field, went 20 of 30 for 209 yards and two touchdowns for a rating of 108.9. Nelson had a big day with eight catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.
The victory kept the Packers (6-6) alive in the NFC North, with first-place Detroit winning at New Orleans and improving to 8-4.
“I feel good about where we are today,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just really my focus is getting healthy. If we can get a couple guys, maybe another guy back this week, that would be nice. But just get a little healthier and get ready to beat these Seahawks. That’s all I’m worried about. We’re not worried about Detroit or any other team out there or what anybody’s record is. We have six wins, and we know we’ve got to get to seven fast.”
Houston lost its third in a row and fell into a first-place tie with Tennessee at 6-6 in the AFC South.
“Without even watching the tape, I already know of a couple plays where it’s this close to having a big play downfield, having a touchdown, an explosive gain,” said Osweiler, who finished 21 of 34 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and a season-high passer rating of 99.3. “We’re tired of being close. We really are as a team. We’re all able to see it on the film. We see it on the film every single week that we’re so close to turning that corner. Shoot, if you guys think you’re tired of seeing it, we’re tired of living it.”
Tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin combined for 10 receptions for 79 yards. Lamar Miller, who entered the game ranked fifth in the league in rushing, was limited to 22 yards on 14 carries.
The Texans had 109 yards in the first half but marched 67 yards to open the second half and tie the score 7-7. On third-and-9, Osweiler hit rookie receiver Will Fuller for a gain of 24. The Texans called timeout on fourth-and-1 from the 6, even though Green Bay had only 10 defenders on the field, but Osweiler rolled to his right and hit Griffin for the touchdown.
Montgomery returned the kickoff to the 44, but the Texans' defense turned back the Packers. On fourth-and-1 from the Houston 47, nose tackle Vince Wilfork stopped Ripkowski, with inside linebacker Brian Cushing pulling Ripkowski backward to prevent him from reaching for the first down. Lechler’s punt pinned the Packers at the 2 but Green Bay came through with its clutch drive and pulled away.
“We’ve just got to figure out a way to finish drives,” O’Brien said. “These last four games are all playoff games. That’s how we have to view them.”
The Packers led 7-0 at halftime, with both teams playing tentatively on a slippery field. In fact, on 61 offensive plays, the longest gain was 13 yards.
O'Brien went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Packers' 49, but running back Alfred Blue was stopped by inside linebacker Joe Thomas, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and outside linebacker Datone Jones.
Taking over at midfield, Green Bay took six minutes to score the only points of the half. McCarthy kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from the 41 and was rewarded when running back Christine Michael gained 5 yards.
Three short completions to Jordy Nelson helped move the ball to the 9, where Rodgers moved to his right and threw a touchdown pass to receiver Randall Cobb against cornerback Kareem Jackson. Cobb celebrated with a snow angel and a Lambeau Leap.