Aaron Rodgers returned from a concussion to turn in his sharpest performance of the season, keeping the Green Bay Packers on a path toward the playoffs with 404 yards and four touchdowns.
It all came at the expense of the New York Giants, whose season is spinning out of control after the Packers blew them out 45-17 at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Rodgers was back, and so was his sense of humor. Backup Matt Flynn played well when Rodgers sat out last week with his second concussion of the season, so Rodgers joked that he had something to prove Sunday.
”I had to get my job back,” Rodgers said.
There wasn’t much to smile about for the Giants (9-6), who are clinging to fading playoff hopes and certainly appeared to still be in a daze after the previous week’s collapse against Philadelphia.
”There’s no denying what took place,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. ”Facts are facts. We’re responsible for it. I’m responsible for it. So we have to live with it. And as we say in this game, the only chance you have is to turn around and line up the next week.”
The Giants couldn’t stop Rodgers and couldn’t hold onto the ball, as one of the league’s most turnover-prone teams lost two fumbles and watched Eli Manning throw four interceptions.
As if that wasn’t enough misery for one team to handle, the Giants were stuck in Wisconsin on Sunday night because of a major snowstorm on the East Coast.
At this point, they might not want to go home.
”I don’t care where we’re at, it’s going to be a long night regardless,” safety Deon Grant said. ”If we’d go back to New York, it’d probably be a worse night. I know they’re not going to be happy. I looked up, the Jets lost, we lost, it’s not a good look.”
Green Bay (9-6) came into Sunday’s game needing to win their final two games to make the playoffs. The Packers host division-rival Chicago in their final regular-season game next Sunday.
Safety Nick Collins said it felt like a playoff game.
”That’s how it’s going to be next week, too,” Collins said.
John Kuhn ran for two touchdowns and caught a pass for a score for the Packers. The unheralded fullback is embracing his growing folk-hero status with Packers fans, who chant ”Kuuuuuuuuuhn!” when he touches the ball.
”It’s pretty funny,” Kuhn said. ”It’s nice. I don’t want to let them down. They call for you ahead of time, so I’ve got to try and come through.”
Greg Jennings caught seven passes for 142 yards for Green Bay, while Jordy Nelson had four catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Rodgers was sacked twice, but wasn’t under much pressure otherwise as his offensive line delivered one of its best pass protection efforts of the year.
”Those guys were ready to play,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ”They were sick and tired of hearing about how tough the Giants were all week.”
Rodgers was anything but tentative after sustaining two concussions this season, but he definitely had safety on his mind when he took off running. Rodgers made a baseball umpire’s ”safe” sign with his arms after sliding instead of taking a big hit after an early scramble – a salute, he said, to a team doctor who is reminding him to be more careful when he runs.
”I got a lot of texts in the last two weeks from friends and family,” Rodgers said. ”’Slide’ was the main subject.”
Manning threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns and the four interceptions.
”If you have interceptions, it’s my fault and we had four today,” Manning said. ”There’s not one that wasn’t my fault, so I’ve got to be smarter with the ball and toward the end of the game, you’re in desperate mode, you try to force some things and it didn’t go our way.”
Already trailing 21-14, the Giants began the second half with yet another major mistake. On a third-down play in Packers territory, Charles Woodson stripped the ball from Ahmad Bradshaw and the Packers recovered at the 50. The Packers drove but had to settle for a field goal, taking a 24-14 lead.
The Giants answered with a drive for a field goal, but Rodgers was at his absolute best on the Packers’ next possession. Taking over at the Green Bay 30, Rodgers threw for big gains on back-to-back plays – Donald Driver for 33 yards and Jennings for 36 – then threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Donald Lee two plays later to give the Packers a 31-17 lead with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
Hakeem Nicks appeared to fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but Coughlin challenged the play and New York kept the ball. Brandon Jacobs then broke free for a long run – but Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews punched the ball, it popped into the air and the Packers recovered.
This time, Coughlin’s replay review was unsuccessful and Green Bay kept the ball.
”We came out and we played like we didn’t have anything to play for,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
Notes: It was a rematch of the Giants’ overtime victory in the NFC title game in below-zero conditions at Lambeau nearly three years ago. Sunday’s conditions weren’t nearly as challenging, with 25-degree temperatures and little wind at kickoff. … The Packers have won 10 of their last 11 home games. … The Giants’ Mario Manningham caught four passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.