As it turns out, rumors of the demise of the Green Bay Packers were greatly exaggerated, or at least that's the narrative springing from Sunday night's rout in Houston. After their prime time spanking of the Texans, the Packers are set to become the league's most talked about 3-3 team.
And for good reason. Aaron Rodgers was masterful, the run defense was stifling, and the pass defense picked off passes at a rate we haven't seen since Jay Cutler was in a giving mood in Week Two.
Not only that, but the Packers demonstrated what's become a growing trend of NFC dominance over the AFC. Houston was 5-0 entering this week's game, but they'd only encountered AFC competition so far this year. Even an underachieving Packer team looked like absolute world beaters against Houston, which either confirms the theory that the NFC is truly better or just goes to show that any NFL team can beat any other on a given night.
(Or my reverse jinx from Friday worked...I'm going with that one.)
At any rate, it was an impressive win for the Packers, and restores some hope to a fan base that was certainly beginning to wonder if things might be headed off the rails in the season's second month.
Aaron Rodgers - 24 of 37, 338 yards, 6 TD, 133.8 passer rating - For my money, this was the best we've seen of Rodgers since his dismantling of Atlanta in the 2010 season playoffs. The reigning MVP played like he was the man with the hardware, posting a season high in yards, a career high in touchdown passes, and a season high in passer rating. Rodgers' performance pushed his passer rating into triple digits for the season, now sitting at a sparkling 105.4, the second highest mark in his career. The Packers' QB has been pretty remarkable in the last three games, tossing 13 touchdowns against just two interceptions, although that number is admittedly helped quite a bit by a 6 touchdown outing.
Jordy Nelson - 9 catches, 121 yards, 3 TD - Nelson was the best of the bunch in a receiving corps that was hitting on all cylinders (Randall Cobb - 7 catches, 102 yards; James Jones - 3 catches, 32 yards, 2 TD). Each of the former Kansas State Wildcat's touchdowns was impressive in its own right, but most significant was how he scored them, muscling past cornerbacks and leaping for passes like a power forward tearing down rebounds. It's hard to miss Greg Jennings when Jordy Nelson plays like this.
Casey Hayward - 3 passes defensed, 2 interceptions - In his best day as a pro, Casey Hayward (whose name I've apparently been misspelling all this time as Heyward) showed why he deserved to be a second round pick, swatting passes and coming up with a pair of interceptions. Hayward stepped in nicely for Shields, who went down with a leg injury in the second half. If Shields is out for any extended time, we may see more and more of Hayward, and that may not be a bad thing if he keeps this play up.
1.7 - Yards per rushing attempt for Arian Foster, the league's second leading rusher coming into this week's game. Foster gained just 29 yards on 17 carries, and even though he did score two touchdowns, he was more or less a non-factor in this game.
3 - Consecutive games with two touchdowns for James Jones, who appears to have put his problem with drops behind him (knock on wood). Seriously, though, James has been quite productive this year, even in a relatively tough stretch for the Packers. It's been fun to see Jones work with Jordy Nelson in the past couple games, providing a more physical receiving presence than we've seen from Green Bay in recent years.
22 - Rushing attempts for Alex Green, a career high by far. Even though he only gained 65 yards, Green filled in for Cedric Benson with a capable performance. Green looks like the hands down starter for the Packers right now, even with James Starks making a cameo appearance in the second half.
Showing Depth - Injuries to D.J. Smith, Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji, and D.J. Williams? Allow me to introduce you to Brad Jones, Casey Heyward, Alex Green, James Starks, Ryan Pickett, Jarrett Boykin, and Tom Crabtree. Despite a growing list of injuries, the Packers never seemed to miss a beat. Capable backups stepped up at nearly every position and existing starters stepped their games up even more. And speaking of Tom Crabtree...
He Only Catches Touchdowns - It's true, or at least it certainly seems that way. Crabtree has two touchdowns in just five catches this year, apparently having decided to do his best Spencer Havner impression. Whatever he's doing, it's working, and he's an entertaining follow on Twitter to boot. For example...
...Tom on politics...
...Tom asks celebrities personal questions...
...and Tom tells us his history with various food products.
All kinds of vital information, really.
Return of the Turnover - The Packers forced three, including the aforementioned interceptions by Casey Heyward and a spectacular diving pickoff by Sam Shields. Isn't it amazing what a defense can do when they force turnovers at a more Capers-esque rate?
Injuries - Thinner and thinner grows the Green Bay roster. Nick Perry,D.J. Smith, Sam Shields, and Brandon Saine all sustained knee injuries last night. What's worse, Mike McCarthy described the Smith and Saine injuries as "significant." Although Saine is at best a role player at this point, his stock was definitely on the rise following Cedric Benson's injury. Smith, on the other hand, is a starter and a valuable contributor. Any absence on his part would certainly be a considerable blow. The war of attrition might be starting to take its toll.
Not So Special - Tim "Ginger Wolverine" Masthay is a great punter, but it's hard for him to do his job when people are running at him unblocked. It wasn't a big deal last night, but a blocked punt would have been a game altering play in virtually any other contest. A team on the edge can't afford breakdowns on special teams. And speaking of teams on the edge...
Only .500 -It's time for me to throw a little water on the "Pack is back" fire. It's fun, sure, but we need to keep one thing in mind: the Packers should be 5-1 right now. Between the debacle in Seattle and the collapse with the Colts, the Packers have two losses on their record that frankly shouldn't be there. At 3-3, Green Bay still trails Chicago and Minnesota in the NFC North. If the playoffs started today (which they don't, but still), the Packers would be on the outside looking in. One win is nice, but the Packers need at least seven more in their final ten games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Again, the win was great, and it's definitely a significant one, but it was only one game. There is still work to be done.
That said, Tony Dungy tells me the Pack will be back if their defense keeps playing well.
Up Next - The Packers head to St. Louis for a date with the upstart Rams. Although they're a bit beat up, the Rams aren't the pushovers they once were. This one will be interesting.