Goo-ooooooood day, fans of the Green Bay Packers!
So many prayers were answered on the day after Christmas when, lo and behold, Aaron Rodgers was medically cleared to quarterback the team. His team doctors were very conservative with his healing process, most likely because his collarbone needed to heal and be strong enough to carry 52-men on his shoulders for four quarters straight.
I am glad they handled the situation as they did; it was poetic justice to see Rodgers finish the game that he started back in week 9 against the Bears.
So, here we are again … talking about the Good, Bad and Ugly of a game that the Packers absolutely needed to win.
Where can we start, other than:
Is there any bigger understatement to say that the Packers need Aaron Rodgers? The Packers don’t just NEED Rodgers for offensive reasons; he is needed on offense, defense and special teams. He is needed for the coaching staff to dig liberally into the playbook. He is needed to instill fear in the opposing defense. He is needed to open up the running game, he is needed for overall team morale. As Stephen A. Smith has coined on ESPN’s First Take: ‘he’s a baaaaaaad man!’
He shook off a little rust in the first half of the game, but came out swinging in the second half. He showed a substantial amount of courage in the pocket, recovering from a collarbone injury. He was reluctant to scramble early, but came out of his shell to make plays late. He changes the game. His rapport with his receivers is still there, he makes fearless throws, even on fourth down. Every time the ball is in his hands, Packers Nation is calm. What a time to have this guy back.
JAMES STARKS/EDDIE LACY
Lacy is banged up, you can see it. That bad ankle has taken a visible toll on him for the past three weeks. He has still been pounding out the yards. He averaged just over 3 yards a carry yesterday, but broke out for a 17-yarder. He showed a good bit of burst in the holes, but was especially violent in breaking through defenders.
James Starks is the perfect complement back to Eddie Lacy. He is more of a finesse runner, doesn’t break many tackles … but doesn’t really need to. He is so fast and has so much initial burst that many defenders can’t even get a hand on him, as seen from his 41-yard breakoff against the Bears yesterday. As Lacy nurses that bad ankle, Starks can carry the load into the playoffs. He did it as an unknown back in 2010 and we all know what happened from there.
Boykin got lucky by picking that ball up after the Julius Peppers/Aaron Rodgers exchange. Was it luck, though? The Packers (as all NFL teams should be) are coached to play through the whistle. Boykin ran to the ball right away, fumbled around with it for a bit but then eventually picked it up even though no defender was fighting him for it. That’s a heads up play by Jarrett Boykin. Praise should also go to the Packers sideline for knowing to play though the whistle, the officials for allowing the play to continue after realizing it was a fumble and for Aaron Rodgers knowing what had transpired and sending Boykin into the end zone. Just an all-around heads up play by the Packers as a whole.
This guy is so clutch. On fourth down – where is the ball going, OTHER than Jordy Nelson? He’s got the diving catch down to a science. He works the sideline like no one else. Aaron Rodgers trusts this guy so much and his rapport with Nelson is on-point. You can double up on Nelson, and he will still make a play. He had a miscue with Rodgers in the first half, leading to an interception, but repaid the team in full in the second half with some amazing catches and upping his YAC totals.
They were entrusted with $130 million yesterday. Rodgers, coming off a devastating injury, needed time in the pocket to shake off some nerves and some rust. The offensive line gave him that. Rodgers looked a bit uncomfortable in the pocket at times – certainly warranted – but settled in nicely. Rodgers is difficult to block for, he doesn’t stay in the traditional pocket. He moves around a lot, steps up quite a bit and scrambles outside for big gains as well. I commend those guys for keeping the Bears’ big defensive line at bay. Peppers got through a couple of times, but the Packers were able to make plays on the back end of it. If this line stays healthy and gains confidence together, it could be big.
Shields is still working inside a contract year. He’s doing very well as our new “money” corner. The Packers are moving him to the opposition’s number one receiver. He played a lot of the game on Alshon Jeffrey, a 6-5 target. Sam Shields is a 5-11 guy with only 180 pounds against big bodied men in the open field. He’s taken the ball away from the likes of Calvin Johnson and doesn’t feel too small for any situation. He was just a second off yesterday at times, timed his leaps a little bit early and got lucky at the end of the game with a big drop by Jeffery that could have sealed the game for the Bears. But he remains one of our most consistent tacklers and has great field vision that can’t be matched.
He is working so hard, all the time. He can’t ever keep his helmet on his head, but he is in the mix of everything, every time. He made a huge play with Tramon Williams on Alshon Jeffrey; he stood him straight up so that Williams could come in and strip away the ball, for a fumble. Hawk flies around the field in his eighth season with the Green Bay Packers and has been one of the healthiest, most consistent forces for this defense for a long time. He doesn’t get the respect that he deserves and is arguably playing his best ball right now. Without Clay Matthews in the lineup, he is the unequivocal leader of the defense.
What a welcome back game for Randall Cobb. He was limited in his snaps this week, but made the very best with what he got. He had two touchdowns yesterday, one being that 48-yard clutch reception on 4th and 8, dancing his way into the end zone with 38 seconds on the clock. He is a playmaker and a game-changer. Having him back boosts this offense so much and Rodgers/Cobb were just too much for the Bears to handle. Can they be a handful for other NFC playoff candidates in the near future?