The Packers beat the Giants by 25, but for most of the first half, they seemed like they were in trouble. Trailing 3–0 almost 20 minutes into the game, Green Bay lost Jordy Nelson when a defender launched himself headfirst into Nelson’s rib cage.
But Aaron Rodgers and his second-through-sixth receiving options hung 38 points on the Giants, the first time New York had allowed 30 points all season. To recap: The Packers started out looking impotent on offense, then lost one of their best players, and ended up scoring nearly 40 points on one of the NFL’s best defenses.
When you eliminate one Packers receiver, another steps up. We’re used to seeing Randall Cobb star for the Packers, but he’d been their third-best receiver this year. After Nelson’s injury, he was back to being a stud. Cobb scored just four touchdowns in the regular season and had only one since Week 9, but on Sunday he had 116 receiving yards and snagged three touchdowns, tying the NFL playoff record.
Cobb missed the last two weeks of the regular season with an injury, and when he was out, rookie Geronimo Allison stepped up. Allison had four catches in the first 15 weeks of the year, then had eight for 157 yards and a touchdown in the two weeks Cobb was injured.
Nelson’s injury didn’t exactly seem like the type that he can come back from quickly. Hypothetically, it should be frightening for the Packers to lose their no. 1 receiver as they prepare to take on Dallas, the best team in the NFC.
But Green Bay survives injuries to key cogs. The Packers did it last year, when Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason and they still ended up a few plays away from the NFC championship game. They did it this year, too, when starting running back Eddie Lacy got hurt in October. They lost five of six games after Lacy’s injury, but then Rodgers began defying logic, completing 71 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in a six-game Green Bay win streak.
Lacy’s replacement, Ty Montgomery, got hurt in the second half Sunday night. Five plays later, Rodgers was throwing Cobb’s third touchdown. Montgomery would return to the game, but the fact that the Packers once again didn’t skip a beat after losing their no. 1 running back to injury is telling.
The Packers have not avoided injury. But whenever something bad happens to the team’s offense, Rodgers steps in and the team succeeds anyway.
Rodgers is at his best when things seem doomed, both on a macro level and on individual plays. We’ve all seen the type of play that defines him: The opposing blitz is on, Green Bay’s offensive line has broken down, and all the Packers receivers are covered. Most good quarterbacks would cut their losses and sail the ball into the crowd; bad ones would take a big sack or throw an interception. But Rodgers boggles the mind. He weaves and wobbles for eons until he creates a smidgen of space, then throws the ball to somebody who isn’t open. And because it’s Aaron Rodgers, it works.
The closest thing I can think of to Rodgers playing quarterback is David Blaine regurgitating frogs. We know there is some science to it; Danny Kelly explained exactly how Rodgers manages to be so successful on broken plays a few days ago. But I like keeping the childlike wonder.
Rodgers is the reason Green Bay can overcome so many injuries. It all comes down to him: If he fails, the Packers fail, as they did in October. But he can also show us a hat with nothing inside of it and pull out a string of touchdowns and wins. I won’t deign to predict which will happen. It’s all up to Rodgers’s unique brain and even more unique arm.