Run the Table
Another Rodgers’ instant classic
“R-E-L-A-X” was the phrase back in 2014 that rallied the team around Aaron Rodgers, and he went one better in 2016 with his “Run the Table” proclamation.
R-E-L-A-X followed a two-game losing streak that dropped the Packers to 1-2, while Run the Table came after a four-game losing binge that pushed Green Bay to 4-6 on the season. The most-recent season, Minnesota had chilled from its 5-0 start to a 6-4 mark, but Detroit was finding a way to win several games in the last minute – including an NFL record eight comebacks before it was all over – and held a 6-4 mark. The Lions continued to pull out close wins after that, keeping their edge intact most of the way.
The Packers needed to pull out a bunch of wins at that point with almost no margin for error, and needed some regression from their North foes.
And win out Green Bay did, pushing the streak to six with the North Division title on the line in Week 17, at Detroit.
The Lions stumbled to three losses in a row to close out the regular season, although they still secured a wild card playoff berth that led to another loss in Seattle.
The Packers, on the other hand, kept their winning ways working.
What made Rodgers’ proclamation even better was he didn’t make it clear if he meant just the rest of the regular season or through the Super Bowl. He left it ambiguous, and, surprisingly, reporters didn’t press him on that question until the regular-season finale. At that point he seemed to say he originally meant the regular season, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to refer to going all the way. He still wasn’t being too explicit – Why would you be? – leaving the door open for the fantastic finish.
The Packers had entered the season on a high note, written in on almost everyone’s short list of serious Super Bowl contenders due to a strong divisional playoff showing with Arizona and, of course, their all-world quarterback.
Despite losing handily to Arizona just weeks before in the 2015 regular season, Green Bay – now down its top four wide receivers – forced playoff overtime with the Cardinals as a two-touchdown road dog. For 2016, Jordy Nelson was coming back from his season-long absence for knee injury, and Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Ty
Montgomery would be healed up from injuries that slowed or ended their seasons.
Then the early-season stumble that dropped Green Bay to 4-6 had most pundits doubting they would even reach the post-season.
Enter the defining statement. And a six-game streak to reach said playoffs to start an eight-game victory run, before finally flaming out in Atlanta in the NFC Championship game.
The highlight of the stretch had to be the divisional playoff triumph at top-seeded Dallas, with back-to-back 50-plus-yard field goals by Mason Crosby in the final 93 seconds. It took Rodgers’ 36-yard scrambling pass to tight end Jared Cook on 3rd-and-20 with just seconds left to even have a chance at the game-winner, and Crosby made good.
The Packers reached the playoffs for the eighth straight year on the back of Run the Table, the longest active streak in the NFL they share with the New England Patriots. The stretch is just one off the NFL record held by the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and Indianapolis Colts (2002-10).
To put into perspective just how impressive that is, six of the top eight seeded teams from the 2015 playoffs didn’t make it in 2016. We’re talking Carolina (#1), Arizona (#2) Minnesota (#3), Washington (#4) in the NFC and Denver (#1) and Cincinnati (#3) in the AFC; five of the six best teams of last year – including both Super Bowl participants – all on the playoff sidelines.
The sixth-seeded Packers of 2015 moved up to the fourth seed, and not only blew out the playoff-feared Giants at home to kick it off, they shocked the darling of the 2016 playoffs – the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys – to finish within one game of the Super Bowl.
Hard to see that coming at 4-6!
Lets break this season down game by game:
Week 1– GB 27 (1-0) at Jacksonville 23
Green Bay had been predicted to have the easiest schedule in the league, based on the previous year’s standings (it would end up the league’s 20th-toughest, mainly due to huge improvement in the NFC East), so the schedule-maker decided to put the Packers in blazing heat for the opener.
The Jaguars (0-1) were expected to be an improved team after being quite active in free agency, and it looked that way when a Packers team that was a favorite for the Super Bowl had difficulties with Jacksonville before settling for the 27-23 victory.
Three first-half touchdowns proved to be the difference, including a late one to Davante Adams that gave GB a lead it would never relinquish. Both teams kicked a pair of field goals in the second half.
Rodgers completed 20-of-34 passes for 199 and two TDs, focused on the trio of Randall Cobb (6-57), Adams (3-50, 1 TD) and Jordy Nelson 6-32, 1 TD). Eddie Lacy had 14 carries for 61 yards (4.4 ypc).
Morgan Brunett gave eight solo tackles in nine total and added a sack and a tackle for a loss.
Week 2 – GB 14 (1-1) at Minnesota 17
The opener for U.S. Bank Stadium had Vikings (2-0) fans fired up, and 17 unanswered points after Green Bay had taken a 7-0 lead proved to be enough. Stefon Diggs had his coming-out party with nine receptions for 182 yards and a TD, and the Sam Bradford pickup to replace injured Teddy Bridgewater looked like genius all the way through the 5-0 start.
Rodgers’ 10-yard run cut the lead to a field goal with 12:50 left in the game, but Minnesota’s defense held after that through a fumble recovery and interception.
Eddie Lacy out-gained Adrian Peterson 50-to-19. Each had a dozen carries, then Peterson was injured and out for much of the season.
Rodgers was 20-of-36 for 180 with a TD and a pick (70.7 QBR). Nelson (5-73, 1 TD), Cobb (5-42) and free agent tight end Jared Cook (4-31) led the squad.
Second-year undrafted free agent cornerback Ladarius Gunter gave a preview of how his role would increase with six solo tackles.
Week 3 – Detroit 27 at GB 34 (2-1)
The Packers built a huge 31-3 lead in this game, then the Lions (1-2) showed inklings of what they would do the rest of the year by making a game of it, starting with a 73-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones right before halftime to give them some hope.
Rodgers connected to receivers for four first-half touchdowns, two to Jordy Nelson. Nelson showed how much he was missed for his blown ACL in 2015 when he had nearly half (101) of Rodgers’ 205 yards on six receptions. Rodgers put up a 129.3 quarterback rating, and a 99.1 Total QBR (ESPN’s rating on a 100 scale).
A long touchdown cut it to 34-27 in the final minutes, but a nine-yard Eddie Lacy blast for a first down pushed him over 100 yards for the day (17-103, 6.1) and Green Bay was able to kill the clock in victory formation.
Week 4 – Bye
Another burn from the schedule-maker, having a bye after just three weeks of play, as early as it can fall. Green Bay was already banged up some and didn’t completely mind, but it makes what the Packers accomplished at the end of the season even more grueling and impressive.
Week 5 – N.Y. Giants 16 at GB 23 (3-1)
The Packers seemed to be justifying the pre-season hype when they improved to 3-1 with a win over the Giants (2-3), although New York was not expected to be the playoff team it turned out to be.
Two short Crosby fourth-quarter field goals gave GB a 23-9 lead, but Odell Beckham, Jr., pulled the G-Men within a TD with 2:54 left. New York passed on the onside attempt and Ty Montgomery returned the short-ish kickoff to the GB 35. Rodgers converted a 13-yard pass to Cobb on third-and-10, and victory formation returned.
Two picks and several incompletions against New York’s tough defense brought Rodgers’ QBR down to 65.0 (23-45, 259 yds., 2 TDs), but GB offset it with 147 rushing yards, including 81 from Lacy (11, 7.4 ypc) and 33 from James Starks (12). Cobb (9-108) and Adams (5-85, 1 TD) shined.
The Packers’ defense held NY to just 221 yards, with 199 from Eli Manning and just 43 rushing. Rookie OLB Kyler Fackrell’s strip-sack of Manning was a major play in the game.
Week 6 – Dallas 30 at GB 16 (3-2)
Green Bay was stuck with settling for field goals in this one until a late TD pass to Cobb. Dallas (5-1) matched that scoring but added two other touchdowns, all three on throws from rookie QB Dak Prescott. Rookie running back Ezekial Elliott piled up 157 yards on 28 carries, most in the second half, becoming the first rookie to rush for at least 130 yards in four consecutive games.
It didn’t help that GB fumbled five times in the contest, losing three, and also had several costly drops by receivers.
“We’re hard on ourselves, and I’m as hard as anybody on myself. So I’m going to get it fixed. Just been a little bit off,” Rodgers said after the game.
Rodgers was still 31-42 for 294 yards with one TD and one pick (90.8 QBR). Lacy (17-65, 3.8), Ty Montgomery (10-98 in receiver mode), Nelson (5-68) and Cobb (7-53, 1 TD) led the “O.”
Burnett (10 T, 7 solo, 2 passes defensed) paced the defense.
The Packers have been so consistent at Lambeau that the 14-point loss was the worst defeat since the 37-20 disappointment to the Giants in the 2011 NFC divisional playoffs – also aided by three lost fumbles.
Week 7 – Chicago 10 at GB 26 (4-2)
Nothing like playing the Bears in recent years to cure what ails you. Since Green Bay played Chicago in the NFC Champ game in 2010, the teams have been on decidedly different paths. The Packers are 66-29-1, while the Bears are 40-56 over their regular seasons.
While Green Bay improved to 4-2, Chicago fell to 1-6.
Da Bears were leading 10-6 early in the third quarter after they recovered a fumble in the end zone. Rodgers later said it lit a fire under him and he proved it by completing drives with three short touchdown tosses – the first two to Davante Adams and the final to Cobb.
Rodgers set a franchise record with 39 completions (for 326 yards, in 56 attempts, 102.2) in Green Bay’s first game with Lacy gone. The Packers had three receivers reach double digits with Adams at 13 (132 yards), Cobb at 11 (95) and Montgomery at 10 (66). It was just the second time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger a team pulled off the feat.
Adams fell one short of the Packers’ single-game catch record of 14 set in 1942 by Hall of Famer Don Hutson.
The defense had another very strong game, holding the Bears to 199 yards and a combined 22.9 QBR. Cutler didn’t play, then Clay Matthews sacked Brian Hoyer to knock him out of the game (and season) with a broken arm. Blake Martinez and Nick Perry came up with interceptions, and Martinez led tacklers with five and two PD.
Week 8 – GB 32 (4-3) at Atlanta 33
The Falcons (5-3) closed out this match-up of high powered offenses (Atlanta finished at #1 for the year) with a Matt Ryan to Mohamed Sanu hook-up for 11 yards with just 31 seconds remaining.
The teams traded the lead nine times in the game, although Green Bay was seriously hampered by injuries. Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jared Cook, Clay Matthews, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and James Starks all didn’t play, while Tevin Coleman was the noticeable Falcon hurt.
Rodgers hit Jeff Janis with a 7-yard strike with 3:58 to go for his fourth passing TD of the game and Rodgers’ two-point run had given GB at 32-26 lead. Three incompletions after the Sanu score ended the Packers’ chances.
Rodgers (28-38, 246, 4 TD, 125.5) lit it up with help from Nelson (4-94, 1 TD), Adams (12-74) and Jeff Janis (4-30, 1 TD). Rodgers was the leading rusher with 60 yards.
Burnett and Ryan each had nine tackles, and Ryan had 1.5 TFL.
Week 9 – Indianapolis 31 at GB 26 (4-4)
The squirrel game
A much less-heralded moment than Run the Table came when Rodgers called the team and himself out for not responding well to adversity after the 31-26 Colts’ loss.
He cited “uncharacteristically low energy for whatever reason,” especially singling out the response to a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD on the game’s first play.
“I mean, that didn’t help, I’m sure, but c’mon, we’ve got to be mentally tougher than that,” Rodgers said. “So we’ve got to look deep in the mirror there, because that’s just not acceptable.”
Green Bay still battled back within 31-26, with TD passes to Adams and Cobb in a four-minute span of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t come up with a last stop of the Colts (4-5). QB Andrew Luck broke free from a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix sack deep in Colts territory at the start of the final drive, and Luck completed two huge third-down passes to kill the clock, including a 3rd-and-10 to start.
The Packers out-gained the Colts 413-366. Montgomery (7-53) and Rodgers (6-43) pushed the ground game to 116 yards, and Rodgers hit 26-of-43 for 297, with three TDs and one pick (94.8 QBR). Jordy (7-94, 1 TD), Richard Rodgers (6-64) and Adams (4-41, 1 TD) paced the receivers.
The “D” held Luck to a 74.0 QBR behind a pair of INTs from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Ryan racked up a dozen tackles, with a PD, a TFL and a QB hit.
Week 10 – GB 25 (4-5) at Tennessee 47
The beginning of a three-game road trip didn’t feature the mental toughness Rodgers was seeking. The Titans grabbed a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, kicked it to 35-10 in the second and never looked back.
The Packers were able to cut it to 35-22 early in the third quarter, but that was the closest they would get.
The Titans improved to 5-5 with the win, and they would finish 9-7, but at the time it was proposed as “a weak-team-knocking-off-a-reeling-Pack.” Tennessee would miss the playoffs, along with 9-7 Denver.
Rodgers completed 31-of-51 passes for 371 yards with two TDs and two picks (79.8) before giving way to Brett Hundley (1-4, 8). Starks was the leading rusher at 7-for-33. Nelson (12-126, 1 TD) and Adams (6-156) were easily top the pass-catchers.
Week 11 – GB 24 (4-6) at Washington 42
The fourth straight game of the defense allowing a foe to score at least 30 led to another lop-sided loss and the nadir of the season.
There were actually calls for Mike McCarthy’s job at this point, while the really extreme suggested Rodgers should be benched or even traded. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers replaced his neck with a swivel.
The Rodgers’ complaints were especially unfounded since he threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns, with a 115.0 QBR. Kirk Cousins went for 375 yards and three TDs. A Rodgers-to-Jared-Cook hook-up cut it to 29-24 with 10:04 left in the game, but the defense allowed two more Washington scores. Two plays after a fourth-down sneak from Washington’s own 41, Cousins completed a 51-yard pass to the Packers’ 1 on the first drive. On the ensuing drive, GB picked up 51 yards before a Cook fumble. Runs of 66 and four yards by Robert Kelley ended it.
The Packers managed 84 yards rushing, but AR was the leader at 3-33. Cook broke out (6-105, 1 TD), and Cobb came through (3-84). Starks and Nelson also had TD catches.
Kirk Cousins lit up the defense with a 145.8 QBR (21-30, 375, 3 TD), nailing favorite targets Pierre Garcon (6-116, 1 TD) and Jamison Crowder (3-102, 1 TD). Robert Kelley (24-137) helped the home team reach 151 rushing yards.
Gunter led the team with seven tackles (1 PD).
After this one, Washington improved to 6-3-1, before stumbling to 8-7-1 and missing the playoffs.
And then the switch flipped.
Run the Table was uttered and ensued.
Week 12 – Green Bay 27 (5-6) at Philadelphia 13
The defense finally stepped up after allowing 30+ points in the previous four games and 89 in the previous two, holding the Eagles to just 13 points.
Davante Adams (5 rec.) ended up with 113 of Rodgers’ 313 passing yards (30-39, 2 TD, 116.7 QBR), as well as both of his TDs. A super-tight window TD and a 50-yard over-the-shoulder catch highlighted Adams’ game. Nelson (8-91) also came up big.
Aaron Ripkowski scored the first Packers’ rushing touchdown of the season by someone other than Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers converted 10-of-14 third downs and 1-of-1 fourth down, while holding the Eagles to no sacks and no takeaways. Burnett led with eight tackles, and Clinton-Dix had another pick.
Philly (5-6) had allowed only three touchdowns and out-scored opponents 108-38 in its first four home games.
Week 13– Houston 13 at GB 21 (6-6)
Another 13-point defensive limit allowed the Packers to hit .500 on the season, especially important since the powerful Texans’ defense – sans J.J. Watt all season – only gave up 21. The Packers held a 21-7 lead until Deandre Hopkins beat two defenders on a 44-yard pass with 1:51 left.
Green Bay used a pair of fourth-quarter scores to defeat Houston (6-6), a 32-yard pass to Jordy Nelson and an Aaron Ripkowski rushing score for the second consecutive game, as the snowflakes flew.
Nelson finished with eight catches for 118 yards. Rodgers finished 20-of-30 for 200 yards (108.9 QBR), despite displaying limited mobility due to a hamstring injury. Jordy (8-118) was dominant, and Monty (6-40) helped the run game reach 109 yards.
Burnett offered nine tackles and recovered the Texans’ only fumble.
A crazy multi-lateral play officially ended this game.
Week 14 – Seattle 10 at GB 38 (7-6)
One of the most fun games of the season for Packers fans, an old-fashioned butt-whuppin’ from the get-go to one of their least-favorite teams. Oh, and Russell Wilson threw five picks!
After a 66-yard strike to Adams to start the game, two second-quarter scores – a one-yard run by Ty Montgomery (the first rushing score of the season by someone not named Aaron) and a nine-yard pass to Jordy Nelson – and another three-yard TD pass in the third to Jordy gave GB a 28-3 lead. Brett Hundley would play nearly a quarter, while a still-hobbled Rodgers took a seat on the bench.
Rodgers finished with a 150.8 rating, completing 18-of-23 passes for 245 yards and three TDs. Adams ended up with 104 yards on four catches.
Joe Thomas had 10 tackles, including eight solos, while Damarious Randall finished with two interceptions.
The Packers nearly held the Seahawks (8-6-1) to just a field goal after an athletic interception from Randall saved a sure TD before intermission, but former Badger quarterback-turned-safety Tanner McEvoy caught a 21-yard pass in his new role as wide receiver.
Jeff Janis made Packers fans think Badgers one more time after scoring from 19 yards on a jet sweep.
Week 15 – GB 30 (8-6) at Bears 27
A win here tied the all-time series with the Bears at 94-94-6 over 194 games. At one point in the 1992 (also in 1960), Chicago held a 24-game advantage it appeared it would never surrender.
It looked like this might be an easy win, but it’s rarely easy when these two teams meet. A 17-point third quarter gave GB a 27-10 lead, but surging Matt Barkley brought the Bears back into a 27-27 tie with a pair of TDs and a field goal with just 1:19 to go.
Rodgers had one last drive in him, and hit Jordy for 60 yards down the middle, and killed off the clock before spiking it with four seconds left. Crosby drilled the 32-yard field goal for the win.
The Jordy pass brought back memories of 4th-and-8 from the 48, the TD strike to Randall Cobb that secured a playoff berth in Week 17 of the 2013 season, in Rodgers’ first game since October. John Kuhn threw a saving block on soon-to-be Packer Julius Peppers to give Rodgers time to throw.
Peppers’ sack, forced fumble and recovery helped spur the third-quarter run of this Week 15 win.
Monty broke out in this contest, with 162 on 16 carries with two TDs, and Christine Michael (4-45) added a 42-yard dash for paydirt. GB tallied a season-high 226 rushing yards. Rodgers (19-31, 252, 87.0 QBR) did most of his damage with Jordy (7-124) and Cook (6-85).
Quinten Rollins had a team-high eight tackles.
The Bears fell to 3-11 on the season, although they were now 3-4 at home.
The teams, which first played in the NFL in 1921, have played more games against each other than any other franchises, although it’s not the longest continuous rivalry, since they missed playing in the strike-shortened 1982 season. (The Packers and Lions/Portsmouth Spartans, who have played each other at least twice a year since 1932 hold that honor at 175. GB holds the 100-68-7 lead.)
Green Bay has won 12 of the last 14 meetings.
Week 16 – Minnesota 25 at GB 38 (9-6)
This huge win over the Vikings almost assured Minnesota (7-8) would become just the second team since 1968 (1993 Saints) to be the last undefeated squad in the NFL and miss the playoffs. (Other teams did miss the playoffs that were tied as the last undefeated team, although some years that was just 3-0 or 4-0. Minnesota did it after being the only team at 5-0, and far fewer teams qualified for the playoffs in the earlier portion of that 48-year span.)
The Packers destroyed the Vikings, piling up a 38-13 advantage before a pair of garbage-time scores for Minny. The Vikes did recover an onside kick, but a Nick Perry sack killed any shot they had of making it look close.
Rodgers lit them up with a 136.6 rating (and 94.4 TQBR), completing 28-of-38 passes for 347 yards and 4 TDs, with several scrambles and pinpoint passes. Jordy offered nine catches for 154 yards and 2 tallies. Undrafted free agent rookie Geronimo Allison had a big game, too, with four catches for 66 yards.
Joe Thomas gave nine solo tackles in 10 total.
Rodgers showed he was regaining the mobility from a calf injury, spinning out of what looked like a sure sack, and juking a defender out of his jock at the end of a 6-yard TD run. He even closed it a Lambeau Leap.
The negative was Green Bay’s pass defense gave up 202 yards and two touchdowns to Adam Thielen, and 382 yards and three touchdowns to Sam Bradford.
Week 17 – Green Bay 31 (10-6) at Detroit 24
This one was for all the North Division marbles and a four seed in the playoffs instead of the six seed, with a home playoff game in the wild card round as a topper.
The Lions had won five in a row for the first time since 2011 to improve to 9-4 by Week 14, but lost the next three.
Detroit held a 14-7 lead in the first half, but Green Bay scored 24 unanswered with a field goal before halftime and second-half touchdowns to Adams, Geronimo Allison and Adams. The Lions scored 10 late to make it look respectable, and the onside kick bobble brought back nightmares of the 2014 NFC Champ game at Seattle, but Richard Rodgers secured it.
The Packers had completed Round One of Run the Table, with six straight to secure the North and a home playoff game with New York. It was GB’s fifth North title in six seasons.
Wild card round – N.Y. Giants 13 at GB 38 (11-6)
Green Bay had beaten the Giants 23-16 in Week 5, but many thought this would be a struggle with New York fielding a formidable defense.
That scenario held up for much of the first half, but a late strike to Adams gave GB a 7-6 lead, and then the unfathomable happened. Rodgers completed his third Hail Mary in two years when Randall Cobb hauled in a walkoff bomb at the back of the end zone.
The G-men cut it to 14-13 with 5:16 left in the third quarter, but Rodgers sandwiched a pair of touchdowns to Cobb around a Crosby field goal for a 31-13 lead, and Ripkowski added a late one-yard scoring blast.
Rodgers (25-40, 362, 4 TD, 125.2) relied on Adams (8-125, 1 TD) and Cobb (5-116, 3 TDs). Nelson was speared in the game and would miss the Cowboys’ contest and make a surprise gutsy return for the NFC Champ game. Michael (10-47) helped GB reach 75 yards rushing.
The defense held Eli Manning to a 72.1 rating (23-44, 299, 1 TD, 1 int.). Ryan had 12 tackles with nine solos and three PDs. Damarious Randall returned an interception 78 yards.
Divisional playoffs- GB 34 (12-6) at Dallas 31
Only two teams before had made the NFC Championship game after a 4-6 start, but Green Bay was proud to join this group by pulling out the dramatic triumph.
The final set-up was perfect for irony, when Mason Crosby was iced by Dallas coach Jason Garrett on the potential game-winning field goal. Crosby had just raised the all-time record for consecutive makes a minute earlier, and the iced kick was easily good. Crosby’s winning kick started left, then faded right at the last second to narrowly fit inside the left upright. Money Mason became the first kicker to hit two 50-plus yard field goals in the final two minutes of an NFL game, and he actually made three (counting the iced attempt).
His 56-yarder for the 31-28 lead is the third-longest in NFL playoff history, and his game-winner made it 23 straight. David Akers is second with 19. Crosby had been 0-for-4 on potential game-tying or go-ahead kicks of 50 yards or longer in the fourth quarter or overtime up to that point.
Another big number did fall in the game, when Rodgers threw one of his few bad passes in the game for an interception, breaking a streak of 318 without a pick. He had been 24-0 for TD-to-interception ratio since his pick in the Titans loss, the 24 consecutive TDs without an interception the second-most in NFL history (behind Tom Brady’s 26 in 2010).
That didn’t stop Rodgers from converting a third-and-20 situation with just 12 seconds remaining, on a roll-out left, on a pinpoint throw across his body down the sidelines. Tight end Jared Cook snared the ball, dragged his toes just inside the boundary line and fell out of bounds to stop the clock with three seconds left. Crosby’s heroics followed on the next and final play.
The play previous to the Cook connection also loomed large, when Rodgers was blind-side sacked by Jeff Heath (who?!!), but Rodgers managed to hold onto the ball without fumbling and had the presence of mind to call a quick time out.
Rodgers (28-43, 355, 2 TDs, 1 int., 96.6) had been on fire early in the game, while the Packers built a 21-3 lead. But
Dallas and its powerful offense worked comebacks to lock it up at 28-28 and 31-31.
Cook (6-103, 1 TD), Adams (5-76) and Cobb (7-62) all came up big in Nelson’s absence. Monty (11-47, 4.3) and Ripper (4-24, 6.0) were solid.
Rookie undrafted free agent Kentrell Bryce – filling in for the injured Burnett – had a team-high seven tackles, a pass defensed and the big hit of the season when he drilled speedy Cole Beasley. Micah Hyde had a huge interception with Dallas just outside the GB red zone, when he jumped a quick pass meant for Dez Bryant.
But the defense needed Rodgers’ help after allowing big yardage to Dak Prescott (24-38, 302, 3 TDs, 1 int., 103.2) and Ezekial Elliott (22-125, 5.7).
Talking about some sweet clutch play, the Packers converted 23-for-31 (74 percent) red zone opportunities into TDs during the eight-game winning streak.
Rodgers converted his 14th “free play” into points since 2012, due to a defensive offsides, on a 34-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers. No other quarterback has more than three TDs over that span on a “free play.”
Conference Championship – Green Bay 21 (12-7) at Atlanta 44
The Falcons closed out Georgia Dome history with a bang.
Perhaps the Packers just ran out of gas after prevailing in eight consecutive must-win contests.
It turned out their earlier meeting was critical since Atlanta got the #2 seed, a playoff bye and home-field advantage in both post-season games with its 11-5 record. Had Green Bay won the first super-close meeting, you would have flipped the two club’s records and playoff situation.
Money Mason saw his consecutive playoff field goal record end at 23 makes at the end of the Packers’ first drive, and fullback Aaron Ripkowski fumbled at the end of a brilliant run for a first down deep in Falcon red zone, after Atlanta pushed its early lead to 10-0.
The league’s #1 offense smelled the blood in the water and promptly pushed it to 17-0 with an 80-yard drive. Back-to-back TDs by Julio Jones wrapped around halftime – including a 73-yarder on Atlanta’s second snap of the second half– pushed it to a ridiculous 31-0.
The Falcons had beaten up the Seahawks 36-20 the previous week, aided by Lady Luck on a couple of different wild-bounce/tip turnovers. Many times, that means things turn the following week, but it wouldn’t be so this time. A fumble appeared right in front of Jake Ryan, but somehow ended up in Falcons’ clutches. The Ripkowski fumble was recovered at the one, but Jalen Collins’ foot/leg touched the goal line before he was ruled to have gained full control, so it came out to the 20. Aaron Rodgers threw another Hail Mary on a third-and-forever situation – to Jordy Nelson, no less – but it was intercepted. It played out as a virtual 55-yard punt with no return, but it wasn’t the savior it had been in the recent past when Rodgers heaved the ball into the stratosphere.
Not to say the Falcons needed luck. Things may have been different if the score had been 10-10 after those first two drives apiece, but they may not. We’ll never know. Atlanta ended up building a 37-7 crushing lead, and even dialed it back late in the game. Rodgers wrapped short TDs to Nelson and Cook around a Tevin Coleman rushing score in the final quarter-plus.
The Falcons were able to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers with their extremely young and ascending defense, while Green Bay’s defense couldn’t quite get home with Matt Ryan getting the ball out quickly, and the Packers’ struggling, injured backfield had a difficult time keeping up with All-World Jones (9 catches, 180 yards) and even Mohamed Sanu (5, 52). The two-headed monster backfield of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman wasn’t too bad either. Freeman collected 42 yards apiece rushing and receiving, while Coleman had 29 and 35.
Rodgers ended up 27-of-45 for 287 yards and three TDs, but he was sacked twice and threw the Hail Mary interception (91.6 QBR). Ryan was 27-of-38 for 392 yards with 4 TDs and a 139.4 QBR.
It was a funny season with huge ups and downs.
Pre-season, the Packers were a darling of media and fans alike to reach the big dance, but the mid-season funk had doubters calling for heads to roll.
Then Run the Table took over and Green Bay provided its fans with one of the most fun stretches of football since the dash in 2010 all the way to the title. The way it played out was certainly more fun than the 2011 dominance and pratfall, as well as the stomach punch at Seattle in the NFC championship, although that 2014 season was as enjoyable overall until the final five minutes.
After the struggles of the offense in 2015, Rodgers lifted the Packers out of their funk with one of the all-time great spans of play. Nelson started slow in returning from his ACL tear at the unripe age of 30, but bounced back with a dominating run at wide receiver.
Green Bay ended up scoring 38 (Seahawks), 38 (Vikings), 38 (Giants) and 34 (Cowboys) against four of the top six scoring defenses in the entire league in the eight-game win streak. All of them were allowing fewer than 20 points/game.
The defense was unable to overcome injuries – notably the loss of #1 corner Sam Shields to concussion from the first game, hamstring and shoulder injuries to Clay Matthews, and calf and thigh injuries to Morgan Burnett – and the regression of the young corners now bumped up a spot. The group ended up 21st in ppg (24.2) and 22nd in yards (363.9), although their pass defense ranked tied for 30th in yards (269.2). Their rushing defense was 8th at 94.7 ypg.
Mason Crosby leads all active NFL kickers with 160 consecutive regular-season games played, exactly two more seasons than any other kicker in the NFL. Second is Tennessee’s Ryan Succop (128).
Let’s close with this thought: the Packers captured as many playoff wins this year as the rest of the NFC North has earned in the last 10 years combined.
Don’t take for granted the amazing run of success Green Bay has given its fans!
Final stats for 2016 (regular season)
Aaron Rodgers – passing – 401-610, 4,428 yds. 40 TDs (1st), 7 ints., 35 sacks, 104.2 QBR (4th of starters); rushing – 67-369 (3rd QBs), 4 TD (tie 48th)
Jordy Nelson – 97 rec. (5th), 1,321 yds. (6th), 14 TDs (1st)
Davante Adams – 75 rec. (tie 28th), 997 yds. (26th), 12 TDs (tie 2nd)
Randall Cobb – 60 rec. (tie 55th), 610 yds. (73rd), 4 TDs (tie 48th) in 13 games
Eddie Lacy – 71 car., 360 yds. (51st), 5.1 ypc (12th, min. 50 car.) in 5 games
Ty Montgomery – 77 car., 457 yds. (41st), 3 TDs in 11 games
K Mason Crosby – FG – 26-30, 86.7% (8th); EP – 44-47, 93.6% (19th)
P Jacob Schum – 56, 43.2 gross (27th), 39.1 net (24th), 19 ins. 20 (tie 27th), 9.4 ret. ave. (21st)