Packers overcome 'unusual challenges' to defeat Browns
OCT 20, 2013 10:37p ET
But not even the absences of Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Nick Perry was enough to keep the Packers from overcoming unusual challenges to beat the Cleveland Browns, 31-13.
"I think you have to remind yourself after a win like this, where it wasn't the cleanest game for us, it's tough to win in this league," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I'm proud of our guys."
Rodgers played well, throwing for 260 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. But it wasn't Jordy Nelson -- the only remaining healthy starting receiver -- who led the team in catches. It was second-year undrafted receiver Jarrett Boykin who finished with a team-high eight catches for 103 yards.
"He played extremely well," Nelson said of Boykin. "I had a feeling he'd be able to do it, having the big game that he had. He had a great matchup, made the most of it and made plays. He did it. It was fun to watch. I'm proud of him and we enjoyed every minute of it."
Boykin's career numbers entering this game were six catches for 70 yards, so his performance against the Browns was better production than he had total in his previous 15 games.
"I feel like my confidence is growing," Boykin said. "Once you get in that groove you just feel invincible, and just whenever I saw the ball coming my way I just try to do whatever I can to take advantage of that situation."
Boykin also recorded his first career touchdown and got to experience his first Lambeau Leap, which came with its own learning opportunity.
"They held me up there for so long," Boykin said of the crowd. "I don't know what they were saying, but I kept trying to -- 'All right, let me go, let me go so I can get back down.' But it was enjoyable."
There wasn't a lesser-known player on Green Bay's defense whose box score statistics were quite as eye-opening as Boykin's, but the Packers were able to get by with undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba and raw sixth-round pick Nate Palmer starting at outside linebacker. Those aren't exactly players with the skill set and game-changing reputation of Matthews.
"The two guys on the outside today, Mulumba and Nate, I give them a ton of credit stepping in and playing that well and not panicking ever and keeping calm," veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "Maybe they listened to Coach; 'Keep calm and carry on.' They honestly were; the poise they had all day was great to see."
Third-string inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore -- starting his second consecutive game due to injuries to starter Brad Jones (hamstring) and backup Robert Francois (torn Achilles) -- led Green Bay in tackles and also had his first career sack.
"It probably sounds cliché or boring to say, but it's the guys up top -- the front office bringing in the right type of guys," Hawk said. "You can't come up with a crazy stat for that, but it's true. When guys get in here, they're ready and they want to win, they want to be accountable. And that's how guys were today."
Hawk admitted that there's really only one injury the Packers likely couldn't overcome.
"We don't want to think about doomsday in these situations, "Hawk said. "You keep that quarterback healthy and we'll be all right."
Though Green Bay scored 31 points, Rodgers recognized the offense is not playing like it is capable of. The style of offense also looks different, with the Packers running the ball effectively nearly every game this season (including 104 rushing yards against Cleveland) and not consistently throwing it as well as in recent years.
"Hang with us, fans; it might not be the prettiest game," Rodgers said. "Our defense has been playing great. So it gives us an opportunity, especially when we're struggling as we did for a stretch there on offense -- fourth quarter got it going there and finished the game off, but we've got to kind of win with defense, not turn the ball over and make the plays that are there."
Despite starting the season 1-2, Green Bay's 4-2 record leads the NFC North.
With Cobb out until at least Week 15, Matthews still scheduled to miss a couple more games and tight end Jermichael Finley dealing with a scary neck injury that he suffered Sunday, the Packers will have to continue finding somewhat unconventional ways -- by their standards -- to win.
"I'll say this was a very rewarding victory for our football team," McCarthy said.
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