The short-handed Green Bay Packers, playing without five starters, showed their talent runs deep by beating the Cleveland Browns 31-13 on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Playing without receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones, Aaron Rodgers threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns as Green Bay took over the lead in the NFC North.
"They're all special," Rodgers said. "I think you have to remind yourself after a win like this, where it wasn't the cleanest game for us, it's tough to win in this league. I'm proud of our guys."
Cleveland fell into a 14-0 hole in the first 12 minutes and never posed much of a threat with Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Weeden completed just 17-of-42 passes for 149 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, and the Browns finished with just 216 yards.
Still, the Browns were able to hang around because of their defense, but Green Bay finally seized control midway through the fourth quarter.
A 39-yard catch-and-run by Jarrett Boykin gave the Packers a first-and-goal at the 1, and Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for the touchdown to make it 24-6 with 8:30 to play.
Travis Benjamin returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the Packers' 20, with the Browns getting a fourth-down touchdown pass of 2 yards to Jordan Cameron with 6:09 remaining. The Browns' Joe Haden recovered the onside kick when Green Bay's Myles White failed to control the bouncing ball, but Eric Martin was flagged for offside.
On the rekick, Haden again recovered but the ball didn't travel the required 10 yards, and the Packers took possession. They put the game away on Rodgers' 20-yard touchdown pass to Boykin. Boykin, a second-year player who entered the game with six career catches, caught eight balls for 103 yards.
"Disappointing loss for us tonight," Browns coach Rod Chudzinski said. "We were not able to get the job done against an outstanding football team. Give Green Bay a lot of credit the way they played. Aaron Rodgers showed the kind of quarterback that he is and they did a heck of a job against us tonight."
Cleveland stayed in the game despite the dismal start, thanks in large part to its seventh-ranked defense. After opening the game with two touchdowns, Green Bay's next five possessions ended in a punt, field goal, missed field goal, punt and punt.
But the Browns couldn't take advantage. Trailing 17-6, they drove to Green Bay's 26-yard line, but Weeden's deep ball intended for tight end MarQueis Gray was overthrown, and a short checkdown was dropped by Willis McGahee.
After an illegal-formation penalty made it third-and-15, Weeden threw incomplete just as he was about to get hit by A.J. Hawk. On fourth down, the Browns bypassed a 49-yard field-goal attempt. Mike Daniels hit Weeden, and his deep throw to Josh Gordon was broken up at the last moment by Davon House.
At that point, the Browns had just 158 yards and were 4-of-13 on third down.
"I say it every week, but I think it's a consensus every week, and that's first and second down," Weeden said. "We aren't really giving ourselves a chance in those third-and-longs, and you get in those third-and-7s, plus playing against a defense like that, they can really give you some different looks and make it tough to convert."
The Packers, despite being without receivers Jones (knee) and Cobb (broken fibula) and outside linebackers Clay Matthews (broken thumb) and Nick Perry (foot), were 10-point favorites. And they wasted no time racing to a 14-0 lead.
After a 26-yard catch by Jermichael Finley in which he ran over safety Tashaun Gibson, Finley barreled through four would-be tacklers for a 9-yard touchdown that gave Green Bay a 7-0 lead.
The Packers extended the advantage to 14-0 on their next possession. Lacy ran for 8 yards and then a 1-yard score on the final two plays of the drive.
Meanwhile, Weeden struggled. In the opening quarter, he completed 2 of 11 passes for 23 yards with one interception and a 1.7 passer rating.
Weeden did hit Cameron for 15 yards on third-and-3 to set up a 46-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff. The Packers answered with a field goal just before halftime to lead 17-3.
"I'll say this was a very rewarding victory for our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Obviously, we had unusual challenges. I can't say enough about our players. We had a lot of moving parts going into this contest. It was an outstanding team victory, something we'll definitely build off of. I'm very proud of our football team."
NOTES: Finley was taken off the field on a stretcher after a fourth-quarter reception in which he was hit by Gipson. Finley, who sustained a concussion in Week 3 against Cincinnati, had movement and feeling in his extremities, the team reported. He was taken to a local hospital for testing but the team had no further information. ... Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon, who was second in the NFL in receiving yards per game, caught just two passes for 21 yards. ... Before scoring on their first two red-zone possessions, the Packers were on an 0-for-6 skid and had been 5-of-16 since Week 1. ... The Browns ran out of the Wildcat formation for one play in the second quarter and one play in the third, with Gray at quarterback. Gray played quarterback for much of his career at Minnesota. Neither play was successful. ... Browns linebacker Quintin Groves was lost with an ankle injury. ... The Packers entered the day having recorded at least 385 yards of offense in a team-record eight straight regular-season games. They finished with 357 on Sunday. ... The Packers claimed receiver Chris Harper off waivers from San Francisco on Friday and he was active on Sunday.