After another dominant win, Packers look more than ready for January
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It’s something of a stretch to be sure, but if there is any downside to the epic roll the Green Bay Packers are on as mid-November arrives, it’s that it’s not yet mid-January, when such dominance yields the most returns and earns a team some serious hardware.
That’s about where these Packers are at right now, after they inflicted their latest beat down, a 53-20 romp of the Philadelphia Eagles. At this point, they're probably wishing they could press the fast forward button and skip through the next two months at warp speed, cutting to the chase that is the playoffs in the NFC. Because that’s obviously where they’re headed once again, and this time, the ultimate goal is to make sure the rest of the conference has to deal with the overwhelming challenge of Lambeau Field in the postseason.
The Packers aren’t just winning at home this season. They almost always do that. Instead they’re destroying people. Like the Eagles on Sunday. Philadelphia entered the game 7-2 and flying high after Monday night’s 45-21 demolition of visiting Carolina. But Chip Kelly’s club left Wisconsin looking positively fraudulent, on the wrong end of that 53-20 score, and having offered absolutely nothing in the way of true competition for the Packers.
If that all seems familiar, it’s because we just saw Green Bay reduce the Chicago Bears to a quivering mass last Sunday night, beating their division rivals 55-14 in a game that was no where near as close as the score indicated. The Packers had never before topped 50 points in consecutive games in their long and storied franchise history, but then every week seems to bring a new high-water mark in Green Bay.
"We’re on a roll right now,’’ Packers receiver Randall Cobb said, amid the celebratory vibe of the winning locker room. “We’re playing great, all phases. And offensively for us to continue to put points up like this and continue to score touchdowns and have big plays, it’s big for us. We just have to continue to have that going forward and continue to execute."
Let’s be real here: If the Packers continue to execute like this, the rest of the NFL doesn’t stand a chance. In their past four first halves at Lambeau, they’ve outscored the visitors 128-9, and with Sunday’s 30-6 halftime lead over the shell-shocked Eagles, Green Bay became the first team in league history to score 28 or more points in the first half of four straight home games.
There are statement wins, and then there are victories that fairly well scream "juggernaut," with an intensity that convinces you a Super Bowl may well be within reach. As long as the Packers can keep this kind of offensive momentum going, all things seem possible.
"It’s tough to win a game in this league, no matter who you’re playing, whether a team is undefeated, winless or somewhere in the middle," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "But I told Fox in the production meeting, this was important to gauge where we’re at. Playing against a top-tier team in this league that’s leading their division to see how we can match up. We’ve beaten some teams with losing records and blown them out. This was the kind of win we needed just to remind ourselves and our fans and the league that we are a good football team and it’s tough to play here."
That is what it has to be about from this point forward for Rodgers and Green Bay, making sure the road to the NFC championship and the Super Bowl go through Lambeau, where they are 5-0 this season and almost unchallenged. The Packers are just 2-3 on the road, with losses at Seattle, Detroit and New Orleans, but if they can stay home in January, who would give them a game?
"Obviously, around here, it’s about winning division titles, getting a home playoff game and [exploiting the] advantage that we have here at home, with the weather, with the way the weather affects the football and the footing," Rodgers said. "This is the kind of stretch you want to be on at this point in the season, when things are starting to sort themselves out. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re putting ourselves in position to be in the mix."
Green Bay got a favor done for it by Arizona on Sunday, when the now 9-1 Cardinals beat the visiting Lions 14-6, thereby allowing the Packers to tie Detroit for the NFC North lead at 7-3. The Lions beat Green Bay at home in Week 3, and thus hold the head-to-head tie-breaker for now, but with a Week 17 showdown against the Lions looming at Lambeau, does anybody like Detroit’s chances of holding that advantage by season’s end? Especially since the schedule is about to get more favorable for Green Bay, with winnable road games at Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay still on tap, to go with home games against New England, Atlanta and the Lions.
So while the Cardinals stayed two full games ahead of Green Bay in the race for the NFC’s top seed and home field honors in the playoffs, Arizona still could lose the necessary ground the Packers need to make up. The Cardinals have to play Seattle twice, travel to both San Francisco and St. Louis, and play host to the red-hot Chiefs in the season’s final six weeks. Looking at both teams’ remaining schedules, I can see Green Bay picking up two games on Arizona and making Lamebeau Field their ultimate postseason weapon.
"It’s about keeping up the Packers standard, and letting them know when it’s time to play us, they’ve got to come ready," said Green Bay tight end Andrew Quarless, one of seven Packers to catch passes against Philly, with two for 35 yards, plus some superb blocking on an Eddie Lacy touchdown. “We’re trying to set that standard in the league. Everybody’s stepping up and making plays, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.
"Our biggest worry is always about us, but it’s definitely good that Detroit lost. That probably helps. But I think we’re setting ourselves up right now for the playoffs. We’ve got to just keep winning."
What Green Bay is accomplishing, as always, starts with Rodgers, who has interjected himself into serious MVP consideration with his past two performances. He was 22-of-36 for 341 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles, and has now thrown a league-record 322 passes at home without tossing a pick, besting Tom Brady’s mark of 288 from 2002-04. Rodgers has thrown a mind-boggling 29 touchdown passes at home since his last last interception, and he already owns seven games this season with at least three touchdown passes and zero interceptions, tied for second-most in history behind only Peyton Manning’s eight for the Colts in 2007.
But the Green Bay offense had help, because the Packers defense scored twice on Sunday -- on a Julius Peppers 52-yard interception return and a Casey Hayward 49-yard fumble return -- and the special teams chipped in with a 75-yard Micah Hyde punt return. It was the first time since 1983 that Green Bay posted touchdowns via rushing, passing, interception return and a punt return in the same game. The 53 points allowed by the Eagles were the most they’ve allowed in a game since 1972.
"It’s a good time," said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who had four catches for 109 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown. "It’s fun watching everyone get involved. That’s probably the best part of it. Seeing the defense scoring touchdowns, the special teams with Micah. It’s the little things."
The Packers right now are doing the little things, the big things, and everything in between. They just made the first-place Eagles -- the best team Green Bay has beaten this season -- look a lot like the 4-6 Bears, and that’s no small feat against a Chip Kelly-coached team. If there is a drawback to any of this season’s dominance in Green Bay, it’s just hoping that it can be sustained and doesn’t result in peaking too soon. With January the goal, these Packers are playing so well, they probably wish it wasn’t November.