The Packers turned in one of their best performances of the year in beating the Giants, 45-17. This came despite the fact that the Giants had almost as much at stake as the Packers, and despite the fact that the Giants, presumably, came in with chips on their shoulders after last week's epic collapse against the Eagles. In fact, it was the Packers, and in particular, the offensive line, that played like they had chips on their shoulders. Mike Vandermause, of the Green Bay Press-Gazette argues that this is because everybody was talking about the Giants, and how fearsome their defense was. The Packers' offensive line just used all the talk as motivation to go out and pass protect and run block as if the whole season depended on it. Which it did.
Meanwhile, the Packers' defense might have had some chips on their shoulders as well. Only the Steelers have given up fewer points than the Packers, and the Packers' defense ranks in the top 10 in almost all categories, and in the top 5 in many. Plus, they are ball hawks, as top playmakers Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews showed today. Woodson and Matthews both single-handedly forced turnovers in the game by punching balls out from behind. Hawk, Collins, and Williams added legitimate interceptions, while Sam Shields added another that should have been overturned, but for the fact that Giants coach Tom Coughlin had used his last challenge in a desperate, but futile, attempt to overturn the fumble caused by Clay Matthews.
I would argue that this was in fact the Packers' best game of the year. The only games I could see being argued to be better were the road game against the Vikings, and the home game against the Cowboys. There is no doubt that those games were satisfying, on a number of levels, but they still fall short of this one. First, the Vikings and the Cowboys did not turn out to be very good this year, while the Giants were in the driver's seat for the same wild card the Packers are seeking. Second, the domination in this game was more complete on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It wouldn't be a 2010 Packer game without some moments of discomfort, and indeed when the Giants recovered Jordy Nelson's fumble and immediately tied the game at 14, with an 85 yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham, I did start to fidget a bit in my seat.
But taken as a whole, it is hard to argue with the offensive domination when Rodgers throws for 404 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions, when both Nelson and Jennings get over 100 yards receiving, Driver makes some highlight-reel catches, and when the Packers cobble together a good semblance of a running game between Jackson, Nance, and Kuuuuuuhn. On the defensive side, the 6 takeaways mentioned above, plus 4 sacks, and the dynamic duo of Bradshaw and Jacobs being held to less than 100 yards combined? Yes, that is a good day. Now if only we had a quality kick returner, and a kicker who can kick the ball somewhere closer to the end zone on a kickoff, we would be the real deal!
In all seriousness, this is a great time to be pulling it all together, if that is really what the Packers are doing. This is two really good performances in a row against high quality opponents. I think the key to the whole thing is smart play-calling by McCarthy and execution by the players. One thing that I noticed even while watching the game live was the increased emphasis on protection for Rodgers. On almost every play there was at least one player, and in many cases two, lined up in the backfield for extra protection. In fact, in re-watching the game, I think there were only two empty backfield plays in the whole game. Plus, Rodgers seemed more conscious of getting rid of the ball quickly when under pressure. That is partly a result of designing the plays with an outlet receiver, but I assume that there have been outlet receivers all year. My perception is that he was more conscious yesterday of going to the outlet to avoid a sack. And on Rodgers' two running plays, he slid on one and went out of bounds on the other. That was smart.
On defense, Dom Capers obviously felt that they could control the Giants' offense without going blitz-crazy. So he picked his spots for blitzes, and relied on three and four-man rushes most of the time to create enough pressure to hurry Manning just enough. In the process, he left enough players in coverage to give the Packers a good shot at defending every pass. In reality, if Charles Woodson had not slipped on the one touchdown pass, and if Tramon Williams had not mis-timed his leap on the other, this game might have been even more lopsided than it was.
The Bears come to town next week, for the second consecutive playoff-type game for the Packers. The Bears will most likely be going for the second seed in the playoffs and the resulting bye week, but even if they are not, they will not mimic the Colts and other teams over the last few years, by resting their starters. Lovie Smith, when he was hired in 2004, stated that he had three goals, the first of which was to beat the Packers. So I fully expect they will be bringing it on Sunday, no matter the situation. I have thought all year long that the Packers are a better team than the Bears. We will see on Sunday. Interestingly enough, if the Packers do make it into the playoffs, there is an excellent chance they will face the Bears again the following week.