GREEN BAY — Second one. The Packers trail the Giants 6–0 with just over two minutes remaining in the first half, facing second-and-goal from the five. Something is rotten with Green Bay’s offense; they became the first playoff team in six years to punt on their first five possessions. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “I wasn’t in a great rhythm the first quarter and a half.” Second two. Rodgers steps back and scans the left corner of the end zone, but his intended target Ty Montgomery, is covered tightly.
Left guard Lane Taylor: “We knew if we gave him a little time, it could work out for us.”
Second three. Giants’ defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins has been squaring off with right guard T.J. Lang. Their arms are entangled, trading shoves until Hankins inches within inches of Rodgers, and lurches toward the quarterback. Rodgers dodges as Lang fends Hawkins off to the side.
Lang: “You react to the defense. You can tell when the ball is about to go by the way they rush. I knew by the way he was moving of where Aaron was moving.”
Second four. Packers wide receivers still aren’t open. Rodgers refuses to plant his feet, bobs his head and looks right.
Lang: “It took a while. We understand there’s times we need to extend the play. Our guys aren’t open and Aaron needs us. We’re used to it, we will block however long it takes, you just need to stay in front of your guy.”
Second five: Rodgers takes three stutter steps to dance behind a battling duo of linemen.
Packers defensive back Ha-Ha Clinton Dix: “I’m watching from the sideline, and you just have to appreciate that. You marvel at it. For a defensive back, it’s so hard to stay matched with your coverage when the quarterback holds the ball that long, eventually something will give. [Rodgers] does it better than anyone. I’m lucky he’s on my side and I don’t have to go against that.”
Second six. Rodgers dips to the left again. He refuses to square his body.
Taylor: “We’d block for infinity. However long it takes.”
Lang: “The more reps you have at it, the better you are at it. When you play with Aaron for a while, let’s just say you have a lot of experience in plays like this.”
Second seven. Giants Defensive end Romeo Okwara breaks free from Taylor and bolts toward Rodgers. The quarterback darts two steps forward to escape.
Taylor: “But also…. I was exhausted. I’d keep going if I needed to, but I knew I needed to catch my breath soon.”
Lang: “Those plays catch you up. You feel like you just want to sit on the bench and… recover.”
Second eight: Rodgers sees a window. He delivers a tight spiral through a tighter window to the left corner of the end zone. Davante Adams makes the catch.
Coach Mike McCarthy: “He has spoiled all of us around here for a long time.”
There’s something frightening about Rodgers when he’s in complete serenity. There’s something even more dangerous about Rodgers when it looks like the world is closing in around him.
In the eight seconds that Rodgers dodged, ducked, dipped and dodged —assessing and seizing opportunity though chaos—he demonstrated why he’s the quarterback no team wants to face in January. He is immune to circumstance. This first touchdown proved to be the turning point in the Packers’ 38–13 wild card win over New York on Sunday night—nothing was in doubt moving forward. Rodgers finished with 362 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Packers blaze into next weekend’s Divisional Round game against the Cowboys as winners of seven straight; Rodgers has delivered 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions in that span.
While his California cool creates statements like “R-E-L-A-X” and “run the table,” which inevitably become rallying cries, it’s his poise in eight seconds of panic that punctuate his legend.
In a sit down interview with FOX’s Erin Andrews, filmed Friday afternoon, Rodgers explained his “run the table” turnaround: “I think we needed a jolt of confidence, a reminder from the top that we can do this. That’s why I said what I said. I’m not a prophet. I’m just a confident person…..”—then he punched back at his critics —“There comes a time in all of our lives, professionally and personally, where it feels good to be able to take the narrative back.” The narrative of these Packers, ever since a shellacking by Washington on Nov. 20 that dropped Green Bay to 4–6, is nothing short of stunning.
Consider this game as a microcosm of the Packers season. Through his first three drives, Rodgers had as many completions (three) as instances where the Giants defense swarmed him for a sack. (Make no mistake: New York wasn’t pass rushing as much as it was clogging ground). On the third time Rodgers went down, capping a drive where he was bolstered by a 32-yard pass interference penalty, boos crept through the chilled stadium, just as the skies began to darken. The Packers punted on each of their first five possessions for the first time since Week 3…..in 2012. This is a New York defense that allowed an NFL-low 15.3 points per game since Halloween. And to pile on: safety valve Jordy Nelson, the wide receiver who led the NFL with 14 touchdowns this season, exited the game with a rib injury. He would not return.
The Eight Second Spectacular serves as Rodgers’s “run the table moment” for Sunday’s game. His next score, a Hail Mary secured by Randall Cobb to end the half that felt surprisingly inevitable, represented how he wins in style. The Hail Mary was Rodgers’s third in 13 months. “I can throw it pretty good, but it has to happen on the other end as well,” says Rodgers, who said his play reminded him of Doug Flutie’s famed Boston College pass.
It wasn’t exactly easy sailing from there. Late in the third quarter, the Packers were stunted on a fourth-down conversion. Immediately after, the Giants receivers awoke from hibernation. Perhaps more notable than the highly-publicized Miami boat soiree is that Odell Beckham, through his college and professional career, had not played in a game where temperatures dipped below 32 degrees. Or that he is one of 16 starters on New York’s roster without postseason experience. Beckham had two drops in the first half, one in the end zone. His group warmed when Eli Manning hit Tavarres King for a 41-yard touchdown over the middle to pull within one, 14–13.
But after that, Rodgers was damn methodical. By his last throwing score, a third touchdown strike to Randall Cobb, which bolstered the lead to 31–13, Rodgers barely reacted. He stood on the exact hash he threw from as each of his offensive lineman came to tap him on the helmet. Rodgers walked, slowly, calmly, to the sideline. He hugged Cobb on the walk back. He hugged McCarthy on the sideline. This routine took nearly eighty seconds.
The Packers have averaged 31 points per game through their six-game winning streak which led them here. It’s only fitting that Rodgers elevated to 38 points when the stakes were highest—win or go home.
Nelson’s status will be one to monitor over the week. McCarthy did not have an update post-game but said “obviously I’m concerned for Jordy.”
The Packers now take their show on the road, to Dallas. The Cowboys, the NFC’s hottest team all season, open as four-point favorites. There could be chaos next week at AT&T Stadium; if you’re facing Rodgers, that’s scary.