Even when the Green Bay Packers don't necessarily play well, they are still winning.
That is the mark of a great football team. That is the mark of perhaps a team of destiny.
Whenever the Packers play in New York (or New Jersey as the case may be) there is always something to talk about. Some of it is good; some of it is bad; and some of it, well, let's just say doesn't belong on a football field at all.
The cardiac care here in the state of Wisconsin. First, it was the Badgers thrilling ride to the Rose Bowl in a back-and-forth inaugural Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night. Sunday, the Packers put their unbeaten streak on the line before ultimately moving to 12-0 on the season with just four games left. Three of those four games are at Lambeau Field, where they have gone 18-3 since 2009.
Aaron Rodgers all but cemented his candidacy for 2011 NFL Most Valuable Player honors with his 28-46 for 369 yards, 4 touchdown performance. But his greatest Houdini act was with overtime in the balance, engineering a scalpel-sharp drive with less than one minute to play and 80 yards to go.
His first pass went to tight end Jermichael Finley for 24 yards. His second was to emerging star Jordy Nelson, who made two key catches that kept drives alive. Nelson's fourth reception went for another 27; a long, soft, perfect floater that only Rodgers' receiver could have caught.
Two plays later, the Packers were within striking distance when Greg Jennings hauled in an 18-yard grab down to the Giants 12 with just enough time for Mason Crosby to bang in the game-winning 31-yard field goal as time expired.
"I'm running out of things to say about him," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy of Rodgers.
"I'm sick to my stomach," said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck of Rodgers' final drive.
Rodgers has been criticized for not being able to engineer come-from-behind wins in the final two minutes of games by those trying to find a knock on his game.
It is not known what watering hole those skeptics drowned their sorrows in after Sunday's performance on national television.
"Two-minute drive is something we practice every week. It's something Aaron Rodgers does an excellent job of," McCarthy continued. "We haven't had that situation come up in a long time. Classic two-minute drive. I thought it was awesome."
Rodgers himself is tired of hearing the critics say that he didn't have any successful two minute drives under his belt. In his postgame news conference, when asked about whether or not he felt he answered those critics, Rodgers shrugged his shoulders, answered a terse "sure" and moved on to the next question.
Rodgers did have one blemish however; his fifth interception of the season when he failed to spot linebacker Chase Blackburn in the middle of the field. But even with that rare error, his quarterback rating for the game was still 106.2, his lowest rating of the season for any single game.
Considering that no other quarterback has a season rating above 106.2, Rodgers seemingly would have to go on an interception streak of Favreian proportions to fall behind in the one-man race for MVP. For the season, Rodgers quarterback rating is still a staggering 125.3. For the Packers signal caller, he was offering up no apologies for his team's performance against a reeling but talented Giants team.
"I can't think of another team that played us this well on both sides of the ball. The Giants did a good job of getting us out of some stuff and hitting me a number of times, but we made just enough plays in the end to get the job done."
12-0? I'd say the Packers are getting the job done.
The drops. Three alone for Jermichael Finley. Others, including Greg Jennings got into the act, as well. However, Finley's stood out more after comments made this week to the Green Bay Post-Gazette's Rob Demovsky that he didn't think that he had the necessary chemistry with Rodgers that he needed.
The lesson: if you chirp, you better answer the call when you get what you are asking for.
Also bad, the Packers defense, especially on the Giants first possession of the game.
Eli Manning found former Badgers tight end Travis Beckham wide open at the Packers 35-yard line. Beckham badly beat safety Charlie Peprah to get open, and then cut left at the 27, juking Morgan Burnett who came over to help. At the 17, Beckham abruptly switched gears and cut back right, leaving Burnett and Peprah in the dust again. At the 10, with Peprah over-pursuing right, Beckham then turned on a dime back left, eventually going into the end zone untouched for a 67-yard touchdown.
In all, Manning threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Hakeem Nicks. Nicks second score capped a 9-play, 69-yard scoring drive that tied the game (following the two point conversion) at 35-35.
In all, the Packers defense wasn't great, particularly in stopping the pass. I know I've been saying it all season long; at some point they won't be able to have Rodgers bail them out.
You just hope that time isn't in Indianapolis in two months.
Also bad was Rodgers protection at times. Too many times the pocket collapsed around the Green Bay franchise quarterback. Rodgers led the Packers ground attack with 32 yards on 4 carries when he was forced to run. Rodgers was also sacked a couple of times and found himself under consistent pressure.
In fairness, the Green Bay offensive line was more mediocre than bad, but the name of the column isn't the good, the mediocre, and the ugly, now is it?
One other bad is the concussion suffered by Charles Woodson. He'll have to undergo a series of independent tests before he'll be allowed to play Sunday against his former team, the Oakland Raiders.
Dear Troy Aikman: You've been calling Packers games for the last three weeks. By now you should know it's Jer-MICHAEL Finley, not Ja-MARCUS Finley. Mmmmmkay?
Speaking of ugly, since this was a league decision, and the NFL offices are only about 10 miles or so as the crow flies from the Meadowlands, I really must file a complaint in regards to Super Bowl XLVI.
Madonna at halftime? Really? Madonna? Who came up with this moronic idea?
Ever since Janet Jackson and "Nipplegate" in Houston a few years ago, the NFL had been cramming a bunch of geriatric has-beens down our throat until last year when the Black Eyed Peas performed at Cowboys Stadium. But in the years since the FCC lost their collective minds, we have been subjected to acts like The Who and the Rolling Stones, which while iconic in their own right, should have been booked 30 years before they were.
But Madonna? I'm not sure she ever would have hit the mark for a football game.
However, never to criticize without offering a solution, if the NFL wanted to honor its AARP members, I might suggest booking John Mellencamp, who would as a bit of local flavor to the Indianapolis event. If acting global is more preferable than buying local, Billy Joel at least might be of more appeal to your typical football fan than Madonna.
Last year the NFL went contemporary. Right now, there is no one with more youthful crossover appeal than Taylor Swift. If they wanted to appeal to more football fans, Jason Aldean might add a harder edge than Swift would.
U2 performed nine years ago. Why couldn't they make a return engagement? After all, Up with People played the halftime show a whopping four times. Surely Bono and the boys can play twice, right?
But Madonna? The last thing we need to subject the youth of America to is an oversexed 53-year old woman writhing in spandex and a bustier singing about how she would prefer it if her papa did not preach.
Then again, we did get the Stones a few years ago.
Next week: vs. Oakland (7-5)
Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at OnMilwaukee.com.
Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.
Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.
Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.