Season Saved By Woodson, Rodgers

Needing big-time performances by their best players, Charles Woodson and Aaron Rodgers delivered. Nobody on the field was better than Woodson, who is nothing less than one of the finest cornerbacks to ever play in the NFL.

With the season hanging in the balance, coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator made their best decisions of the season: They put the fate of the team in the hands of Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson.

They delivered, and because of it, the Green Bay Packers are right back in the thick of the NFC playoff chase.

While Rodgers' 189-yard performance will barely register a blip on the NFL radar and probably won't silence those who doubt his big-game credentials, Woodson's all-around brilliance should earn him player-of-the-week honors and solidifies his spot in the pantheon of the game's all-time great cornerbacks.

Yes, Woodson was that good during the Packers' 17-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

"Today I played a little safety, a little dime, nickel," Woodson said. "I want to be a guy that if the coach feels it would help this team for me to be at the three-technique (defensive tackle), he can put me at three. That's really the way I feel. Each game, it's not going to matter where we are or how the team is doing, I want to be a guy that you know you can look out there and say, ‘It means a lot to him.'"

In a game the Packers absolutely, positively needed to win, Woodson absolutely, positively delivered an awe-inspiring performance. Not since the Lambeau Field crowd shouted "Reggie! Reggie" after Reggie White's sacks iced a victory over John Elway in 1993 has a defensive player turned in such a singular performance.

Need somebody to match up against Jason Witten, who entered the game ranked second among NFL tight ends in receptions? There's Woodson, giving up 4 inches but allowing just one catch in the first three quarters. One of his teammates got beat? There's Woodson coming out of nowhere to not only prevent a touchdown but strip the ball to create a turnover. The Packers' 29th-ranked pass rush needed a lift? There's Woodson blitzing off the corner, leveling Tony Romo and forcing a fumble to set up the clinching touchdown. The Cowboys are trying to get back into the game? There's Woodson making an end-zone interception to put the game on ice.

Capers has seen plenty of brilliant defensive performances in his career. Few were at this level of excellence.

"It was one of the better games that I've seen a defensive player play," Capers said. "What we ask of Charles, we've got five or six different personnel packages and he lines up someplace different in every one of them. There's a reason for that. That paid dividends tonight. We're playing our Okie (base defense) with three corners at times, and he's in there as the third corner inside. We're playing our nickel and he's playing our nickel. We're playing our dime and he's playing dime. He's aligned all over the place.

"He did a nice job of covering tonight. He was on Witten quite a bit; Witten's their leading receiver. He made the big interception to keep them out of the end zone when he was on Witten. He came off the edge in our nickel package and hit Romo in the back and knocked the ball out and we recovered it down on the 3 and we punched that in for a score. When they made the one big play on us, he went and got the ball out. He's just that kind of player. I think he's played that way all year. When there's turnovers, he's normally pretty close by."

All in all, it was a virtuoso performance by Woodson, who has a nose for the ball like, arguably, no other player in the long history of the franchise. On a long completion to Roy Williams, Woodson didn't think he'd be able to make the tackle. So, he did the next best thing, which turned out to be simply the best thing. His strip kept the Cowboys from scoring, kept the antsy crowd from getting too aggravated and bought time for the offense to get into gear.

"He saw me at the last minute, and that's when he made the cut to try to get around me," Woodson said. "But the one thing, if you've ever played me you've got to protect that ball."


Rodgers joins the fans after scoring on a sneak. Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Protecting the ball is what Rodgers did. His passing output was his lowest since throwing for 184 yards in the Week 1 victory over Chicago. But one week after throwing three interceptions in what looked like a season-killing loss at winless Tampa Bay, Rodgers didn't make a bad decision in a season-saving win over surging Dallas.

"It was a big win for us definitely," Rodgers said after completing 25-of-36 passes and scoring a touchdown through the air and on the ground. "We knew (being) 4-4 (and) playing a very good team, it was an important time in our season to get back in this race. I think of a lot of people were thinking this was going to be the end of the road for us and going to be a turning point for the negative for us this season. But it was a big win for our team."

While this performance lacked the theatrics of his game-winning bomb against Chicago or the sheer numbers put up last month, Rodgers made the throws that he had to make, avoided costly mistakes and was on top of his game mentally.

"Aaron had a lot on his plate," McCarthy said. "I told him earlier in the week that this was the most comprehensive game plan I think we ever have thrown a quarterback. I'm not trying to dramatize here — I think you know that's not my personality — but we had a lot on his plate. When you make adjustments and you're playing as much as we did, as far as protections and different calls, we did some new things this week. There wasn't a lot of time to get things repped. There was a lot of adjustments that carried over to Aaron's responsibility. So, from a management standpoint, I thought he did a very good job."

Part of that management was the mundane job of just getting the play called. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said the Packers reconfigured some of their base plays by putting the same players in new spots.

"We didn't invent a whole lot of new plays today by any stretch," Philbin said, "but if you do them out of a little different look, sometimes the pure verbiage of not saying something that you're used to saying or calling it just a little bit differently adds to what the quarterback has to get done in the huddle."

More importantly, Rodgers had to make the right calls at the line of scrimmage. Facing one of the NFL's best pass-rushing teams with an ailing and aging left tackle and a rookie right tackle is no picnic. Four sacks notwithstanding — though those sacks lost only 11 yards — Rodgers made the right decision most of the time.

"More adjustments at line of scrimmage because of their multiple defenses that they run," Rodgers said. "We put a little bit more into the package at the line of scrimmage because we are playing a home game and no crowd noise to deal with. You just put a little bit more checks at the line of scrimmage for me to run the pass or to run right or run left and we were able to do some good things with that, I think."

Not that Rodgers didn't make plays with his arm. The big ones came on the Packers' pivotal 15-play touchdown drive. Rodgers converted a third-and-11 to Greg Jennings and a third-and-13 to Donald Lee. That set up his third-and-6 conversion to Jordy Nelson and his 1-yard sneak for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 10-0 lead. The Packers overcame a sack and a completion that lost 4 yards en route to the touchdown.

"We kind of said the same thing every drive there when it was 3-0," Rodgers said. "We said, ‘Hey this is going to be the drive. We need get up two scores here, the defense is playing great.' I think that was kind of the theme, ‘Hey, we need to help our defense out. Let's keep them off the field, let's get up two scores, let's make them more one-dimensional.'"

It didn't stay a two-score game for long. Moments later, Woodson stuck his facemask between Romo's shoulder blades on a well-time blitz. The fumble set up Rodgers' touchdown pass to Spencer Havner. It was 17-0, and with the way Woodson and Co. were playing, it might as well have been 71-0.

"I feel like every week I am going to go out and give 100 percent in whatever I do," Woodson said. "But just from a team standpoint, from everybody going out there today and really playing with the back-against-the-wall mentality, we hope to see that for the rest of the season.

"For me, it doesn't matter what day we play, what team we play, what time we play, I want to be a guy that no matter what the situation is, you know what you're going to get from me. I was in a position to make some plays and it just comes down to making them."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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