Five Takeaways from Green Bay's 45-38 win over the Chargers:
1. Another win, but another close call
A 21-point lead with 10 minutes left in the game should not need to be won with a final-minute defensive stop, but that was the case for the Packers in San Diego. Aaron Rodgers threw his fourth touchdown of the game to take a 45-24 lead with 10 minutes to go, and it was all smiles and laughs on Green Bay's sideline. But instead of putting the game away, the Packers let the Chargers make it a close call. This happened for Green Bay in their previous game in Minnesota, as well. In that Week 7 game, the Packers were up by 16 entering the fourth quarter, but it took six great runs by James Starks in the final two minutes to put it away.
San Diego's late comeback started with an 80-yard touchdown drive in less than three minutes, including passing plays by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers of 31, 20 and 16 yards. That was followed up with an onside kick in which Packers receiver Jordy Nelson -- in an attempt to knock the ball out of bounds -- swatted the ball in the direction of San Diego players, giving the Chargers possession. It took Rivers three plays -- completions of 29, 13 and 13 yards -- to bring San Diego within one touchdown of a tied game with more than six minutes remaining.
In Week 1, Green Bay held a 15-point lead at home against the New Orleans Saints with less than 12 minutes to go. It took a last-second goal-line stand for the Packers to be a two-point conversion away from having to play overtime.
While the Packers were able to hold on for a win Sunday against the Chargers, they let another blowout turn into a close call. How many times can that happen before it results in a loss?
2. Bend, don't break: But how much is too much?
Green Bay's defense has been living by a dangerous motto this season: 'Bend, but don't break.' That is what they have started to rally behind, taking great pride in their ability to create turnovers and win games despite giving up big yardage to opposing offenses. While the players don't use it as an excuse for giving up a lot of yards, it is the fallback answer given when asked about it.
Against San Diego, it happened again. The Packers' defense gave up 385 yards to Rivers through the air and a season-high 83 yards (4.4 average) to Chargers running back Mike Tolbert. San Diego was without top running back Ryan Matthews and Tolbert missed the team's last game due to a hamstring injury.
However, Green Bay had two defensive touchdowns on interceptions in the first quarter. The Packers were also able to finally ice the game with an interception on the Chargers' final drive when Rivers and company had a chance to tie it.
So far this season, Green Bay has been able to go 8-0 despite allowing these types of big offensive performances. But at some point, allowing 460 yards to an opposing offense will cost them a win. The Packers just have to make sure that doesn't happen in a playoff game.
3. It's a good thing Rodgers is a machine
Rodgers had four touchdown passes and five incomplete passes in the game. The Super Bowl XLV MVP also had no interceptions, raising his season totals to 24 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has been as close to unstoppable as a quarterback can get, and, if he maintains this pace, will break several NFL records in the process.
Rodgers also continues to get multiple receivers involved, throwing one touchdown each to Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley.
Although he was sacked four times, Rodgers also continued to show his ability to escape pressure in the backfield by running eight times for 52 yards.
Rodgers does not like to talk about individual accolades, but it will take an incredible second-half of the season for any other NFL player to walk away with the Most Valuable Player Award instead of him.
4. Questionable play-calling late in the game
Speaking of Rodgers and his 'best player in the NFL' status, conventional wisdom would lead anyone watching the Packers to believe that, if the game is on the line, you let No. 12 make a play. However, with a chance to put the game away and be able to run out the rest of the clock, offensive play-calling head coach Mike McCarthy opted to give the ball to Starks.
It was 3rd-and-2 and San Diego had used its final timeout. Plus, the two-minute warning had just passed. If the Packers convert the first down, the game is over.
Rodgers was 21-of-26 passing in the game, and yet, he was not given an opportunity to keep the Chargers' offense off the field. He handed the ball to Starks who gained no yards and Green Bay was forced to punt and give Rivers a chance to bring his team all the way back from 21 points down and 10 minutes remaining.
San Diego's defense had given no indication that they had the personnel to stop Rodgers all game, so why not let your quarterback make a play?
The answer likely lies in McCarthy's play-calling in the Packers' previous game, a Week 7 win in Minnesota. Starks successfully ran the clock out down the stretch with a series of impressive runs in that game, but that doesn't mean it should become a habit to keep the ball out of Rodgers' hands in those moments.
5. 'Adversity football' paying off
McCarthy has preached all season that playing 'adversity football' has been and will continue to be beneficial for the Packers. That is to say that playing close games is a good thing.
Before heading into their bye week, several Packers talked about how they feel comfortable at 7-0 because those wins didn't all come easy. Only home wins over Denver (49-23) and St. Louis (24-3) were decisive victories.
Winning close games has its pros and cons, but at this point in the season, when the playoffs are all but a given for Green Bay and the season is only half over, it is better preparation for postseason football than eight easy wins.
However, for the Packers to truly look like a great team that dominates opponents, they will have to definitively put away a team when they take a big lead. Otherwise, opposing teams will never feel like they're out of a game. A coach can tell his players on the sideline down 21 points with 10 minutes to go, 'The Chargers came within one mistake away from coming back on this Green Bay team.' Putting a team away will be the next step for a Packers team that seems incapable of actually losing a game.
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