SI.com highlights the best performances on both sides of the ball from Week 14 of the NFL. Time_Sports
GREEN BAY, Wis. — This is why nobody in the NFL wants the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year.
Because even with quarterback Aaron Rodgers bothered by calf and hamstring injuries, even with top defender Clay Matthews reduced to a third-down pass rusher because of an injured shoulder, even with an outfit as dangerous as the Seattle Seahawks in town, these Packers are a threat to outgun anybody.
Rodgers, the two-time league MVP, brought Lambeau Field to life (and hurt the calf) with a 66-yard, scramble-drill touchdown strike to Davante Adams 90 seconds into Sunday’s critical NFC showdown — a 38-10 Green Bay rout that also featured the Packers’ best defensive effort in some time and serves as a warning shot to whomever’s in their path from here.
“Like I said at 4-6, I felt like we had a lot of confidence, and it was close to clicking for us,” said Rodgers, who finished 18-of-23 passing for 246 yards and three TD passes.
“Most of the people in this room probably didn’t believe when I said I think we can run the table. But I was confident in our abilities, and getting guys back from some injuries, that we were going to start playing a little bit better and more of a complete game in all three phases.”
As for this win, Rodgers said: “I think it was a big statement to our fans as well — stick with us, because there’s a lot of football left.”
Rodgers said he hurt the right calf this time, not the left one that hobbled him down the stretch two years ago, and declined to compare the severity of the two injuries so soon. That he kept playing Sunday until the game was out of hand at least is a positive sign.
Despite a three-game winning streak, the Packers still have work ahead just to get into the postseason. At 7-6, they remain two games back in the NFC North standings of the Detroit Lions and one back in the wild-card chase. The Packers visit Chicago next week, then host the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau before a trip to Detroit for the regular-season finale.
But what NFC quarterback would be scarier than Rodgers in a one-game, elimination situation?
Maybe the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who can hit a defense in so many ways and, like Rodgers, has a Super Bowl ring. Wilson wasn’t at his best Sunday, though, tossing a career-high five interceptions — far from all his fault — and missing several other throws as things get out of hand.
An injury to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s throwing hand, which could impact him down the stretch, only enhances the feeling it’s the Packers who have the best chance of anybody in their division to do some damage on the road to Super Bowl LI.
“Aaron’s a great player. I think he spoils us all,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Frankly, he hurts his calf on the third play, we dump a bunch of things on the call sheet, and I thought he was very disciplined.”
When conditions are right, Rodgers can bury people a lot better than what was being called “Winter Storm Aaron,” which dumped several inches of snow in Green Bay beginning Saturday night but dissipated before Sunday’s kickoff.
This Rodgers blizzard had the Packers up 21-3 by halftime, with help from a maligned Green Bay defense that has gotten healthier on the back end. The game might’ve been over at the half if not for the one pass Rodgers missed, with Adams streaking open up the sideline.
Seattle’s sloppy first two drives out of the locker room ended in bad-luck picks — one off Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter’s nameplate and into the hands of Quinten Rollins in the end zone, the other through Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin’s hands and off his helmet to Damarious Randall.
The Packers took advantage of the latter, with Rodgers buying time as he did over and over and hitting Jordy Nelson for a 3-yard TD that pretty much ended it with 4:24 left in the third quarter. A Seattle defense that has led the NFL in points allowed the past four seasons and ranked No. 1 again entering the day (16.2 a game) had no answer in its first full game since star safety Earl Thomas broke a leg.
Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley played most of the fourth quarter, allowing Rodgers to rest the calf and hamstring, which didn’t seem to have much effect on his play but left him limping to and from the sideline between series.
Wilson’s fifth pick, off Troymaine Pope’s hands to Micah Hyde, set up a 19-yard Jeff Janis TD run to ice it.
“We needed a game like that,” McCarthy said. “That’s the way we play. That’s the way we train.”
The Seahawks (8-4-1) still are loaded personnel-wise and remain three games up in the NFC West. But now Seattle has lost the inside track on the No. 2 seed behind the Lions and Dallas Cowboys.
Matthews’ role is worth monitoring going forward. So is the health of tight end Jared Cook, who suffered a chest injury Sunday. The Packers continue to play short-handed in the backfield, with receiver Ty Montgomery serving as the lead back.
Rodgers increasingly is reminding everyone he can rise above a lot, though — including his own body. And that’s bad news for everybody hoping a few weeks ago that he and the Packers wouldn’t be around to see January.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
PHOTOS: Week 14 NFL action
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