Packers quiet their critics with a dominant showing in Houston
Aaron Rodgers badly misfired on his first deep pass Sunday night, flat out overshooting a wide-open James Jones down the sideline on 3rd-and-3. The Texans, unforgivably, lined up offside on fourth down, giving Rodgers a second shot at the drive.
Rodgers took the very next snap and delivered a perfect arcing pass to Jordy Nelson, who took it in for the touchdown. And, just like that, the Texans had blown their chance.
Green Bay maintained all week that it wasn't panicking, despite a 2-3 start and a complete meltdown in Indianapolis last week. On the strength of a 42-24 demolition of the Texans that may have been the best game we've seen any team play this year, we now know why.
"What do you think you told the critics tonight?" NBC's Michelle Tafoya asked Rodgers after the game.
Rodgers looked back at her, offered a half-smile, and said: "Shhhhhh."
It was apparent from Sunday's opening moments that the Packers were determined to make a statement. They were firing in their no-huddle offense, cranking up to a faster tempo than we'd seen for most of the year. The plan was clear: Let Rodgers do his thing.
He did it better than he ever has -- Rodgers tossed a career-high six touchdown passes, three of them to Nelson, and finished the game with a 133.8 QB rating.
Each touchdown pass was more sensational than the one before. In the fourth quarter alone, he rolled out on a 3rd-and-1 play-action and tossed a strike to Tom Crabtree for a 48-yard score, despite taking a shot to the chest from Brooks Reed. Less than three minutes later, he drilled one in to James Jones from 18 yards, and Jones made an acrobatic one-handed grab in the end zone.
Rodgers entered Sunday night's game having completed nearly 69 percent of his passes on the season, and his 10 TD passes were more than all but six quarterbacks.
But we had yet to really see the Rodgers we've come to expect -- the one that made a mockery of NFL defenses during the 2011 season. Through five weeks and losses to San Francisco, Seattle and Indianapolis, everything had seemed to be harder for Rodgers and the Packers' offense.
Then Sunday night rolled around and, suddenly, everything felt back to normal.
That's a worrisome fact for the Texans, who hoped to use their national-TV stage to remind the nation that they were one of the league's legit Super Bowl contenders. Instead, they were totally outclassed on both sides of the ball.
Houston's defense was ripped to shreds, especially once Green Bay started double- and triple-teaming J.J. Watt in order to protect Rodgers. In case you weren't keeping score at home, the Texans are now 0-1 in the post-Brian Cushing portion of their season, and Sunday certainly did nothing to ease the concerns of Houston fans that Cushing's devastating Week 5 knee injury could derail the team's plans.
Even more confounding, though, was the Texans' inability to do much of anything against Green Bay's defense -- especially on the ground, where the Texans have established themselves as one of the league's most formidable forces. Arian Foster, despite scoring twice, managed a mere 29 yards on 17 carries. Without his run game helping, Matt Schaub struggled, firing a pair of interceptions and taking three sacks.
With everything going against them, the Texans started to fall apart. Twice on Green Bay's first possession of the third quarter, Houston made critical errors, committing a pair of penalties to keep that drive going.
Rodgers, of course, finished it off with a 1-yard TD pass to Nelson.
Perhaps that was the best sign of any Sunday night that the "old" Aaron Rodgers had returned to action. When Houston shot itself in the foot, thus presenting the Packers with an opportunity, Rodgers made sure they paid.
Green Bay likely didn't feel any sympathy for the Cushing-less Texans, either. The green and gold played Sunday without B.J. Raji and Greg Jennings, then saw Nick Perry, D.J. Smith, Sam Shields and Brandon Saine helped from the field with injuries of their own.
Those ailments will create concerns for the Packers on Monday, especially given that this team has yet to string two wins in a row together in 2012. But for the moment, Green Bay has to feel pretty great about what it accomplished Sunday night.
This was an absolute clinic, in all facets. Even Green Bay's much-maligned offensive line held up, frequently providing Rodgers with loads of time to set and throw. As a result, the Texans were unable to stay with Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and, yes, even Crabtree downfield.
Put a healthy Jennings back into this mix, with Alex Green providing some spark on the ground, and it's easy to see why the Packers still believed in themselves and their offense.