The New York Giants’ defense played about as well as they possibly could for the majority for the first half on Sunday afternoon.
Then, the lightning struck, and by the time New York finally pulled its head up to assess the damage, the Green Bay Packers had routed the Giants right out of the playoffs 38-13 behind four Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes.
New York held a 6-0 advantage through the first 26 minutes before that turned into a 14-6 deficit by intermission thanks to the first two Rodgers scoring throws, one a Hail Mary to Randall Cobb on the last play of the second quarter.
In the past, the best description of Rodgers’ greatness was given to me by a former assistant in the NFC North.
The coach said Green Bay is the only team in football that you want to see run its offense. In other words, while defensive coordinators all across this league try to hurry other quarterbacks to get off their spots or speed up their throws, Rodgers is a completely different animal.
So, if Mike McCarthy calls a slant on 3rd-and-7 you want the Pack to run that play and take your chances, because if the All-Pro breaks contain, extends the play and starts playing sandlot football, you might as well look to the sky to find the other shoe parachuting right at your head.
The Giants and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo came in with a sound game plan designed to keep Rodgers inside the pocket with a disciplined pass rush that made sure to contain the edges. New York also correctly felt its cornerbacks could handle the Packers receivers in coverage and everything was working beautifully as the players implemented Spag’s vision beautifully.
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The margin of error, however, was small and made even smaller when New York’s offense failed to do its part. The Giants left at least seven points and quite possibly more on the field due to dropped passes, a pair from Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, including drops on potential TDs from each.
With New York backed up deep in its own territory a poor Brad Wing punt set up Green Bay on a short field and Rodgers needed one play, a 31-yard strike to Davante Adams, to put his team inside the 10 and start the avalanche. Two plays later A-Rod found Adams again and all of a sudden Green Bay was on top for good, 7-6.
A three-and-out with the Packers using their timeouts had Rodgers thinking about going for the jugular and interestingly a Jared Cook drop extended the half by one play, one which Rodgers used to sail his now-patented Hail Mary attempt to the back of the end zone, where it found Cobb, who matched a franchise record with three TD catches in the game.
McCarthy tried to give the Giants life in the third quarter by foolishly trying for a fourth-down conversion on his side of the field, one that resulted in the Giants’ only TD of the afternoon, a 41-yard strike from Eli Manning to Tavarres King.
Rodgers needed all of four plays on the ensuing possession to bail his head coach out, ending with another TD pass to Cobb, this one a 30-yarder.
When it was all said and done, Rodgers had completed 25-of-40 passes for 362 yards, the four scores, and a 125.2 passer rating, doing most of that without his top target Jordy Nelson, who was forced from the game with a rib injury.
Ever since Rodgers talked about the ability to “run the table” and win the NFC North, the Packers have won seven straight games, with the MVP candidate throwing 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions during that run.
And the No. 1 seed in the NFC would be wise to expect some of the same severe weather in North Texas next weekend.
The 13-3 Dallas Cowboys are next on the docket for Green Bay in a compelling divisional-round matchup.
The Cowboys are well-rounded offensively and far more equipped to take advantage of the Packers’ deficiencies on the defensive side. On the other hand, Rod Marinelli hardly has the same kind of toolbox to deal with Rodgers that Spagnolo brought to Lambeau Field on Sunday.
For now, Dallas has been installed as an early four-point favorite, but the moral of today’s story is don’t bet against Aaron Rodgers.
John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRag Sports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season on ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, CBS Baltimore, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.