What we learned: Rodgers puts in fine performance

Print

The Green Bay Packers ended their four-game losing streak, keeping their playoff hopes alive with a 27-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12. Here's what we learned on Monday Night Football:

1. Along with his sterling showing at Atlanta in Week 8, this was Aaron Rodgers' finest all-around game since September of last season. Rodgers unholstered his entire arsenal against a swarming Eagles defense allowing a league-best 9.5 points per game at home. He was surgical from the opening bell, whistling tight-window throws to Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Jared Cook, and moving the chains by scrambling on key third downs. Battling through a hamstring injury sustained in the middle of the third quarter, Rodgers strangled the life out of Philadelphia's comeback efforts, leading a pair of clinching scoring drives composed of 30 plays, 153 yards and nearly 15 minutes on the game clock.

As historically porous as Green Bay's defense has been over the past month, Rodgers' steady improvement has gone virtually unnoticed. He's been vintage since the second half of the Bears game in Week 7, completing 180 of 268 passes (67.2 percent) for 1,904 passing yards (7.1 YPA), 196 rushing yards a 17:3 TD-to-INT ratio and a 104.1 passer rating over the past six games. As for the hamstring tweak, Rodgers was nonchalant after the game, insisting he'll be "good to go next week."

2. Carson Wentz won't win NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance, which qualifies as tangible progress for a Packers defense that paved the way for Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins to capture that honor during the past two weeks. Buoyed by the healthy return of All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews and top cornerback Damarious Randall, Green Bay shut down Philadelphia's rushing attack, sacked Wentz four times and prevented the chunk plays that have haunted their recent nightmares in the passing game.

Is this a one-game aberration or a sign that Dom Capers' defense has turned the corner? We might have to wait until a Week 14 showdown with the Seahawks to answer that question with any degree of confidence. The Eagles were playing without their top power back (Ryan Mathews) and three of their best six offensive linemen. Their greenhorn wide receiver corps has been one of the league's least effective throughout the season. Next week, the Packers welcome Brock Osweiler and an inept Texans offense to Lambeau Field.

3. Whereas the Packers righted the ship to revive their chances in an underwhelming NFC North, the Eagles' postseason hopes are on life support. They are not only two losses behind the Redskins in a cut-throat NFC East, but also are fourth in line for the conference's final wild-card spot. As well as the defense has played at home this season, it isn't a shut-down unit. A hit-or-miss prospect even at peak strength, the offense can't overcome the loss of talent on the line or the inexperience at wide receiver. The future is bright for a well-coached team with an ascendant young franchise quarterback and a talented defensive nucleus. Still, it's too much to expect this flawed roster to win out against a remaining schedule that includes matchups versus the 10-1 Cowboys, the 8-3 Giants and the 6-4-1 Redskins.

4. A season-long liability while playing through a high-ankle sprain last year, Davante Adams has emerged as Rodgers' most reliable target of late. He makes his living on slants, crossing routes, comebacks and double moves, winning with physicality during and after the catch. Averaging 7.2 receptions, 93 yards and nearly a touchdown per game over the past six weeks, Adams is on pace for a tidy 84/1,129/12 slash line in a classic post-hype breakout season.

5. When the NFL Competition Committee instituted the replay-review mechanism and refined the rules for coaches' challenges, the idea was to discourage frivolous breaks in football's natural momentum. Late in the third quarter of a one-score game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson challenged a 2-yard Jared Cook completion on first down -- leaving him without the freedom to challenge any game-altering play the rest of the way.

6. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski plunged in from a yard out for Green Bay's first rushing touchdown by a non-quarterback this season, a stunning sign of backfield futility. After promising that newly acquired Christine Michael would be "mixed in" this week, coach Mike McCarthy called the former Seattle running back's number just once for four yards. It's time to see if Michael can offer more punch than James Starks, who is averaging a sluggish 2.47 yards on 57 rushes.

7. Can the Packers make a legitimate run at the NFC North title with a 5-6 record? They have several factors working in their favor, including the division's best player (Rodgers), a steadily improving aerial attack and a defense slowly building back to full strength. Just as important, the schedule gives them a chance to topple the Vikings and Lions via head-to-head matchups in the final two weeks of the season.

Print