GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers believed his offense had been building toward what happened on Sunday afternoon. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur echoed a similar sentiment, saying he'd noticed hints that suggested big things were coming. Now the rest of the football world can see what they'd been anticipating. This is what the Packers' passing game is supposed to look like when Rodgers and LaFleur are clicking.
Don't let the 42-24 score fool you in the Packers' win over the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field. This game wasn't even that close, at least not in the second half. Not with Rodgers operating at peak brilliance. The 35-year-old completed 80.6 percent of his passes (hitting on 25 of 31 attempts) for 429 yards. He threw five touchdown passes, ran for another and didn't toss one interception. His quarterback rating for the contest was a perfect 158.3. And what's really scary is how easy he made that look.
Rodgers had spent most of this season operating as a savvy game manager, one who did his best to utilize a solid rushing attack and an improved defense as he adapted to the offense LaFleur has installed in his first season with Green Bay (6-1). This win was about Rodgers reminding us of how lethal he can be when he's on.
"I feel like this has been coming," said Rodgers, who had thrown for less than 300 yards in all five of the Packers' previous wins this season. "I feel like we've been building. I know I've been feeling a lot more comfortable and Matt has been more comfortable as far as knowing when to be aggressive and when to pull back."
The major storyline in Green Bay this offseason revolved around the relationship between Rodgers and LaFleur. Rodgers was the future first-ballot Hall of Famer who reportedly couldn't find a way to co-exist with former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy at the end of their run together. LaFleur was the fresh-faced newcomer, the guy tasked with bringing some new energy to the Green Bay offense. Nobody could predict how it was going to work, but this much was certain: It was going to be fascinating to watch.
After Sunday's win, both men admitted that this was the type of passing attack they had envisioned for months. It's important to note here that Rodgers played this game without his best wide receiver (Davante Adams) and with two other key targets nursing injuries (Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison). None of those issues fazed the Packers' offense or Rodgers. He simply made the most of what he had around him on a day when LaFleur openly said he wanted to attack the Raiders (3-3) through the air.
Eight different Packers wound up catching passes in this game. Five of those players ended up with touchdowns, including running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. The Raiders were so thoroughly frustrated that safety Erik Harris said, "[Rodgers] has seen everything. He has seen coverages. He knows what you are in before you even start moving around. They had some receivers (who) we thought might not play, but it didn't really matter because, as long as 12 is back there, he will make that offense go. We knew that coming in and we didn't step up to the challenge."
The Raiders actually were hanging close in this game in the first half. They trailed 14-10 when quarterback Derek Carr scrambled out of the pocket and tried to extend the ball over the goal line with his left hand with 1:49 left in the second quarter. Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez hustled over and struck Carr's left arm hard enough that the ball squirted loose and rolled through the end zone. That touchback ultimately gave Rodgers the opening he needed to bury the Raiders.
Rodgers promptly led Green Bay on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with his 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jake Kumerow. After starting the second half with a 21-10 lead, Rodgers hit Valdes-Scantling with a 59-yard pass on the first play of that drive and ended the possession with a 3-yard run for a score. One Carr fumble and the Packers suddenly owned an 18-point advantage. That's how little the margin for error there was for the Raiders on this afternoon.
Rodgers had produced a big game earlier this year -- he threw for 422 yards in a loss to Philadelphia -- but this was the first time you could see the real potential of this passing game.
"The progression -- that's what you want to have happen," LaFleur said when asked about the growth of his offense. "You want it to progress and get a little bit better each week, but we know there's a lot of football left out in front of us. It's one game and the only way it's going to continue to improve is that you've got to get back to work and clean up the little mistakes. I think we're starting to learn our players a little better, what they do well. The communication has been on point between coaches and players, and today it came together."
LaFleur stressed that Rodgers was impressive, but so was the entire offense. The Packers have been building the type of team that is about more than just the brilliance of their star quarterback. Jones and Williams have evolved into reliable runners. The offensive line has become a steady presence, as Rodgers noted that his protection has allowed just seven sacks over Green Bay's last six games (including only one against Oakland). The defense has been vulnerable to big plays, but it also has a knack for creating timely turnovers, as it forced two takeaways and delivered a goal-line stand in this contest.
The encouraging part about all this is that the Packers knew it was only a matter of time before Rodgers started to play like his old self again. He openly admitted his gratitude for the way his supporting cast had matured, but he never denied the pressure he puts on himself to be a consistent playmaker. In this regard, Rodgers deserves credit for his patience. He bought into what LaFleur was building while waiting to find his own comfort in the system.
"The process has been really understanding the offense as a whole and learning how to win in different ways," Rodgers said. "If you learn how to win in different ways, then you become a lot more dangerous of an offense because you have more things to throw at people. We've been able to run the ball effectively and win with that. We've been able to not turn the ball over and make smart decisions in the passing game. And today, we obviously wanted to use the passing game and be aggressive. That's what makes you a truly dangerous offense."
The scary thing about the Packers is that they are going to get healthier soon. They've been hoping that Adams could return from a turf toe injury in time for next week's "Sunday Night Football" game against the Chiefs in Kansas City. Valdes-Scantling and Allison also performed well on limited snap counts, so it's fair to expect more from them in the near future. The timing couldn't be better for Green Bay because their schedule won't get any easier in the coming weeks. Green Bay has road games against the Chiefs, Chargers and a home contest against Carolina before their Week 11 bye.
The other good news for Packers fans is that they no longer have to wonder how this all will work with Rodgers and LaFleur. Green Bay used the last few weeks building the foundation for a legitimate contender and then used this Sunday to remind folks that nothing really has changed with their star. The only notable difference is that Rodgers has more help than he's had in years. Aside from that, he's still more than capable of carrying this team whenever the opportunity arises.