Rarest of Feats Could Pay Playoff Dividends

QB Aaron Rodgers (Raj Mehta/USP)

What did the Packers accomplish against Detroit on Sunday that they've done only rarely under coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers? "There's definitely something we can draw from," McCarthy said, looking ahead to a stretch run that could culminate with a berth in the rugged NFC playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers have done some remarkable things under coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Coming from behind to win games isn't one of them.

Before Sunday, McCarthy was 8-29 in games in which the Packers trailed by one score at any point in the fourth quarter. Rodgers' record was a woeful 4-21, according to Scott Kacsmar's "Captain Comeback" blog on ColdHardFootballFacts.com

To add some extreme context to that number, Tim Tebow had five fourth-quarter comeback wins last season alone with Denver. Arizona's John Skelton had four fourth-quarter comeback wins in a span of seven games last season. In the "Cardiac Pack" season of 1989, Don Majkowski had five fourth-quarter comebacks.

Under McCarthy and Rodgers, the Packers have been the NFL's ultimate front-runners — a fact that's hardly a criticism. Starting with their playoff run in 2010 through last year's pursuit of an undefeated season, the Packers won a record 19 consecutive games without trailing at any point in the fourth quarter. Green Bay led for 55-plus minutes in five of their 15 wins last year. With Rodgers' efficiency and a ballhawking secondary, the Packers routinely put teams away.

However, en route to going 10-6 in 2010, they were 1-6 when trailing in the fourth quarter. At least the win was a big one, beating Chicago in Week 17 to get into the playoffs.

Last season, they trailed 12-7 to start the fourth quarter at Kansas City and 20-13 to start the fourth quarter in the playoff loss to New York.

They had been 1-3 this year, with Green Bay scoring a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to beat the Saints 28-27.

Maybe the victory over Detroit will be a breakthrough.

The offense was sputtering all day under the pressure from the Lions' defensive line. After a second-quarter touchdown, the Packers' next six possessions netted seven first downs, 110 yards and no points. But when the Packers absolutely needed points, they got them with a magnificent six-play, 82-yard touchdown drive. Pressured all day, Rodgers was given flawless protection. Jermichael Finley did what he hadn't done in a long time — turned a short catch into a big gain by running through tackles. And on third-and-1, Rodgers threw his best ball of the day, a rainbow to Randall Cobb between two defenders for the go-ahead touchdown.

"We already had that confidence. We've done it before," Rodgers said on Wednesday. "I think their might have been some feeling of relief there, because it wasn't our best game on offense, and 7-3 feels a lot better than 6-4 would've been, still a game back in the division."

Then, it was the defense's turn. With the pressure of holding onto a scant one-point lead against a Detroit offense that led the NFL in fourth-quarter scoring, Green Bay forced four consecutive incompletions to essentially end the game.

"One of our biggest concerns was being able to be at our best in the fourth quarter because they're a team that really had scored a lot of points in the fourth quarter and really had played their best football in the fourth quarter," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. "And I thought our guys really the key in the game was going out there with 1:58 left, having four downs and getting off the field, then being able to close it out with the end of the game series even after that."

For McCarthy, Sunday's win was a first. He had been 0-16 in games in which he trailed after the first, second and third quarters.

To rally in a tough environment against a rival in a must-win game could produce dividends down the stretch, whether it's getting into the playoffs or making another championship run in the rugged NFC.

"There's a lot of value in it," McCarthy said on Thursday. "Any time you have a chance to win a game on the road against a division opponent, you know is tough sledding. There's spots in the game that you have to overcome. It's an experience you can draw from and really that big chunk of confidence that comes with division victories. Yes, there's definitely something we can draw from."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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