With Aaron Rodgers outplaying Peyton Manning by a wide margin, Nick Collins and Aaron Rouse running back interceptions for touchdowns and Johnny Jolly blocking a field goal, the Green Bay Packers earned a thorough 34-14 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at blustery Lambeau Field.
Not that this was a must-win game – not at 3-3 and tied for the NFC North lead entering the game – but it certainly was a big one for Green Bay. The Packers were embarking on a season-making-or-breaking gauntlet of games against the Colts, at Tennessee and Minnesota, home against Chicago and at New Orleans, and a 4-3 record at the bye sure beats 3-4 with a three-game home losing streak.
Rodgers was nothing short of superb against the Colts (3-3). Through three quarters, when the Packers had built a 27-7 lead, he was 19-of-24 passing – including a clock-killing spike and one drop – for 173 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. With Rodgers' efficiency and a good-enough running game, the Packers didn't need to punt until the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Green Bay's much-maligned defense played its best game of the season against Manning and his dangerous pass-catchers. Entering the fourth quarter, Manning was merely 11-of-22 for 113 yards and one huge interception.
With the Colts trailing 17-7 but making some noise with their first possession of the third quarter, Manning's third-down pass whistled through the hands of Reggie Wayne and into the waiting hands of Collins. Collins did the rest, beating Indy lineman Jamey Richard at the sideline and cutting back twice, the last of which set up Tramon Williams' block of the Colts' last would-be tackler, Manning.
"I used to play running back in my high school years, and every time I get the ball, I just want to get into the end zone," Collins said of his 62-yard touchdown, his second touchdown and fourth interception of the season.
As the Colts proved two weeks ago, when they rallied from 17 points down in the final 5 minutes to stun Houston, Manning and Co. have the ammunition to rally. And sure enough, trailing 27-7, the Colts drove to the Packers' 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. On second-and-goal, Manning thought receiver Anthony Gonzalez had beaten Tramon Williams at the goal line, but Aaron Rouse stepped in front of the pass and raced 99 yards for the clinching touchdown.
"I thought our defense was huge today," coach Mike McCarthy said.
Dominic Rhodes ran for two touchdowns for the Colts, but between them, the Packers scored 31 consecutive points to turn what had all the makings of a shootout into a satisfying rout. They did it with a ball-hogging offense that kept the ball for almost 11 more minutes than the Colts in the first half. Manning, who had two interceptions returned for touchdowns for just the second time of his Hall of Fame-worth career, stepped onto the field just three times in the opening half (not counting a taking a knee to end the second quarter).
"It was a very good team win," McCarthy said. "I definitely felt the offense played to the defense based on who our opponent was."
The Packers answered Rhodes' first touchdown with an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that Rodgers capped with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Donald Lee. The Packers forced a Colts punt, and Rodgers led an 11-play, 89-yard march that Ryan Grant punctuated with an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 17-7 with 2:49 left in the first half. The key play was McCarthy's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Packers' 44-yard line, in which Grant rushed for 7 yards.
"(We got) two big wins against playoff teams last year," Rodgers said of back-to-back victories over the Colts and Seahawks. "This one was very sweet for us. We've been talking all week about getting the Lambeau advantage back and what we had to do in order to gain that advantage back. The defense did a great job tonight. They really did. To be able to score two touchdowns takes a lot of pressure off the offense, but I'm proud of the way the offense played, as well."
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org