By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers put a fine point on it. “We need to be at our best in the biggest moments,” the Packers’ quarterback told reporters in the offseason. It has become the mantra of the season.
Green Bay’s defense much-improved, offense’s running game grows legs
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Certainly, it was the case in Green Bay’s thrilling 35-31 victory over Dallas Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
When the Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown on Dak Prescott’s 11-yard run with 1:13 to play the Packers’ ensuing possession certainly qualified as a big moment.
Rodgers and the offense rose to the occasion.
The irrepressible Rodgers orchestrated a nine play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds to play.
A field goal would have tied the game. Rodgers wasn’t settling.
“I’m thinking touchdown,” Rodgers said. “We had time. We had a timeout.”
Rodgers also had a gutty offensive line in front of him and clutch receivers around him. What might have seemed difficult, if not nearly impossible, was reduced to routine.
They say the great ones make it look easy.
Rodgers made it so.
While Jordy Nelson was sidelined with an undisclosed injury on the final drive, Rodgers relied on the available weaponry. He whistled passes while he worked over the Cowboys’ defense.
He opened with a 14-yard completion to Adams.
“The key to any good two-minute drive is the first play,” Rodgers said after the game. “You’ve got to get some positive yards.”
Eight plays later, he hit Adams on the 12-yard game-winner. Like the first play of the drive, it also was a back-shoulder throw. The game-winner proved the point about not succeeding at first, try again.
Rodgers and Adams adjusted to hit on the second attempt.
It was vintage Rodgers.
“He’s done it before,” Nelson said.
He also had plenty of help.
Rookie running back Aaron Jones responded in Ty Montgomery’s absence (bruised ribs) in a big way. Jones rushed 19 times for 125 yards, a 6.6 average and a touchdown. It more than offset the Cowboys’ Zeke Elliott, who ran 29 times for 116 and a 4-yards-per-carry average.
Jones, a fifth-round pick out of UTEP, looked comfortable throughout. Whether he missed any assignments is unclear. What is clear is that he can run with speed and shiftiness.
The Packers appear to have found themselves a running back, not to mention a bona fide running attack.
Meantime, Adams played terrific just 10 days removed from the vicious hit by Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan. Adams hauled in seven catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Nelson chipped in with just two catches for 24 yards, but he also accounted for a touchdown reception.
The tight ends were productive if not spectacular.
Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers combined on six catches for 93 yards in six targets.
Defensively, the Packers rebounded from a horrible start.
After Prescott threw for touchdowns on each of the Cowboys’ first three drives, the Green Bay defense stiffened.
The Packers’ defense allowed just 10 second-half points and scored a touchdown as well. Damarious Randall’s interception and 21-yard touchdown return put Green Bay up 28-24.
Blake Martinez (12 tackles), Jake Ryan (seven tackles) and the Packers’ secondary all had their moments. Nick Perry contributed the only sack and Mike Daniels played well coming off the hip injury to make three tackles.
The Packers (4-1) are on a three-game winning streak.
They also survived another week without left tackle David Bakhtiari, although Bryan Bulaga’s return (ankle) was welcome.
Green Bay travels to Minnesota to face the Vikings next Sunday. The Vikings are at Chicago for Monday Night Football.
Looking forward, a couple of things are clear:
** The Packers’ offense is significantly more effective with Jones as the lead running back. His vision, acceleration and ball skills are well-suited to the offense. He doesn’t act like a rookie.
It opens the door for play-action, screens and the ability to convert big plays that aren’t generated by the passing game.
** The defense is slowly coming together. Randall’s interception and touchdown return shouldn’t be discounted. Whatever problems he has been dealing with didn’t prevent him from making the big play at the big moment.
** Green Bay finally appears to be getting healthy.
The Packers are well-positioned to stake a claim to the NFC championship, a likely repeat date with Atlanta notwithstanding.
Clearly, they are poised to live up to Rodgers’ mantra.
They were at their best in the biggest moment at Dallas.