Down, but never out.
Despite losing two of their most productive offensive weapon (wide receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones) to knee injuries in the first half; being without the services of two starting linebackers (Brad Jones and Clay Matthews); and withstanding a near-collapse late in fourth quarter, the Green Bay Packers trumped the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, 19-17, Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It’s kind of been our motto for a long time around here: ‘Next man up.’ We have to make it work,” noted Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk, according to The AP.
Upping its record above .500 for the first time this season, Green Bay (3-2), who improved to 4-1 all time against Baltimore, was led by an efficient defensive unit which, despite allowing a late game rally, kept Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense at bay for the bulk of the contest.
Led by Hawk’s ten tackles (half of which were for a loss) and three sacks, the Packers, entering the weekend allowing the fewest yards on the ground (344) in the league this season, limited the Ravens to 47 rushing yards, while not allowing Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense into Green Bay territory until midway through the second quarter en route to a scoreless first half.
While the Packer defense wreaked havoc over the game’s first thirty minutes, the team’s offense, despite a promising opening drive, was far from efficient.
Following two carriers by rookie running back Eddie Lacy, who became the third Green Bay tailback to eclipse the century mark on the ground this season with 120 rushing yards, resulting in 47 yards to open the contest, the Packers took a quick 3-0 lead via a Mason Crosby field goal less two minutes in.
However, the offenses for each squad—both headlined by past Super Bowl MVPs, Flacco and Aaron Rodgers, whose respective contracts combined total nearly a quarter of a billion dollars ($230.6 million)—stood at a relative stand still leading to intermission.
All told, following the Crosby field goal, the two signal callers combined for 15 completions—nearly equaling the amount of punts (12) in the first half—while the Packers were reduced to only two active receivers, Jarrett Boykin and Jordy Nelson, as both Jones and Cobb transition from pads to street clothes upon sustaining injuries.
Unable to convert a first-and-goal at the Packers four into points or take advantage of, essentially, an extra possession upon Green Bay fullback John Kuhn fumbling a blocked Packers punt in the second quarter, the Ravens (3-3), who entered the weekend having triumphed in 26 of their past 29 regular season home affairs, headed into the locker room on a somber note.
Taking possession with 20 seconds remaining in the half following Mason Crosby’s wide-right 44-yard field goal, Flacco, with eight ticks on the clocked, was sacked and stripped of the football by Mike Neal and recovered by rookie Datone Jones, who raced 20 yards to set up a 31-yard Crosby field goal to put a bow on a sloppy half of football.
The second half opened with a familiar theme as Baltimore’s first two possessions culminated in punts, while Rodgers, who finished with 312 yards through the air and one touchdown on 17-of-32 passing, tossed the game’s lone interception.
From there, though, a semblance of normalcy returned as both teams added points to the scoreboard on each of the game’s three ensuing possessions, headlined by a 64-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Nelson, set up by an eye-catching play action, to give Green Bay a 16-3 edge with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
Baltimore, which was 2-of-14 on third downs, pulled to within 16-10 less than four minutes into the final frame upon Jacoby Jones putting the icing on a 10 play, 80-yard Ravens drive with an 11-yard touchdown reception, bringing new life into the predominantly purple and black-clad crowd.
With the momentum seemingly swaying in the favor of John Harbaugh’s club, Rodgers, whose 17 completions marked a season low, led the Packers on a clock-eating drive of their own—with a little help from Lacy.
Beginning at their own 16-yard line, Green Bay accounted for 72 yards, fueled by 31 rushing yards from Lacy, the team’s second round draft pick, and headlined by a 19-yard pass by Rodgers to tight end Jermichael Finely, setting up Crosby’s fourth field goal of the game, a 31-yard chip shot with 4:17 to play.
Green Bay, who amassed five sacks for the second consecutive week, appeared to have victory in hand as they had Baltimore, down 19-10, in a most unenviable position: 4th-and-21 deep in their own territory with a shade over two minutes remaining.
Yet, at a time when a stop was needed most, the Packers defense broke down in coverage.
Flacco, who entered the match up tied with Rodgers for the most wins since the 2008 campaign (57), connected with Tandon Doss for a 63-yard completion. Going no huddle on the next play, Flacco found tight end Dwight Clark in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass to winnow the deficit to 19-17 with 2:04 to play.
To the chagrin of the defending champions, the Packers would hold on.
Converting a pair of third-and-short situations (including a 52-yard reception by Finley on third and two with 1:53 to play), Green Bay earned their first road victory or 2013 season.
“Days like today remind you of why you love this game so much,” cited Rodgers, who also ran for 21 yards, as reported by The AP. “Offensively, we’re struggling a little bit, but we found a way to make enough plays to win.”
The Packers, who amassed 430 yards of total offense on Sunday, return to action when they play host to the Cleveland Browns at 3:25 p.m. CT on Sunday, Oct. 20.