Aaron Rodgers was at his best, throwing lasers where only his receivers could catch them and finding four different teammates in the end zone.
Yes, Rodgers had a lot to do with the Green Bay Packers remaining undefeated with a crazy 45-38 win over the staggering San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
So did Philip Rivers, whose miserable run of turnovers continued with three critical interceptions, two by Charlie Peprah.
Peprah and Tramon Williams returned pickoffs for touchdowns in a span of six plays in the first quarter, and Peprah’s second pick in the closing seconds sealed the win for the Packers (8-0).
Rodgers completed 21 of 26 passes for 247 yards and ran his NFL-leading total to 24 TD throws. He had scoring passes of 5 yards to Jermichael Finley, 16 to Jordy Nelson, 21 to James Jones and 4 to Greg Jennings.
”Aaron has a lot of strengths. His decision-making is clearly the highest level that I have personally been a part of,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of his Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
Rodgers, who lives in the upscale San Diego suburb of Del Mar in the offseason, seemed more impressed with the high percentage of cheeseheads in the sellout crowd than being the NFL’s only perfect team.
”The crowd was incredible,” Rodgers said. ”When you’re on the road and up by seven and it’s late in the game and they have to go on a silent count, that’s pretty impressive. I have to give a lot of credit to our fans the way they travel. It says a lot about the kind of fans we have.”
Jennings couldn’t emphasize enough how much Rodgers means to the Packers.
”He is a special, special, special, special player,” Jennings said.
The Chargers (4-4) have lost three straight games, including road collapses at the New York Jets and on Monday night at Kansas City, when Rivers inexplicably fumbled a snap in the final minute of regulation.
Rivers also threw four touchdown passes Sunday to tie his career high, three of them to Vincent Jackson.
”We’re fighting through a rough time right now,” said Rivers, whose 14 interceptions and 17 total turnovers lead the NFL. ”These tough times, you find out a lot about guys, a lot about yourself.”
Rivers was 26 of 46 for 385 yards. It was the first time in his career that he threw three interceptions in a game.
The Packers led by 21 points early in the fourth quarter before Rivers threw touchdown passes of 5 and 29 yards to Jackson in the span of 1:07 midway through the quarter.
San Diego had a final chance to tie it, starting a drive at its 32 with 1:05 remaining and no timeouts left. Aided by a pass interference call against Charles Woodson, Rivers moved the Chargers to the Packers 41 before putting up a deep ball that Peprah easily picked off and returned 76 yards to the San Diego 6. The Packers took a knee to end the game.
Rivers threw two pick-6s that gave the Packers a 21-7 lead.
Desmond Bishop tipped a pass intended for tight end Antonio Gates and Peprah intercepted. He broke four tackles during his 40-yard return and got a big block by Clay Matthews.
On the next Chargers possession, Williams jumped a route for an interception and 40-yard TD return.
”On the first one, the guy made a great play,” Rivers said. ”The other one, they just fooled me.”
Peprah said the Packers still have a lot of work to do on defense.
”We’re a pressure defense, so we’re going to give up some big plays. But we feel we’re going to make some, too,” he said. ”I wouldn’t trade a perfect defense for a win, so I’ll take the W and we’ll clean up that stuff later.”
Rivers and Mike Tolbert kept the Chargers in the game. Tolbert scored on an 8-yard run and, after the Chargers held the Packers on fourth-and-2 at the San Diego 36, Nick Novak kicked a career-best 52-yard field goal to pull to 21-17.
Amazingly, the Packers’ next drive was just their third of the first half. Although he was sacked twice, Rodgers moved the Packers to the San Diego 16 before throwing a TD pass to Nelson, who hauled it in at the 1 and then rolled into the end zone for a 28-17 halftime lead.
After Rivers hit Gates with an 11-yard TD pass in the third quarter, Rodgers threw a perfect 21-yarder to Jones and then a 4-yarder to Jennings early in the fourth quarter to seemingly put away the game.
NOTES: The Chargers played without injured running back Ryan Mathews, wide receiver Malcom Floyd and linebacker Shaun Phillips. San Diego guard Kris Dielman missed his second straight game with a concussion. … The Chargers turn around and host the rival Oakland Raiders on Thursday night. … Packers LB Frank Zambo left with a hamstring injury in the fourth.