Preview: Packers prepare to host surging Panthers
It’s hard to imagine where the Green Bay Packers would be without Aaron Rodgers, who added to his already impressive resume with a sensational game-winning drive last weekend.
While Cam Newton couldn’t lead the Carolina Panthers to victory, he helped them avoid a loss.
The surging Packers try to continue their recent dominance in October when they host Newton and the Panthers on Sunday.
Rodgers threw for 264 yards and three more touchdowns as Green Bay (4-2) stormed back to win 27-24 at Miami last Sunday, its third consecutive victory. The former Super Bowl MVP capped an 11-play, 60-yard drive with a four-yard strike to Andrew Quarless with 3 seconds to go.
Rodgers hooked up with rookie Davante Adams for 12 yards on the previous play after pretending to spike the ball.
"Any time you overcome adversity, you have this experience to build off. That’s why you play. This is an excellent character win," coach Mike McCarthy told the Packers’ official website.
"We knew this would be a tough game coming down in the heat. We said we weren’t worried about it and we weren’t worried about it, but the fact is we’re from Wisconsin."
Rodgers became the first player to throw 15 TDs with one or fewer interceptions in the first six games of a season. He’s gone 170 pass attempts without a pick, putting him 11 shy of his career-best mark set in 2010.
Rodgers is averaging just 236.5 yards but his 111.4 passer rating ranks second in the NFL.
"I need to work on my vocabulary. The guy is a remarkable player," McCarthy said. "Aaron sees the game so well, like none other. . . . Things come to him differently than other guys."
The Packers now return home, where they’ve won 30 of 33 regular-season games with Rodgers under center. Green Bay has also won 15 of its last 16 October games, including nine straight while averaging 31.2 points.
The Panthers (3-2-1) shouldn’t have much trouble keeping up offensively if their recent efforts are any indication. They beat the Bears 31-24 in Week 5 before playing to a 37-all tie at Cincinnati last Sunday. Newton threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns, adding a season-high 107 yards and another score on the ground.
"The first time in my life," Newton said of the tie. "It’s kind of weird where you play good enough to win. It’s kind of a 50-50 feeling. I don’t know how to react."
Newton’s efforts on the ground were especially noteworthy after running for a combined 42 yards in his first four games. The two-time Pro Bowler, whose 17 rushing attempts were a career high, is clearly getting closer to full strength after dealing with ankle and rib injuries earlier in the year.
"When you keep getting numerous yards, you have to keep calling it," he said. "That’s just the simplicity of football. Coming into this game, I didn’t think I was going to run the ball as much. But like I said, that’s my attitude — anything it takes to win, I’m willing to do."
Newton has rushed for an NFL-high 2,181 yards among quarterbacks since joining the league in 2011 to go with 29 TDs, 18 more than the next-closest QB. He could get some help Sunday with Jonathan Stewart (knee) likely to return following a three-week absence. However, fellow back DeAngelo Williams remains out with an ankle issue.
Some Green Bay injuries could also help Newton have a big day through the air. Sam Shields (knee) has been ruled out and fellow starting cornerback Trammon Williams (ankle) is questionable after sitting out practice this week.
Newton has only faced the Packers once, a 30-23 home loss in Week 2 of his rookie season. He threw for a career-high 432 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions opposite Rodgers, who finished with 308 yards and two scores.
While Rodgers has been terrific thus far, Green Bay’s ground game has yet to take off. The Packers are averaging 94.8 rushing yards to rank 24th in the NFL, significantly lower than last year’s mark of 133.5.
Aside from running for 105 yards on 13 carries in a 42-10 victory over Minnesota in Week 5, Eddie Lacy is averaging 3.0 yards per carry in the other five games. However, he could be in for a big game against a Panthers defense allowing a league-worst 5.5 yards per attempt.
The Panthers also need to be wary of Jordy Nelson, who’s racked up an NFL-best 632 receiving yards and five scores. Carolina has already surrendered 12 touchdowns through the air after giving up 17 all of last season.
Panthers rookie Kelvin Benjamin leads the team and all first-year players with 416 receiving yards, but his status is uncertain due to a concussion suffered against the Bengals.