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By CHRIS HAVEL
This wasn’t a tale of two halves. It was a tale of two minutes. That’s two minutes, 20 seconds, to be exact.
After being fairly dominated by the New York Giants for most of the first half in Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers sprang to life.
First, Aaron Rodgers capped the Packers’ first scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 2:20 to play in the second quarter to make it 7-6 Green Bay.
Then, after the Giants went three-and-out, Rodgers drove the Packers to the New York 42 with time for one more play. Rodgers dropped back, rolled right and arched a high spiral to the back of the end zone.
Randall Cobb cleverly slid behind the defenders, hauled in the pass and fell to the turf with both feet barely inbounds.
Suddenly, amazingly, and with the help of yet another “Hail Mary,” the Packers led 14-6 at the half.
Giants’ players appeared genuinely stunned as they ambled toward the visitor’s locker room. The Packers’ Rodgers and Cobb celebrated heartily before exiting Lambeau Field.
The game wasn’t over at that point, but it was close.
Actually, the game grew much closer than necessary after Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy made one of the poorest in-game decisions in recent memory.
Leading 14-6 and in control, McCarthy elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Packers’ 42-yard line with 6:08 to play in the third quarter.
The decision was dubious at best. The call was even worse.
Rodgers, who appeared peeved as he returned from the sideline, handed off to Ty Montgomery out of a bunch formation. Montgomery was lit up off left tackle well shy of the first down.
The Giants responded two plays later with an Eli Manning-to-Tavarres King 41-yard touchdown pass. Just like that it was Packers 14, Giants 13, with 5:16 to play in the third quarter.
McCarthy acknowledged his mistake during his post-game news conference. Fortunately, he atoned for it by stringing together a series of exceptional drives.
Green Bay closed by outscoring the Giants 24-0 after that.
In several instances on third-and-short, McCarthy had Rodgers roll out and either run or throw for the first down. The Giants were unable to defend it and the blowout was on.
“Davante Adams made a bunch of plays,” Rodgers said in his post-game news conference. “And Randall Cobb, who this offense has been missing for a long time, came through big. We’re better with 18 on the field and he showed it tonight.”
Adams had eight catches for 125 yards and the touchdown. Cobb had five catches for 116 yards and a wild-card round record-tying three touchdown receptions.
Tight end Jared Cook also chipped in with five catches for 48 yards on a day Rodgers was razor sharp after a slow start.
Rodgers was sacked five times, four in the first half, and could do nothing to generate offense in the first quarter and a half. He was lights out in the second half.
Rodgers finished 25 of 40 for 362 yards and four touchdowns for a 125.2 quarterback rating.
The Packers D
The good news for Giants quarterback Eli Manning is that his brother, Peyton, will have someone to watch the rest of the playoffs with on TV. Manning was 23 of 44 for 299 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 72.1 rating.
The great Odell Beckham Jr. was mauled by the Packers’ secondary and did next to nothing, unless you count sabotaging the Giants’ attack by awful dropped passes.
Beckham Jr. began the day by parading shirtless around Lambeau Field to proclaim his ability to overcome the cold. Unfortunately, it was more like “No shirt. No hands. No service.”
Beckham Jr. had an inconsequential four catches for 28 yards in 11 targets. He had three drops, including one for a touchdown. Meantime, Rodgers was relentless in the second half.
“Second half we got back to some rhythm throws and I was getting better on my timing, getting the ball out of my hand quickly,” Rodgers said. “No negative-yard plays, the offensive line blocked really well, regardless of the stats.”
Throughout, the Packers’ unheralded defense stood strong.
They held the Giants to 13 points and totally stuffed the run. Paul Perkins finished with 30 yards in 10 carries. They kept the Giants out of the end zone in the first half, limiting New York to two field goals instead of a pair of TDs.
“That’s a huge difference,” Rodgers said. “Our defense deserves a lot of credit because it’s a different game when it’s 14-0 as opposed to 6-0.”
Preparing for Dallas
The Packers have won seven straight as they prepare for Sunday’s 3:30 game at Dallas. The Cowboys (13-3) defeated the Packers 30-16 at Lambeau Field in October.
That was then. This is now. The Packers’ offense is much more explosive with a healthy Cobb, Cook providing a spark and the unsung Christian Michael slicing for 47 yards in 10 carries.
Green Bay’s offense looks to have no intention of slowing down, and the defense appears up for the challenge. That’s especially true of Clay Matthews, who sealed the victory with his sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery while 11 Giants stood around wondering what to do.
Now, the Packers may have to press on without Jordy Nelson, who sustained a serious rib injury. To some, the question is: Can the Packers win without Nelson?
To me, the answer is simply this: They just did.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.