Last year, the Green Bay Packers’ offense sunk like a stone without Jordy Nelson.
On Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the offense soared into next week’s NFC Championship Game.
Nelson, the NFL’s leader with 14 touchdown receptions, reportedly sustained multiple broken ribs during the second quarter of last week’s Wild Card victory over the Giants. The Packers had zero points in the first 19 minutes of that game but finished with 38 against the NFL’s second-ranked scoring defense. On Sunday, the Packers scored 34 points against the NFL’s fifth-ranked scoring defense.
It wasn’t just the point total that was impressive.
Dallas rode the NFL’s most dominant running game to seven consecutive home victories. To avoid becoming road kill, the Packers needed to come out firing on offense. So, the Nelson-less Packers’ first three possessions went 75 yards for a touchdown, 90 yards for a touchdown and 80 yards for a touchdown.
When the Packers needed to regain the momentum after halftime, they motored 75 yards for a touchdown.
And when they needed to score at the end of the game, they drove to back-to-back field goals to earn a 34-31 victory.
Aaron Rodgers, of course, was superb. He completed 28-of-43 passes for 356 yards with two touchdowns, one interception. Perhaps in must-score mode given the sagging play of the defense, Rodgers delivered one of the most-clutch passes of his career with the 35-yarder to Jared Cook to set up the winning field goal. With a passer rating of 96.7, he fell just short of his seventh 100-rating game during the eight-game winning streak.
But it wasn’t just Rodgers. The Packers needed a group effort to offset the loss of Nelson’s production. They got it. Last week, it was the 100-yard games by receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. This week, it was Cook catching six passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. With Richard Rodgers’ 34-yard touchdown catch to open the game, Green Bay’s tight ends contributed seven receptions for 138 yards and both scores as they demolished what was the NFL's worst regular-season defense against tight ends. Adams caught five passes for 76 yards, Cobb caught seven passes for 62 yards and running back Ty Montgomery had 81 yards of total offense and two rushing touchdowns.
“What's understood don't (need) to be said,” Cook said. “It's kind of been the story of this team all year. If one man goes down, the next man steps in and does the best that he can. It's imperative. When guys go down, the young guys and guys behind them step up and fill the void. Those guys did a heck of a job today filling in for Jordy. It's something we've been needing all year and guys have done a great job.”
The offense, remarkably, hasn’t skipped a beat without Nelson. With Nelson for the final four games of the regular season, the Packers averaged 34.3 points against defenses that gave up an average of 21.2 points. Without Nelson during the two playoff games, the Packers have averaged 36.0 points against defenses that gave up an average of 18.5 during the regular season.
The Packers couldn’t overcome Nelson’s season-long absence with a torn ACL last season, not with Adams struggling with an ankle injury and Richard Rodgers providing no explosive element at tight end. This year, Adams is healthy and Cook has provided the missing ingredient at tight end. Combined, those two have given Cobb the space he lacked last year. Throw in the unexpected contributions of guys like Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski and Geronimo Allison, and the Packers have firepower throughout their offensive sets.
Green Bay’s four touchdowns came from Montgomery (two), Cook (one) and Richard Rodgers (one). Those three players combined for six touchdowns during the regular season. Seven players contributed gains of at least 17 yards.
“It was great to see so many guys making plays out there,” Aaron Rodgers said. “Richard, obviously, on the offsides adjustment for a touchdown early in the game to get us going, and then Cookie had a big game. Randall (Cobb’s) been very solid for us, Geronimo made some plays. Those guys did some great things. I think Ty Montgomery the last couple of weeks hasn’t been a huge, huge part of the offense but he made some absolutely clutch, highly intelligent plays tonight that probably don’t show up on the TV copy. Just stuff that he did that was above and beyond his responsibility and I’m really proud of his effort because we’re going to need him moving forward.”
Ball distribution and personnel are the biggest changes for the Packers headed into a rematch vs. Atlanta. In the Week 7 game, which Atlanta won 33-32, Adams had 12 catches and nobody else had more than four as the Packers played without Cobb, Cook and Montgomery. The Packers had four players with at least five receptions against the Cowboys.
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.