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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Jordy Nelson had a big game Sunday night. (PHOTO: Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

In Sports Commentary

The Packers defense shut down the high powered Houston run game. (PHOTO: Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

Are the Packers back on track?

Following nearly every Aaron Rodgers touchdown throw Sunday night – and there were quite a few – NBC Sports color commentator Cris Collinsworth couldn't help but talk about how Rodgers exuded confidence and carried a chip on his shoulder during pregame conversations.

On one hand, the reigning National Football League MVP would say the game isn't "easy" and that 2011 season the Packers offense had took some work. Then he said how the Packers entered Sunday night's game against the previously unbeaten Houston Texans feeling they – not the home team – were the favorite. Rodgers followed that up by saying Houston felt the same way.

After the game, Rodgers told his critics to "ssshhhh" before running off the field.

It's an interesting attitude to have.

Not many teams who feel they are the favorites to win a game (or a Super Bowl) can also carry around the "us against the world mentality." Those are two things that just don't go together.

Yet here we are, and no one can really blame them for it.

All week, sports talk radio across the country was asking "what's wrong with the Packers?" The consensus, by football people I respect, was that this was still one of the most talented teams in the league, but something just wasn't right.

No one, at least that I heard, was writing them off heading into Sunday night. In fact, the expectation was they would perform.

And they did.

Rodgers threw six touchdowns, and he got sharper as the game wore on. A bad overthrow of a wide-open James Jones seemed to get him back on track. It was vintage Rodgers, completing 65 percent of his passes (24 of 37) for 338 yards and a 133.8 passer rating.

That we're "surprised" by this is, well, surprising. Everyone knew – even the Packers themselves – that last year was going to be impossible to repeat. But he is this good.

We did learn a couple of things, however:

  1. Greg Jennings isn't the "end all, be all" to the offense. The injured 29-year-old receiver seemed to be gaining leverage in his contract negotiations as the team struggled offensively, but if we've learned anything about this Packers offense, it takes time to adjust. It took longer than most wanted for the team to work out a flow without Jennings, but Sunday night (and singular moments the previous weeks) proved that the Packers could get the ball downfield and create big plays without him.
  2. James Jones can be your No. 2 receiver. Jones is just a year younger than Jennings, but he's a guy for whom Rodgers has vouched in the past. The guy isn't a burner, but that's what Jordy Nelson is for. Jones just has to get open. And he does, at an amazing rate. Of his 23 catches, seven have been for touchdowns. He already has matched his career high from a year ago.
  3. Alex Green can be your running back. People might forget, but the 24-year-old out of Hawaii was picked in the third round of the 2011 draft for a reason. He has great versatility and is a perfect fit for this offense. Did he blow people's minds last night by averaging just 3 yards per carry? No. But remember, this Houston defense had been pretty good. Green was effective, proving he was worthy enough to not only sell Rodgers' play-action, but to create trouble in open space if he wasn't respected with an extra defender near the line of scrimmage.
  4. As I said before, the defense is better than last year. Now, we'll have to see how it can respond to the litany of injuries that are piling up in the front seven – Sunday may prove to be this group's last, best effort because of that. But for now, defensive coordinator Dom Capers' group has proven it can get pressure up the gut without the benefit of blitzing, and the secondary has proven it can take advantage of errant throws (see Cutler, Jay). The real key going forward is if Sam Shields and Casey Hayward can make these plays in tight coverage.

There wasn't really a sense of "panic" in Packers Nation following last week's stunning second half collapse to the Indianapolis Colts. It was more like resignation, which led to some finger pointing both in and out of the Packers locker room.

To me, that's a natural occurrence. This team entered the year with Super Bowl hopes. They didn't know how or why this was happening, yet there they were, playing inconsistently at 2-3 and in danger of following three games behind the NFC North leading Chicago Bears. Of course there were doubters.

Thus, the placement of the chip on the shoulder.

Then they played like the team everyone thought they were, fast, explosive, dominating. They knew they could do this, hence the confidence.

It's an odd mix, but one that could work for them the rest of the year.


devidia | Oct. 15, 2012 at 2:15 p.m. (report)

Is it just me or does this year bear a striking resemblance so far to the 2010 campaign which resulted in a Super Bowl victory? We're 3-3, faced with a multitude of injuries and some younger guys have stepped up to make big plays. History can sometimes repeat itself. We shall see.

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TosaJim | Oct. 15, 2012 at 11:20 a.m. (report)

The Packers will be fine....they just need to keep playing well and be consistent. They had a couple bad breaks (calls) and without those...they would be 5 & Roger says over and over..."One call...that's all"

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