It wasn’t the boat. It wasn’t Bieber. The Packers were just better.
There’s no shame in that. Lately, the Packers have been better than everyone. Sunday’s blowout win over the Giants was their seventh straight. The key, as usual, has been Aaron Rodgers. He’s been God’s gift to the quarterback position during the Packers’ win streak, completing a remarkable 69.6 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and (wait for it) ZERO interceptions.
Even with his best wide receiver sidelined for much of the day (we’ll get to that in a minute), Rodgers still had no trouble carving up one of the league’s best secondaries on Sunday. Of course, just like the Packers’ season, it took a while for him to get going. The Giants didn’t bring much pressure but still managed five sacks because Rodgers’ receivers were having trouble getting open downfield.
But often in sports a single play can change the course of an entire game. No player is better at making his own luck than Rodgers. His 42-yard touchdown strike to Randall Cobb at the end of the first half—another strong entry in the Rodgers’ Hail Mary canon—gave the Packers all the momentum they would need.
Cobb was the difference maker none of us were expecting. He wasn’t even a lock to play on Sunday after missing the previous two weeks with a nagging ankle injury. But a perfect set of circumstances unfolded. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, an All-Pro selection and PFF’s No. 3 cornerback in 2016, hurt his thigh early in Sunday’s game and was limited to two snaps. That gave Cobb more room to operate in the slot while Jordy Nelson’s rib injury paved the way for more targets.
When all was said and done, Cobb finished with five catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday marked Cobb’s second 100-yard performance of the season. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Cobb’s other 100-yard effort also came against the Giants. That was back in Week 5 when Cobb nabbed nine catches for 108 yards in Green Bay’s 23-16 victory. Cobb’s three touchdowns Sunday were more than he had scored in his previous seven games combined.
The early news on Nelson isn’t encouraging, which means Cobb should be in for another big role in the Divisional Round. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Nelson suffered at least two rib fractures and would need nothing short of a miracle to suit up Sunday against top-seeded Dallas. Nelson’s value to the Packers is easy to quantify. He led the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns, while also finishing in the top-10 in numerous other categories including catches (97), targets (152), yards (1,257) and yards per game (78.6). But why would the Packers sweat it after hanging nearly 40 points on the Giants with Nelson sidelined for most of the game?
The Packers have essentially applied the popular fantasy technique “Zero Running Back” to real life. Only three teams logged fewer carries during the regular season, a product of both injuries and a perplexing lack of depth at running back. Green Bay’s most effective rusher this year was Ty Montgomery, who began the year as a backup wide receiver. So don’t expect the Packers to go away from what’s been working for them. They’re going to keep slinging with or without Jordy. Cobb and Davante Adams should both be up to the task against a Dallas secondary that yielded the seventh-most passing yards per game this season.
Green Bay’s prolific passing game was obviously on display Sunday at Lambeau but perhaps the Packers aren’t getting enough credit for shutting down Odell Beckham. And it wasn’t just Sunday either. In his two games against the Packers this year, Beckham managed only nine catches for 84 yards on 23 targets. That’s a success rate of 39.1 percent.
The Packers threw the kitchen sink at Beckham, shadowing him with Ladarius Gunter while also doubling him in obvious passing situations. Even then Beckham still had opportunities but couldn’t make the most of them. He finished with three drops including what would have been a 28-yard touchdown during the first quarter.
For an athletic freak who can do things like this, Beckham has botched far too many routine plays this season. While Beckham was often the Giants’ only source of offense this year, his composure—or lack of any—continues to undermine his play. Beckham reportedly punched through a wall after Sunday’s loss and also had a testy exchange with a member of the Packers’ ground crew.
That’s not the most professional way to handle losing but Beckham is far from the first player to lose his cool after a tough game. The problem is that Beckham’s meltdowns are occurring on a near-weekly basis and it seems like he’s made no effort to correct his behavior. Nobody has it all figured out at age 24. Beckham is going to make mistakes. But he’s also the Giants’ best player, a role that comes with some expectation of leadership.
“We all had to grow up at different times in our lives,” said GM Jerry Reese after Beckham’s latest outburst. “I think it’s time for him to do it now. He’s been here three years now.”
The boat trip to Miami was great headline fodder for the New York newspapers but mostly meaningless. Even the golden boy Tom Brady (who is now on Instagram, if that’s important to you) admitted that he used to live it up on his off-days. “When I was young, I did a lot of things when I look back, I probably wish I wouldn't have done—flying across country and things like that,” Brady told WEEI on Monday. “It just wasn't publicized."
Brady is probably thankful Twitter didn’t exist in his 20s. The story was overblown, as all matters with New York sports teams seem to be, but after seeing it blow up in his face, I’m betting Beckham and his crew will wait until after the season the next time they decide to hit up South Beach.
Beckham doesn’t have to be a choir boy but if he’s going to put on a Broadway show with kicking nets or warm up shirtless in 10-degree weather, he better get the job done on game day. Sunday he couldn’t deliver on that promise.
Quick Hits: One of the six head-coaching vacancies has been filled. Doug Marrone, who served as the Jaguars’ interim head coach after the firing of Gus Bradley, will take over as the full-time head coach next season. The Jags also inked GM Dave Caldwell to a two-year extension while hiring former head coach Tom Coughlin as the team’s new Executive VP of Football Operations. According to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Coughlin is expected to have the “final say on everything” … The Bills have cast a fairly wide net in their head-coaching search but according to WGR 550’s Sal Capaccio, interim coach Anthony Lynn and Panthers DC Sean McDermott have emerged as the clear frontrunners. Those two have distanced themselves from other candidates including Cardinals OC Harold Goodwin, Eagles OC Frank Reich and Seahawks DC Kris Richard … The Vikings fired QBs coach Scott Turner on Monday. Turner’s father Norv resigned as the team’s offensive coordinator prior to Week 9, handing the reigns to Pat Shurmur. Both Turners had been with the Vikings since 2014 … Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan impressed during his interview with the Broncos and has narrowed the gap between himself and perceived favorite Vance Joseph, according to 9News Denver’s Mike Klis. Shanahan, who also has an interview coming up with the Rams, is known to prefer the Denver job over other coaching vacancies. If Joseph lands a head-coaching job this offseason, he’s expected to bring on former Chargers coach Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator … Pep Hamilton is leaving the Browns for the University of Michigan, where he’ll serve as an assistant coach/passing-game coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. Former Bills OC Greg Roman could be a candidate to replace Hamilton in Cleveland … The Redskins have interviewed Mike Pettine for their opening at defensive coordinator. Pettine coached the Browns to a 10-22 record during his two-year stay in Cleveland. The Redskins are looking to replace Joe Barry, who was fired last week … Tom Savage is out of the concussion protocol and will serve as Brock Osweiler’s backup Saturday against New England. The Texans lost 27-0 when they traveled to Foxboro in Week 3, and that was with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett filling in for Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady … In addition to his criticism of Odell Beckham, Giants GM Jerry Reese also said in his year-end press conference that Eli Manning is “probably on the back nine of his career.” The youngest Manning brother turned 36 earlier this month … Jason Pierre-Paul was forced to sign a one-year “prove-it” contract after losing two of his fingers in a fireworks accident last year but expects to get a long-term deal this offseason. He underwent hernia surgery about a month ago … Ben Roethlisberger has already shed the walking boot he wore on his injured ankle after Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. It looks like he’ll be fine for the Divisional Round against Kansas City … Steelers OLB coach Joey Porter has taken a leave of absence following his arrest Sunday night in Pittsburgh. He’s facing five charges including aggravated assault, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct … On the injury front, Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed that Justin Houston and Spencer Ware will both be active for Sunday’s Divisional matchup against the Steelers. Houston sat out the Chiefs’ final two regular season games with a knee issue while Ware was sidelined for Week 17 with a rib injury … The Seahawks were hoping to get C.J. Prosise (shoulder) back this week but he still needs to be cleared for contact. Meanwhile, lead back Thomas Rawls set a team playoff record by rushing for 161 yards in Saturday’s win over the Lions … Ameer Abdullah expects to be 100 percent for OTAs. He missed most of the season with a torn ligament in his foot … Impending free agent Anquan Boldin hinted that he plans on playing at least one more season. The 36-year-old led the Lions with eight touchdowns in 2016 … Fresh off upsetting Alabama in the National Championship (what a game!), Clemson QB Deshaun Watson has decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist is expected to be a first-round pick.