Aaron Rodgers showed MVP form on Sunday, tossing four touchdown passes in a sublime performance to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 38-13 victory over the New York Giants in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Here’s what we learned:
1. New York’s star-studded defense dominated the first quarter and a half, smothering Rodgers’ receivers and sacking the quarterback four times while holding the Packers to negative yardage over the opening 18 minutes. Manufacturing a spark, Rodgers brought his offense to life just before halftime with a pair of brilliant throws to Davante Adams and a trademark Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb, turning a 6-0 deficit into a 14-6 lead in less than three minutes. After Mike McCarthy’s fourth-down gamble backfired into a 41-yard Giants touchdown in the third quarter, Rodgers zipped three consecutive passes of 13, 20 and 30 yards for the answer. His third touchdown to Cobb sealed the game early in the fourth quarter, giving Green Bay a 31-13 lead. The hottest quarterback in football has 19 touchdowns without an interception during the Packers‘ seven-game winning streak, becoming the first to reach 30 points against the Giants this season.
2. The state of Rodgers’ receiving corps appeared bleak when go-to target Jordy Nelson was quickly ruled out for the game after taking the crown of Leon Hall‘s helmet to his ribcage in the second quarter. Cobb picked the right time to play hero, coming through with his best game in two years after missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury. Between Cobb, Adams (eight receptions, 125 yards and a touchdown) and secret weapon Jared Cook, Rodgers has enough firepower to hang with the top-seeded Cowboys even if Nelson misses the Divisional Round at Dallas.
3. All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins showed Defensive Player of the Year form in a three-play sequence during the third quarter. After a forearm shiver stopped Aaron Ripkowski cold in front of the first-down marker, Collins stonewalled the powerful fullback on back-to-back short-yardage carries. Giants general manager Jerry Reese deserves NFL Executive of the Year consideration after refashioning an outstanding defense with Collins as the centerpiece.
4. That said, Reese has his work cut out for him on the other side of the ball. The Giants were held under 20 points for the sixth consecutive game, the longest such stretch of Eli Manning‘s career. Manning came out firing in the first quarter, but was done in by shaky receiver play and the offensive line’s inability to open holes in the running game. As promising as rookie tailback Paul Perkins was in December, he was purely a shotgun specialist versus nickel defenses. The ground attack lacked a sustaining element all season long, which left a slumping Manning in poor passing situations. If Eli is going to recapture 2015 form, Reese must fix the blocking and add a power back.
5. Coach Ben McAdoo scuttled any post-game hot takes about his receivers’ early week yachting adventure, insisting “that didn’t have anything to do with the game.” That won’t keep the media hounds at bay after Odell Beckham came up short in the playmaking department. A third-down drop cost the Giants a chance at a field goal on the opening drive. Granted an opportunity for redemption on the next possession, Beckham failed to convert a 28-yard touchdown throw from Manning. He turned 11 targets into four catches and just 28 yards, tied for the second-lowest output of his sterling three-year career. As disappointing as Beckham’s postseason debut was, the Giants know he’s part of the solution — not the problem. He’s been carrying McAdoo’s offense for three months.
6. Look for McCarthy to lean more heavily on Christine Michael next week. Converted wideout Ty Montgomery managed just 2.45 yards per on 11 carries and missed a portion of the fourth quarter after twisting his knee. The Packers might not trust Michael to be in the right place in passing situations, but he was the stronger runner on Sunday, powering through tacklers with an explosive burst.
7. For the sixth time in seven years, perennial NFC powers Green Bay and Seattle will be featured in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.