Packers 27, Chargers 20: 2-minute drill
Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, where the Packers improved to 6-0 on the season and extended their home winning streak to 13 straight games:
Thumbs up: Had it been Aaron Rodgers looking for a fourth-down, last-second touchdown from the 2-yard line, the Packers quarterback would have gone the same direction Philip Rivers did.
Right at Damarious Randall.
“Out there against a rookie, you’re going after him,” Rodgers said after watching the Packers’ first-round pick break up Rivers’ fourth-down pass to running back Danny Woodhead on the second-to-last play of the game, preserving the victory.
“Both our guys, ‘Q’ (Quinten Rollins) and Damarious, have been doing a good job of making plays. They have good ball skills. [With] the game on the line, he knocked it down, and he made some good plays on the ball down the field.
“He’s got a lot of confidence, he knows the ball is going to come his way. Really proud of him. It’s a big confidence booster for him – not that he needs a whole lot of a confidence boost because it’s already pretty high for him. That’s what you need when you play corner.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy called it the “biggest play of the game,” and had Randall not broken up the pass, the Chargers could have forced overtime (with the ensuing extra point kick) or gone for the victory with a 2-point conversion attempt. After Randall knocked away the pass, the Packers sideline erupted, with players streaming onto the field to celebrate with him.
“They actually ran that exact play earlier, a couple plays earlier, and they were trying to get it to [tight end Antonio] Gates,” explained Randall, adding that the Packers were in a Cover-2 defense on the fateful play. “Once they kind of lined up in it, I actually knew they were going to end up running some type of similar concept, and I was just trying to hold off and to just make sure he didn’t get it in to Gates and I was just trying to make sure he didn’t get it in to [Woodhead] as well. And I was just making a play up on the ball.”
As for his teammates’ reaction, Randall said: “Honestly, I actually liked how more excited my teammates were, and to just see my teammates that excited, that just speaks volumes for how close we are.”
Thumbs down: As crazy as it sounds, the Packers’ pass defense wasn’t as atrocious as the numbers would suggest. The old adage about the other guys getting paid, too, comes into play here, as Rivers was magnificent when it came to getting the ball out of his hand quickly, throwing his guys open and orchestrating the offense at the line of scrimmage so plays were directed away from where the Packers defenders had help
Nevertheless, 503 passing yards are 503 passing yards, and to allow Rivers to put up that number is still wholly unacceptable.
The greater issue, though, was that Rivers’ ability to get the ball out quickly forced the Packers and defensive coordinator Dom Capers to be more aggressive than they’d normally like. Capers would much rather pick his spots in terms of pressure; on Sunday, he had no choice but to send five and six rushers at Rivers with the hope of disrupting him.
“That’s really where the pressure came from,” McCarthy said. “We had to speed the game up. Obviously his production was a concern.”
After registering 20 sacks in the first five games of the season, the Packers didn’t sack Rivers at all in the first half. In the second, they got him three times and Julius Peppers pressured him on the fourth-down pass that Randall deflected.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full, but I don’t know if we would’ve anticipated [503 yards],” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I’m not sure the numbers he put [up], I’m sure they were more than we would’ve liked, but with the four-man pressure, it was difficult to get after him because he was getting rid of the ball so quick and finding the weaknesses in zone coverage with a lot of those crossing routes.
“Then, when we pressured with the linebackers, it required guys to cover the back out of the backfield once again with those crossing routes. So it was difficult. … Really, it came down to a couple of those red-zone stops and a couple of those key third downs, and fortunately we were able to make the plays when we needed to.”
Player of the game: Although there probably wasn’t anything more to it than a coach with a hunch and a back with a hot hand, McCarthy’s decision to go with No. 2 running back James Starks over regular starter Eddie Lacy did come as a surprise. Apparently, McCarthy told CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms of his plans to give Starks an opportunity, and when Starks gained 25 yards on his first carry of the game – and then delivered a thing of beauty on his improvisational 65-yard touchdown run.
“He’s a great player,” Rodgers said of Starks, who finished with 112 yards on just 10 carries. “He does a lot of things for us: He’s a great teammate, he brings a good energy to the field, he’s a slasher out there and he kept that [touchdown] run alive and then he showed off his speed. It was pretty impressive. As I followed him – I started to take off and kind of follow the play – I realized he was putting me in the dust. I didn’t want to look too slow so I kind of throttled back a little bit.”
Asked whether he was playing a hunch by starting Starks or if something was going on with Lacy, who has been battling a sore ankle the past few weeks, McCarthy replied, “No, it’s really that we’re a 1-2 punch team. It’s really no different than the way we’ve operated. We went with James first frankly because he’s been playing extremely well and Eddie’s been a little banged-up.
“I would have liked to have seen us run the ball a lot more, if you were going to draw up the game and play it differently. So that part didn’t work out that way, but James obviously had a huge day.”
Play of the day: T.J. Lang could have played it safe and just sat this one out. While the Packers veteran right guard had a tough-guy rep to uphold, and his downplaying diagnosis of his right knee injury notwithstanding, he could have opted not to play through the injury, gotten an extra week of healing before the bye and come back for the final 10 games raring to go.
Of course, had he not played, there’s a pretty good chance the Packers would have lost.
Leading 24-20 and starting their first drive of the fourth quarter at their own 29-yard line, Lacy was hit by Denzel Perryman and fumbled. Had Lang not been Johnny-on-the-spot and pounced on the loose ball – after it appeared the Chargers were going to recover it – San Diego would have had the ball at the Green Bay 25 with a chance to take the lead and ride their momentum to victory.
“A great reaction and obviously a huge play in the game, based on where the football was at,” McCarthy said.
Lang said he saw the loose ball and was only able to get it because the Chargers whiffed on their chance to recover.
“I turned around and saw the ball on the ground and ran in. They did a pretty poor job of trying to get it and it kind of fell into my lap,” Lang said. “Honestly, I ran over there and saw one of their guys try to scoop it and it popped out and just fell in front of me. There were a couple of arms and legs and I was just trying to keep it secure.”
Inside slant: McCarthy wasn’t particularly thrilled with referee Walt Anderson and his crew at halftime, particularly after he believed the Chargers should have been flagged for a false-start penalty on their touchdown on the final play of the half. In a sideline interview with CBS Sports’ Tracy Wolfson, McCarthy was asked what adjustments the Packers needed to make at halftime.
“We’ve got to play above the officiating,” McCarthy replied. “We knew going into the game there were going to be a lot of calls going both ways. We’ve got to be disciplined and just stay the course.”
While that line was jarring to some, it may not have been intended the way it sounded. McCarthy and his staff give the players a weekly scouting report on not only their opponents, but the zebras as well. And the Packers’ study of Anderson’s crew showed that there’d be lots of flags flying.
“I wouldn’t say [I was] frustrated. I thought the touchdown play there was movement at the line of scrimmage, so that was the [answer to the] first question [from CBS],” McCarthy said. “The reality of it is we game plan for everything. Walt’s crew always is pretty high historically in penalties and that’s something we talked about throughout the meetings. This officiating crew is No. 1 in the league in penalties. They averaged over 21 a game and we were probably about at that mark [at halftime]. I think they threw about 10 or 12 in the first half, so our discipline needed to improve. We talked about it at halftime and we were better in the second half.”
For the record, the teams combined for 15 accepted penalties Sunday.
By the numbers:
Of the 17 times in NFL history that a quarterback has thrown for 500 yards in a single game, three have come against Dom Capers-coached Packers defenses. Of those, the Packers won two of the three games and lost the other on the game’s final play:
7.) 520 yards – Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions, Jan. 1, 2012 (L).
16T.) 503 yards – Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dec. 20, 2009 (W).
16T.) 503 yards – Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers, Oct. 18, 2015 (L).
Quote, unquote: “[At] 6-0, we feel good about that. They bye is here, which is well-needed for our team to have a chance to get healthy, get back and get ready for the second phase of our season. I’m very pleased with the start.” – McCarthy, on getting to 6-0 at the bye.
Injury report: The Packers lost wide receiver/kick returner Ty Montgomery to a left ankle injury in the first half. That meant that the Packers were without three of their top five receivers from the start of training camp, with Jordy Nelson on injured reserve and Davante Adams inactive with his ankle injury for the third straight game. The Packers were also without nose tackle B.J. Raji (groin), outside linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) and safety Morgan Burnett (calf), who were all inactive.
Up next: The undefeated Packers have their bye week. Their next game is Nov. 1 at undefeated Denver.