Tied with less than a minute to play and 80 yards from the end zone, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to wait until overtime.
It was the perfect choice for a team pushing perfection.
Rodgers completed passes of 24, 27 and 18 yards in a lightning-quick five-play drive to set up a 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby on the final play, and the Green Bay Packers remained undefeated and clinched a playoff berth with a 38-35 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.
”Those are the fun ones when they end up like that,” Rodgers said.
The defending Super Bowl champions (12-0) won their 18th straight game.
”We’ve had a number of games we won by a couple scores,” Rodgers said. ”You get the ball on the 20, under a minute, and we get it down there for a chip-shot field goal, it’s very rewarding. It probably (ranks) right at the top.”
Rodgers hit all four of his passes in the 58-second drive that sent the Giants (6-6) to their fourth straight loss, starting with a 24-yard laser to tight end Jermichael Finley just over the hands of rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams.
”I thought it was mine. I thought it was mine,” Williams said after the game. ”Like I said, it’s a good throw and catch. He made some good throws.”
The second one covered 24 yards to Jordy Nelson down the left sideline and moved the ball to the New York 29. An 18-yard pass to Greg Jennings two plays later moved the ball to the 12. The third toss was a 1-yard loss.
Green Bay called time out with 3 seconds to go, and then Crosby delivered his winning kick.
”It was a huge drive,” said Jennings, who also caught a 20-yard touchdown. ”We haven’t had one like that at the end in a while. It was very quiet in the huddle, actually. You could see everybody was focused. It’s great to see what we could do at the end like that.”
Coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers practice the two-minute drive all the time. Having Rodgers at the helm is just a bonus.
”I’m running out things to say about him,” McCarthy said. ”He’s a great quarterback. Playing against the pass rush they had tonight, he hung in there and made the plays.”
Rodgers, harassed by the Giants’ front four and sacked three times, finished 28 of 46 for 369 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 7 and 13 yards to Donald Driver and 12 to Finley in addition to the one to Jennings.
The loss was another heartbreaker for New York, which played exceptionally well after being blown out by New Orleans on Monday night.
The Giants tied it on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks, and a 2-point conversion run by D.J. Ware on a Manning audible with just under a minute to play.
However, Rodgers wasn’t going to settle for overtime after a touchback on the ensuing kickoff.
”He’s a great quarterback, but I expect more out of us on defense,” Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson said. ”You know, it’s not like Jesus in cleats. He’s Aaron Rodgers. He’s a great quarterback, but we have to do a better job of finishing on defense.”
The Packers would clinch the NFC North if Detroit lost to New Orleans on Sunday night.
”We’re 12-0 and we’re focused on that,” said linebacker Clay Matthews who scored on a 38-yard second-quarter interception. ”It’s been something we’ve been talking about since we were 7-0 or 8-0. So we’ll keep going from that.”
For the Giants, everything wasn’t terrible. Dallas also lost, leaving New York a game behind the Cowboys with four games to go. The teams will play twice over that span.
”It gives us relief to know we’re still right in the mix,” said Manning, who was 23 of 40 for 347 yards and three touchdowns. ”If we handle our business and win out, we’ll be in the playoffs. It’s a playoff atmosphere now.”
Manning’s touchdowns covered 67-yards to Travis Beckum and 4 and 2 yards to Nicks. Brandon Jacobs scored on a 1-yard run after a rare interception of Rodgers and Lawrence Tynes kicked two field goals with a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter getting New York within 28-27.
Rodgers hooked up with Driver on a 7-yard TD with 3:34 to go to push the lead to 35-27.
However, Manning hit tight end Jake Ballard on two 15-yard passes and connected with Victor Cruz for 22 yards to set up the tying score that New York thought would send the game to OT.
Rodgers had other ideas, though, and the Packers continued their run at trying to match Miami’s perfect season in 1972.
It’s not surprising New York gave them a game. The Giants ended the Denver Broncos perfect season at 11 games in 1998 and they knocked off the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in February 2008 when Tom Brady and company were a game from perfection.
New York seemed to be in control until Manning made a mistake on a play-action pass on the first play of the second quarter. With his primary receiver covered, Manning threw a sideline pass to Ahmad Bradshaw in front of the Packers bench and Matthews jumped the route and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Rodgers had only been intercepted four times all season but linebacker Chase Blackburn, signed Wednesday, picked him off at the Green Bay 21 and returned the ball to the 12. Two plays later, Brandon Jacobs plowed in from the 1 to give New York a 17-14 edge.
Rodgers atoned for the error on the next series, driving the Packers 80 yards in 11 plays with the biggest play being an 11-yard scramble on a third-and-10 from New York 43. Rodgers capped the march with a 13-yard, third-down touchdown pass to a wide-open Donald Driver on a play in which the Giants secondary blew the coverage.
Notes: Giants C David Baas was a late scratch because of headaches. Kevin Boothe moved from center to guard and second-year pro Mitch Petrus made his first start. … Packers CB Charles Woodson suffered a concussion. … Giants S Kenny Phillips sprained his left knee. … Cruz had seven catches for a game-high 119 yards. … Rodgers had a 106.2 passer rating, extending his NFL record to 12 straight games of 100 or better. He also has thrown at least two touchdowns in every game this season. … The Giants inducted Carl Banks, Mark Bavaro, Alex Webster, Dave Jennings and the late Brad Van Pelt into their ring of honor at halftime.