CHARLOTTE—Jordy Nelson caught the ball in stride and he was in the clear, cheered all the way to the end zone by Packers fans that, no doubt, were saying to anyone who would listen, "That's how you do it. That's how you close out the game."
Eighty-four yards later, Nelson had closed out the upset-minded Panthers with two minutes and 14 seconds to spare, and Packers fans everywhere got a reprieve from the hang-on-for-dear-life habit to which they had become accustomed.
Hey, you've been saying it since last season, right? Don't let the other guys come back. Don't force the defense to hang on and have to make a play to close out the win. Mike McCarthy finally listened to you, right?
Well, actually, Aaron Rodgers said he checked to the pass, and Rodgers and McCarthy agreed that it was James Starks' 12-yard run on the previous play that made the throw to Nelson work, but what does it matter? It was nice to win a game and not have to worry about having a heart attack, unless, of course, you count the first quarter.
What the Packers did in mounting a second-half comeback that erased a 13-7 deficit that very easily could've been worse, a lot worse, was to have mixed run and pass in such a manner as to have achieved balance so perfect that each contributed to the others' success in a 30-23 win.
Huh? All right, here's what I mean.
In the first half, the Packers rushed a mere eight times – three of those having been scrambles by Rodgers – for a paltry 27 yards. Rodgers had already pitched 17 passes and, frankly, without the kind of success to which we have become accustomed. He was sitting on 99 yards and a 75.4 passer rating at halftime.
The second half? How about 13 runs for 97 yards and 13 passes for 209 yards? Yeah, 13 runs and 13 passes. That'll work. So, those of you who favor the pass, meet those who favor the run. It's a beautiful union when it works, isn't it?
In the case of this game, however, there's another name for it: poise. McCarthy, Rodgers and the Packers showed the poise of a true champion. Down 13-0 and 13-7 to a team that aspires to one day be in the Packers' class but is far from it at this point, the Packers didn't panic. They didn't go into desperation mode.
"Just settle down and play," McCarthy said of his halftime message to his team. "Get into our rhythm. Set the tempo and I thought we did that."
Starks rushed for 79 yards on five carries in the second half. His 40-yard run in the third quarter was the kind of gash that demoralizes a defense. Starks rushed for 63 yards in the third quarter and is one of the players that helped turn the tide.
"Always does," McCarthy said when asked if the Packers' success at running the ball was a factor in the Packers' overall success offensively. It must also be noted that Rodgers froze a Panthers safety with a play-action fake that resulted in a 49-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Greg Jennings in the third quarter. That play gave the Packers a 14-13 lead, their first of the game.
"Good play-action is a big part of the passing game," McCarthy said.
The run, of course, is what allows a quarterback to sell play-action.
McCarthy talked about being as "hard on us as you will be," referring to what he expects will be media criticism for having to settle for too many field goals when a touchdown might've put the Panthers away. What McCarthy and his coaches will discover when they begin their review of the game tape, however, is that the offense achieved the kind of balance for which coaches dream, while the defense was making big play after big play to deny the Panthers a touchdown from the 9:20 mark of the first quarter until only 37 seconds remained in the game, and that's a nice combination against any opponent.
"You gotta get seven points on the road. You can't let them get back in the game," Rodgers said.
If you're looking for a negative, that's it, but you gotta like the balance. Additional coverage - Sept. 18