December 26, 2010 – Lambeau Field, Green Bay Wisconsin
The Packers may have felt they had more than their share of bad luck this season. However, a couple games one week ago helped set the Packers path in stone. The Giants lost to the Eagles 38-31 after having a 31-10 lead in the 4th quarter. The other game was the Packers division rival Detroit Lions hanging tough with the young, up & coming Buccaneers. Former Packer kicker Dave Rayner tied the game with a 28-yard field goal at 1:39 remaining in the game, for the Lions. Then, in overtime, the Lions took the opening kickoff and drove 63 yards – covering most of the distance on two big runs and a 12-yard reception by Calvin Johnson on a third-and-8 play — to set up the game-winner a 34-yard FG to win the game 23-20.
Outsiders may have felt the Packers were lucky but no, this Packer team makes their own luck and they were determined to not let the opportunity slip by. The Packers path was set. The math was simple, every game from here on out would be a playoff game. Lose and you go home wondering “What if?” Win and you continue on. The Packers would not quit. They must beat the Giants, then the Bears to finish the season at 10-6. Then, of course, anything could happen after that. Truly, there was no room for error and if they did stumble, they would have the distinction of being one of the most talented teams not to make the playoffs.
The Giants were in the same boat. This was a playoff game for them too. Lose to the Packers and they are virtually eliminated (although not mathematically).
The Packers welcomed back superstar QB Aaron Rodgers & he didn’t disappoint, throwing 2 touchdowns in the first quarter–one to Jordy Nelson covering 80 yards & the other a 3-yard pass to James Jones putting Green Bay up 14-0.
The Giants, however, had some determination of their own tying the game at 14 with an 85-yard TD pass from Manning to Manningham.
In the waning minutes of the first half the Packers put together another drive, going from their own 21 in 6 plays and scoring on an 8-yard pass from Rodgers to John Kuhn.
The Packers then did what a desperate team is supposed to do. In the 2nd half they took control of a game the Giants weren’t sure they really wanted.
On the 3rd play of the 3rd quarter, Charles Woodson forced a fumble that safety Atari Bigby recovered. It resulted in a 31-yard Mason Crosby FG. After a Giants FG, Rodgers hit back-to-back passes of 33-yards to Driver and 36-yards to Jennings who ended up at the 1-yard line of the Giants. Rodgers capped the drive with a TD pass to Donald Lee & the rout was on!
Manning threw interceptions on 2 straight series–one to Nick Collins and the other to Sam Shields–and both resulted in Packer touchdowns by fan-favorite John Kuhn. Everytime he touched the ball, fans screamed “KOOOOOOONNN!!!” in honor of the fullback.
“It’s pretty funny,” said Kuhn, who spent a year on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster & actually earned a Super Bowl ring 2 years ago. “I don’t want to disappoint them (the fans).”
The Packers earned a thunderous victory, as the defense forced 6 turnovers, including intercepting Manning 4 times putting Manning at a league worst 24 interceptions on the season. It was the kind of thumping that had the Giants questioning themselves.
“We came out and played like we didn’t have anything to play for,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
Rodgers, a week after sitting out with a concussion was impeccable, completing 25 of 37 for a season-high 404 yards & 4 touchdowns. The major benefactors of those throws were Jennings who caught 7 for 142 yards & Nelson who finished with 4 catches for 124 yards and a TD.
It was the kind of performance coach Mike McCarthy had hoped to see from a team that knew what was at stake & played like it. “Those guys were ready to play,” he said. “They were sick & tired of hearing how tough the Giants were all week.”
Now the math was even simpler. If the Packers beat the Bears the following Sunday in the season finale at Lambeau they would be playoff-bound.
“We’re going to do the same thing next week,” a confident Nick Collins declared.
Next up: Game 16: Bear-ly Enough and the most storied rivalry in NFL history.