By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – On a day when both the political and atmospheric climates were making headlines, Aaron Rodgers was making plays.
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The quarterback’s late-game heroics helped the Packers defy the odds and defeat the Bengals 27-24 in Sunday’s overtime thriller. The game was a thriller, alright, as in “The Thrilla in Manila.”
While Packers-Bengals wasn’t exactly Ali-Frazier in 100-degree heat, a record-setting 89 degrees at kickoff made Lambeau Field in the fall feel more like the Philippines in the summer.
Nevertheless, Rodgers kept his cool by adhering to the policy: If you can’t take the heat get out of the pocket.
First, he connected with Jordy Nelson on a 3-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 24-24 with 17 seconds to play.
Then, in overtime, he turned third-and-10 at the Green Bay 21 into a free play that resulted in Rodgers’ 72-yard completion to Geronimo Allison.
It set up Mason Crosby’s 27-yard field goal to win the game.
Rodgers completed 28 of 42 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Afterward, he passed on the credit to his receiver.
“Luckily I put it in a good spot and G-Mo did the rest,” Rodgers told reporters.
Did he say luckily?
Somehow, I doubt luck had a whole lot to do with it.
This is Rodgers living up to his own offseason plea: “We’ve got to be at our best in the biggest moments.”
His big plays and the defense’s grit surely accomplished that.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has had a sideline view for each of Rodgers’ NFL games. Nevertheless, he continues to be blown away after all these seasons.
“I thought Aaron played one of his best games,” McCarthy told reporters. “I thought he was tremendous today. He had a lot to deal with.”
Here’s a sample of what Rodgers had to deal with:
** The Bengals’ defense harassed him throughout on its way to six sacks. This was Rodgers’ first victory in a game that he was sacked at least six times.
** The Packers’ quarterback hadn’t beaten the Bengals until Sunday. Now, he lays claim to victories over each of the other 31 NFL teams. Earlier in the week, Rodgers joked that he’s even managed to defeat his own team.
That almost appeared to be the case when the Bengals’ William Jackson III intercepted a Rodgers pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 21-7 halftime lead.
The Packers didn’t wilt, though, as the defense allowed only a second-half field goal to Cincinnati.
Meantime, Rodgers went to work on the Bengals’ defense. His 102.6 quarterback rating is ridiculous considering the duress.
** Rodgers had never won in overtime in the NFL. He was 0-for-4 in the regular season and 0-3 in the postseason.
That changed as both he and the defense delivered in the clutch.
The Packers’ defense KO’d the Bengals with a three-and-out to begin the overtime period. Blake Martinez began by stopping Joe Mixon for a 2-yard loss on first down.
Then, rookie Josh Jones collected his 11th and 12th tackles on second and third downs, forcing the Bengals to punt.
Rodgers, Allison and eventually Crosby did the rest.
“Oh, we took a step as a football team,” McCarthy said. “This always pays forward when you go through adversity and you have success.”
Rodgers seemed to take it all in stride.
“You play this game long enough, some weird stuff happens sometimes on the field,” he said. “About a split-second before I threw that ball (to Allison in OT), I had an image of a pass I threw to James Jones against Detroit. It was actually an 80-yard touchdown at that point. So that kind of flashed right away about how hard to throw that one, and luckily, I put it in a good spot, and G-Mo did the rest.”
While NFL teams staged protests during the national anthem – three teams stayed in the locker room during its playing – the Packers did it by interlocking arms, although Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Kevin King chose to sit.
Clearly, though, the Packers represented a unified front in terms of respecting one another, speaking out against divisiveness, and sticking together from start to overtime finish.