During the first half of the Green Bay Packers’ 38-13 destruction of the New York Giants, it hardly seemed as though the Packers would be destroying anyone at all. At one point the Giants led in total yards 197-7.
However, the game was still just 6-0 at that time, and obviously well within reach for Green Bay. After another Packers’ drive floundered and the punt team pinned the Giants at their own 8 yard line, however, matters began to change. A poor punt by the Giants three plays later, and a good Micah Hyde return, saw the Packers starting at the Giants’ 38 yard line. Although the offense had been struggling up to that time, this was just the sort of momentum changer the Packers needed. Aaron Rodgers promptly found Davante Adams for 31 yards, and two plays later did this:
Green Bay now led 7-6, because the Packers’ defense and special teams set the offense up in great position, and Aaron Rodgers is a wizard.
After yet another Giants drive floundered, the Packers were able to get the ball back with 1:38 left to go in the first half at their own 20-yard line. Everyone would have been happy to get 3 points out of a drive in those circumstances, and that’s exactly what the Packers seemed destined to achieve after two Ty Montgomery runs and a pass to Randall Cobb placed them at the 50 yard line.
However, the Packers were only able to advance 8 more yards over the ensuing plays, and in cold weather a field goal of well over 50 yards is pretty difficult. So rather than try it, Aaron Rodgers did that thing that he is getting pretty well known for:
Speaking about the play after the game, players indicated that the height Rodgers puts on such throws confuses defenders, causing them to misjudge where it may land, and giving his team the best chance to come up with a catch. It may not be bullet-proof, but given recent results it is hard to argue that Rodgers has a little magic in his Hail Mary throws. Because he is a wizard.
Just like that, the score was 14-6. The game was still in reach, obviously, but as the Packers had learned five years earlier, giving up a play like that to end the half can have lasting effects. The Giants hit a Hail Mary to take a divisional round matchup against the 15-1 Packers from a 13-10 game to a 20-10 halftime lead in 2011, on their way to ousting the top seed and winning a trophy.
Furthermore, To the later dismay of the Giants, catching the Hail Mary seemed to ignite not only Rodgers, but also Randall Cobb, who had hauled it in. Cobb caught two more touchdown passes in the second half, and although it took until the fourth quarter (and a bad Eli miss of Odell Beckham, Jr.) to put the game beyond reach, the table had been set. Aaron Rodgers, who finished with 362 yards and four touchdowns on 25/40 passing (125.2 rating), deflated the Giants at the end of the first half, and they were never the same team again.
A Few Notes
- Both Cobb (116) and Adams (125) had over 100 yards receiving, a needed boost for the offense after the Packers lost Jordy Nelson to an apparent rib injury when he was struck in the side by the crown of a helmet. No word on Nelson’s progress as of this writing.
- Julius Peppers is ageless, and finished the game with a sack, a tackle for loss, 2 passes defensed, and 2 more quarterback hits. He is not the all-game presence he was as a younger player, but the future Hall of Famer continues to contribute.
- Peppers’s counterpart, Clay Matthews, had been having a quiet day following a quiet season. However, the putative superstar stepped up when it mattered, sacking Eli Manning with 8:44 left in the fourth quarter and a 18-point lead. The Giants still had a long-shot at a comeback, but the sack caused Manning to fumble. While everyone else stood around watching, Peppers made a half-effort at recovering the ball, which most assumed was a forward pass. Matthews made no such assumption, knocked Giants running back Paul Perkins off the ball, and recovered the fumble he had caused 15 yards further up the field. It was a head’s up play that effectively put the dagger in the Giants.
- Jake Ryan anchored a defense that stayed strong against the Giants all day, leading the way with 12 tackles and 3 passes defensed. It is true that the Giants offense is far from explosive, but Ryan has grown into the best middle linebacker in Green Bay since Desmond Bishop helped them raise a Lombardi trophy.
- Running Back/Wide Receiver Ty Montgomery suffered a scary-looking knee injury in the second half, but came back into the game to take snaps near the close of business. It was a welcome site after Nelson’s injury and uncertain future.