GREEN BAY—Another game has produced another injury to a star player, but the Green Bay Packers moved into first place in the NFC North with a 31-13 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
"Outstanding team victory," Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Very rewarding victory for our football team. Can't say enough about our players."
Packers star tight end Jermichael Finley was taken from the field on a stretcher midway through the fourth quarter, after catching a pass in the middle of the field and colliding with Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, who was penalized for unnecessary roughness. Initial reports were that Finley sustained a neck injury but had movement and feeling in all of his extremities.
It is yet another blow to a team that played Sunday's game without wide receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones. Cobb will be out of action for an extended period of time; the Packers hope Jones will be able to play next Sunday in Minnesota.
The Packers were also playing without starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, the defense's featured pass rushers. Despite their absence, the Packers defense held the Browns to 216 yards of offense and had allowed only two harmless field goals through three quarters.
A stop on downs in the fourth quarter by the Packers defense was one half of a one-two punch that KOed the Browns. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers followed by marching the Packers 69 yards in five plays, pitching a one-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson that gave the Packers a 24-6 lead with 8:30 to play.
"It's vital to play great defense at home. Our defense, we're doing a lot of good things," McCarthy said.
The Packers defense held the Browns to 83 yards rushing and rendered Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden ineffective with a 48.6 passer rating that was a robust 1.7 after a quarter of play.
"A.J. Hawk had another fine performance," McCarthy said in praising the veteran linebacker, who was the star of the previous week's win in Baltimore.
Rodgers, who threw for 260 yards, three touchdowns and a 117.8 passer rating, made wide receiver Jarrett Boykin the quarterback's favorite target. Boykin caught eight passes for 103 yards and one touchdown.
"The challenge of injury has brought opportunity to a lot of young players," McCarthy said.
Boykin was asked to pick up the slack created by Cobb's and Jones' absences. The Browns concentrated star cornerback Joe Haden on Nelson, and Boykin used that opportunity to attract Rodgers' attention.
"He made two good plays on post corners. I'm proud of him. I think he has a bright future," Rodgers said of Boykin, who celebrated his 20-yard touchdown catch with his first "Lambeau Leap."
At 4-2, the Packers moved ahead of Chicago and Detroit, each of whom is 4-3, and into first place in the NFC North. The Packers play in Minnesota next Sunday night.
"I'm sure they wanted Monday off, but it's Minnesota week. It's a different game over there and we have to get ready for that type of game," McCarthy said.
Is the win over Cleveland, in which the Packers committed no turnovers, dominated time of possession by nearly seven minutes and gave Rodgers some of his best pass protection of the season, the Packers' best performance of the season?
"Best game of the week, that's for sure. There's more to come," McCarthy said.
Finley's condition immediately becomes the No. 1 story of this week.
"There's not a whole lot to be said. It's a reminder of how tough this game is. Injuries are part of the game but those are tough to see," Rodgers said. Complete game coverage