1.) Every team needs a Havner
If guys like Aaron Rodgers and Donald Driver are the faces of the Green Bay Packers, guys like Spencer Havner are the guts. After three stints on the Packers' practice squad, the versatile former UCLA linebacker and team captain finally made his mark — at tight end, of all places.
Havner would've had a tough time cracking the roster on defense — even in the Packers' new 3-4 scheme. But the former free agent cross-trained at tight end and even took a few snaps at fullback during offseason practices and training camp, making the squad behind Donald Lee and second-year pro Jermichael Finley. Through five games, Havner had only two grabs for 30 yards in limited action, after catching seven passes for 36 yards in the preseason. But on Sunday, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder took a short pass from Rodgers in the flat, broke a tackle by Browns safety Abram Elam and rumbled 45 yards for his first career touchdown to put Green Bay up 7-3.
Two plays later, Havner busted through a double-team block on the kickoff and dropped Cleveland return man extraordinaire Josh Cribbs at the 30-yard line. Havner had established himself as one of Green Bay's better special-teams players. Now, with Finley sidelined with a knee injury, he'll get the chance to become a bigger contributor to the offense.
"You couldn't be happier for a guy like Spencer who works his butt off and has paid his dues on the practice squad," Rodgers said.
2.) Rodgers is so good, you don't even realize it
It sounds ridiculous, but Aaron Rodgers plays so well at times that you almost don't notice what a roll he's on. Maybe it's because for 16 years, our definition of amazing was dodging two linemen, ducking under a linebacker's tackle, scrambling around and making an unbelievable shovel pass for a first down. We were trained to watch for that laser throw that we thought should've been thrown away, yet made it through double coverage 20 yards downfield for a score.
Aaron Rodgers was like a surgeon against Cleveland.
Tony Dejak/AP Images
Rodgers stands second in quarterback rating, sandwiched between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. That's not bad company. Especially considering Rodgers has been sacked more than twice as many times as those two combined. In just two years, Rodgers has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. We all need to start appreciating that. Even if one of the best old quarterbacks is still playing like he used to.
3.) Grant might have his groove back
Ryan Grant lobbied to bring in Ahman Green. And he has no qualms about a healthy Brandon Jackson as a third-down back. So with neither of those being a motivating factor, Grant's 148-yard outburst on 27 carries at Cleveland is less of a statement and more of a reminder of the kind of back he can be. The kind of back he used to be.
This was the third-largest rushing total of his career, trailing his 201-yard effort against Seattle in the snow-swept 2007 playoff victory and a 156-yard outing a few weeks prior to that. It was his first 100-yard game of this season, and was paired with his longest run — 37 yards — since the 2008 season opener against Minnesota. Take it with a grain of salt, since it came against Cleveland, but Grant's big day — along with coach Mike McCarthy's willingness to stick with the run — will pay dividends down the line. Perhaps as soon as this coming Sunday.
4.) Favre Bowl II will make the unthinkable a reality
For all the hype and frenzy surrounding the Packers' Monday night matchup in Minnesota a few weeks back, it's got nothing on Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field on Sunday — at least for Packers fans. It was strange to see Favre in a Jets jersey last year. Though maybe the fact that his jersey was still green eased the hurt a little. But it's been nauseating to see him in a Vikings jersey and horned helmet this season, and it's about to get even worse, when one of the greatest players to ever pull on a green-and-gold jersey walks out of the visitors' tunnel in enemy colors. It's almost too much to take.
The 40-year old Favre has been nothing short of amazing in his 19th season, helping Minnesota to a 6-1 mark. He's third in the league with a 68.9 completion percentage and is among the league leaders in touchdowns thrown and fewest interceptions. This isn't an aging player checking down and handing off to the league's best back in Adrian Peterson. The Vikings are winning because of Favre. And that is what makes this matchup so great. Because as much as Favre has meant to the Vikings' success, Aaron Rodgers has meant more to the Packers.
Rodgers is on pace to have one of the best seasons of any Packer in franchise history. He has been integral to the Packers' 4-2 start and has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Check that — not best young quarterbacks — but best quarterbacks, period. Favre included. Through six games, Rodgers has thrown 11 TDs to just two interceptions for 1,702 yards with a 110.8 rating. Most impressive is that he's done this while taking a league-leading 25 sacks. By shining brightly, Rodgers has made Favre's shadow less imposing.
Make no mistake about it, Favre and Rodgers will have everything to do with what happens on Sunday. But how much pressure the Packers can put on their former signal-caller and how much protection they can provide to their current one will determine if Sunday's outcome is different from their Oct. 5 matchup.
5.) Don't write off Hawk just yet
A.J. Hawk is one of the most intriguing players on the Packers' roster. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Hawk was billed as the safest pick on the board. Yet, four years into his career, you have to go back and re-evaluate the meaning of "safe." Nine of the first 33 players taken that year have made at least one Pro Bowl. I would've put money down on draft day that Hawk would've been one of them. That hasn't been the case. Hawk is a reliable, assignment-sure player who's been a starter since his rookie year, when he led the team with 155 tackles.
He is the opposite of a bust — despite the expectations that come with being such a high selection. Missing from his game, however, are the momentum-changing, game-turning plays like sacks, interceptions and fumbles. You can argue that the coaches haven't put him in the position to do much other than make tackles. You can also argue that Hawk, despite his commitment, work ethic and passion for the game, just hasn't gotten any better than he was at Ohio State. That said, the Packers have reduced Hawk's snaps of late, opting for Brandon Chillar instead. There are even calls to get Desmond Bishop more plays at Hawk's inside spot.
No doubt the reduced playing time has been extra motivation for Hawk to elevate his game. Playing back in Ohio, where he starred in high school and college, added more fuel. So all things considered, seeing Hawk's snaps from scrimmage take a dramatic increase from the previous two games and seeing the results include three tackles for loss as the defense held the Browns to just three points, is encouraging. Hawk downplayed his impressive performance the same way he downplayed his reduced role leading up to it. But here's hoping last Sunday's performance becomes contagious.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.