Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have many game-winning plays on his resume.
If only he played at Chicago more often.
In 2013, Rodgers got the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs with a 48-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. In the final moments of Sunday’s game, Rodgers put the Packers in command of the NFC North with a 60-yard completion to Jordy Nelson. Mason Crosby booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the Packers a 30-27 victory.
The Packers coughed up a 27-10 lead over a 15-minute stretch, and were fortunate to be tied 27-27 with 1:13 remaining. A first-down pass fell incomplete when tight end Jared Cook fell. A second-down screen to running back Ty Montgomery resulted in a loss of 1 yard. Guard Lane Taylor was hurt on the play, forcing both coaches to make critical decisions.
The Packers, with no timeouts left, could have been subjected to a 10-second runoff, but Bears coach John Fox — figuring his team would get the ball back if they could get a third-and-11 stop — elected to keep the clock at 46 seconds.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy had to decide whether to run the ball and play for overtime or to go for the first down, knowing an incompletion would give the Bears more time on the clock. The odds weren't in McCarthy's favor. They hadn't converted a third down since the opening series.
“Let’s be honest,” McCarthy said. “You’re sitting there, it’s third-and-11, you let the clock run out – that’s a decision you have to make. We felt like we were going to take the shot at the conversion.”
Rodgers split the difference between aggressive and conservative, letting the clock run down to 31 seconds before starting the play.
“Third-and-11’s not a high-percentage conversion rate so I wanted to take a little bit of time off in case we didn’t convert and not give them any time,” Rodgers said.
Oh, the Packers did concert. With their longest pass play of the season.
“The read on the play is the back-side safety (Deon Bush) and what his shoulders were doing,” Rodgers said. “If he’s retreating, you’re going to look at the deeper-crossing route, the in route, which is Davante (Adams) and Randall (Cobb). If he’s square-shouldered, you can give the post a chance. It looked to me like he was square-shouldered. Jordy got inside of 22 (cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc) and just tried to put it in a place where he could come down with it.”
Said Fox: “Obviously, it was a pretty good ball by No. 12. He can do that. They executed on that play better than we did.”
Nelson came down with the biggest play of an unusually poor game by the Packers’ receivers. Davante Adams dropped two touchdown passes, Nelson had a deep drop and Cobb was shut out. But when the Packers absolutely needed it, Rodgers threw a pass that traveled about 60 yards in the air and Nelson secured the catch through the single-digits chill.
“It was obviously a big play for us,” Nelson said. “We needed to get a first down if we wanted to continue to put ourselves in a situation to win the game. Those are awkward situations for a defense. You don’t know how they’re going to play it. If they play it conservative and keep their front, or obviously they’re not trying to give up a field goal, so they want to stop us there. Just did my job. Once I got past the DB, I threw my arm up to make sure Aaron saw me. He said he saw it, so he let it go.”
“It wasn’t the most graceful thing,” Nelson added, “but it got done.”
Nelson’s had a great season following last year’s torn ACL. He entered the week tied for No. 1 in the league with 12 touchdowns and on pace for 92 catches and 1,124 yards. What he hadn’t done is make the big play on a deep pass. In 2014, he had more 59-yard touchdown receptions than 30 of the other 31 teams had total 59-yard passing plays — touchdown or not.
“You guys have (worried) more than I have,” Nelson said. “I’m glad I got it for you.”
This one didn’t go the distance but it delivered a victory that put the Packers in control of the NFC North.
“When we had to have a play, we made it,” Rodgers said. “It’s good to get the win and everything’s right in front of us now.”
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.