The Green Bay Packers sent one message to their critics and their fans that had already marked their season as lost. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers perhaps said it best in a post-game interview with NBC:
The Packers upset the previously undefeated Houston Texans 42-24 in their own building to move to 3-3 on the season. It was an emphatic win that put the rest of the NFL on notice that there is nothing wrong with Aaron Rodgers and that despite the loss of three members of the defense (Nick Perry, D.J. Smith and Sam Shelds) to injury, the defense could make plays and shut down one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks.
It was stunning victory even the most optimistic Packer fan didn’t see coming.
Who stepped up this week and who stepped down?
QB Aaron Rodgers
All week, Rodgers took questions about what was wrong with the Packers and more specifically what was wrong with him. Rodgers to his credit put full blame on himself, saying that he needed to play better.
On NBC last night, Chris Collinsworth mentioned when he and Al Michaels met with Rodgers in the days before the game and they both noted how angry the reigning NFL MVP sounded. They said he told them he was sick and tired of being asked about what was wrong with the Packers. Michaels and Collinsworth quoted Rodgers as saying, “The sky is falling on the outside, but everything is just fine on the inside.”
Rodgers took those words and took out his frustration on the Texans in his most brilliant game this season and perhaps even one of the most brilliant of his career. Rodgers tied a franchise record with six touchdown passes as he completed 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards.
Want proof Rodgers played with extra fire? Even though it was called back due to a holding penalty, when Rodgers scrambled for a touchdown run he spiked the ball incredibly hard in the end zone and performed his “title belt” celebration with more fire than anyone had ever seen before.
Rodgers was playing angry. If that fire continues throughout the rest of the season, the rest of the league is in deep trouble.
WR James Jones
Much like Jordy Nelson had a breakout season a year ago, Jones is having a career year in 2012. Jones has caught two or more touchdown passes in three consecutive games, becoming only the second Packer to do that. Who is the other one? None other than the great Don Hutson.
That’s pretty elite company for Jones to be in.
With Greg Jennings nursing a nagging groin injury, Jones is making the most of the opportunity. As a player many fans have been calling for to be traded the past couple seasons, Jones has gone out there and shown his worth to an offense that is by no means short on playmakers.
With Nelson seeing more double coverage thanks to the absence of Jennings, Jones has found favorable matchups the past few weeks and the game against the Texans was no exception. Throw in a spectacular one handed touchdown catch and Jones is no longer the weakest link of a strong group of wide receivers. He’s been a machine for the Packers this season.
One has to wonder if any fans still want him to be traded?
DEs C.J Wilson and Jerel Worthy
Thanks to last week’s meltdown in the second half and the injury to starting defensive tackle B.J. Raji, many thought the Packers defensive line would struggle against the Texans and their potent rushing attack led by Arian Foster.
Those fears were for naught as Wilson and Worthy performed admirably in Raji’s absence. Each of them recorded a sack and both disrupted the Texans offensive line so much that it allowed Clay Matthews to blitz almost freely.
The Packers limited Foster to only 29 yards on 17 carries in one the best rushing defense performances they have had in a long time. By helping take away Foster, Wilson and Worthy forced Matt Schaub into some throws and made the Texans offense look very ordinary.
WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb
Many were waiting for Nelson to break out this season, and they finally got it in this game. Rodgers threw six touchdown passes and half of them were to Nelson. Cobb didn’t have any touchdown catches, but he caught seven balls for 102 yards and his athletic prowess once again was on display.
Nelson finished the game with nine catches for 121 yards to go along with the three touchdown receptions. With Jennings still out, the Nelson/Cobb combination could be just as lethal had Jennings been on the field.
The Packers are set at the receiver position for a long time.
TE Jermichael Finley
Finley deserves credit for playing this week despite being hobbled by injury. Any player willing to play through pain for the good of his team should be praised.
That said, Finley was not a major part of the game plan. Perhaps some of this was due to his injury, but when his number was called it was the same old story for the Packers tight end. Another drop at a critical time and a boneheaded penalty cost the Packers some points.
While it didn’t cost the Packers this week, Finley’s lack of improvement is wearing out the patience of fans more and more every week. Thanks to the stellar play of Jones, Finley suddenly has become Packers fans’ favorite trade bait and with the improvement in the passing game of Tom Crabtree many are wondering when the coaches will sit Finley due to his lack of production.
Finley needs to be on the hot seat. Will he ever make it to the top part of this column? Stay tuned.
The occasional soft defense
This might seem like a bit of a nitpick, but the Packers defense still showed flashes of its soft self from the Colts game against the Texans last night.
The score never was really close, but there were times the Packers could have put the Texans away and instead played a soft zone defense and let the Texans and their fans continue to cling to that one piece of hope despite what the scoreboard may say .
Even with Foster being shut down by the Packers, the Texans still have Andre Johnson who is one of the best receivers in the league. The Packers in the second half once again seemed to let up off the gas pedal defensively and thanks to a brilliant game by Rodgers, the Packers defense never really faced a critical series for the Texans offense in the game.
Thanks to more injuries, defensive coordinator Dom Capers is going to be challenged to have enough players to effectively run the schemes he wants to run. He did some of his best work in 2010 when the Packers had 15 players on injured reserve. He’s probably facing a similar scenario in 2012.
We all know how 2010 ended for the Packers.
There were so many standouts in this game it’s impossible to list them all here. Who gets your game ball? Did anyone let you down so much that you want to throw a lame call their way?——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke