It took the departure of legend Brett Favre for Aaron Rodgers to finally get the opportunity he craved. Now in his third season as Green Bay’s starting quarterback, the one-time University of California star has developed into an elite player.
Last Sunday afternoon, in what was essentially a playoff game, Rodgers threw four touchdowns and 404 yards, a regular-season, career-high against the struggling New York Giants, with the result a 45-17 mauling in an NFC collision at sold-out Lambeau Field.
Rodgers, a first-round pick by the Packers, shredded New York’s defense, one that’s on the skids after suffering a second-straight grilling.
The Giants (9-6) gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter to the Philadelphia Eagles a week earlier, losing 38-31, and must win their final contest and hope the football gods are on their side if they are to make the postseason.
If the Packers win, they should qualify for the playoffs, but that will be decided later.
For now, Green Bay (9-6) made a powerful statement after losing to AFC powerhouse New England 31-27, the previous week, with Rodgers on the sideline after sustaining a second concussion.
Rodgers was on target early, hitting wide receiver Jordy Nelson (124 yards and four catches) with an 80-yard pass that gave Green Bay a 7-0 lead and 7:53 left in the first quarter.
When Rodgers, who is seeking a third straight 4,000-yard season, found running back James Jones with a three-yard pass about six minutes later, the Packers (515 total net yards and 27 first downs) were ahead 14-0.
Green Bay stretched its lead to 31-17 when Rodgers, who came in with 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 3,289 yards, drilled wide receiver Donald Lee with a one-yard toss and 4:44 left in the third quarter.
Rodgers (25 of 37) made it 38-17 and 6:58 showing in the fourth quarter when he spotted running back John Kuhn with a five-yard toss.
The Giants (386 total yards and 16 first downs) were their own worst enemy, turning the ball over six times.
New York quarterback Eli Manning tossed two touchdowns, but was picked off four times. Manning (17 of 33 for 301 yards) had scoring passes to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (93 yards and four catches) for 36 yards with 11:40 left in the second quarter that made it 14-7. On the play, cornerback Charles Woodson (one forced fumble) slipped.
With 5:13 left before the half, Manning hit wide receiver Mario Manningham (132 yards and four receptions) on an 85-yard play, tying it at 14-14.
New York’s other points came on a 38-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes with 7:10 left in the third quarter, slicing the gap to 24-17.
Green Bay’s defense was stellar, especially outside linebacker Clay Matthews. The former USC walk-on had five tackles and one forced fumble, while inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, a one-time Ohio State standout, finished with five tackles and an interception.
Kuhn’s eight-yard blast with less than two minutes left in the second quarter capped off a 79-yard, six-play drive that made it 21-14.
When Mason Crosby converted a 31-yard field goal and 9:56 remaining in the third quarter, the Packers padded their lead to 24-14.
With the contest out of reach, Kuhn added his third score, this one a one-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter that gave Green Bay a 28-point bulge.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.