HOUSTON—They're back. More importantly, their quarterback is back.
Aaron Rodgers' six-touchdown performance in the Packers' 42-24 win over the Texans at Reliant Stadium on Sunday night put a smile on his postgame face reporters hadn't seen since the Packers offense was in full flight a year ago. The old verve returned to his tone. The MVP was back and that means the Packers are back because Rodgers is the Packers.
"He's good at celebrating," Rodgers joked with a subtle jab at Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who mockingly jabbed at the Packers quarterback by doing a "discount double check" celebration following a sack Rodgers said he "stepped into."
"One of his best performances as a Packer," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of his quarterback.
Rodgers completed 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards, six touchdown passes and a 133.8 passer rating. More importantly, Rodgers put pressure on the Texans to score points, and that pressure to keep pace with the Packers took the Texans out of their run-the-ball personality and put them squarely into a panic pass mode.
That's Packers football. It's the way the Packers won 15 games in 2011 and it's the way they won this game, which marks a return to the ways of last year before a loss in Kansas City began a mysterious slump.
The slump is over. That's the message the Packers sent with their explosive performance last night, and it's a message that will raise the hairs on the backs of necks throughout the NFC North.
"It was a game I was into early. I felt good about the plan," Rodgers said. "They challenged us. They played a lot of one-eyed safety. We wanted to take some shots early."
The deep ball returned to the Packers offense at the 11:34 mark of the first quarter, when Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson in stride down the right sideline as Nelson crossed the goal line. It was a scene reminiscent of any number of games last season.
Where had it gone? Nobody knew, but McCarthy challenged his offense to rediscover it, to start gashing defenses with it, and just as McCarthy predicted, the moment it happened the opponent would back off its coverage, which is what the Texans did. With room to roam, the Packers' receivers ran free on the Texas "prairie" last night.
So ended a week of angst for Rodgers. It was a week that began with a loss in Indianapolis that caused ripples of discontent within the Packers fan base and the media.
"Of course I heard it," Rodgers said. "Friends like to tell me what's being said out there. I've always played with a chip on my shoulder and I like it when people give me a reason for that chip."
The chip is back, too. Good!
Next up is a trip to St. Louis, the final leg of a three-game road stretch of schedule. A win would send the Packers home 4-3 for games against Jacksonville and Arizona, before a bye week to rest for a finishing schedule that includes five NFC North games. Those games will likely decide the Packers' fate.
"This is a team that has a lot of pride. It's almost good when people doubt us a little bit," Rodgers said, playing the chip card again.
"When things don't go well, the quarterback takes a lot of the heat," McCarthy said. "He's jumped over a lot of bigger hurdles than this week."
Be that as it may, Rodgers had the look of a guy who was awfully glad to have this hurdle behind him. He was wearing the look of confidence that led the Packers to 19 consecutive wins and a Super Bowl title. He was wearing the look of a guy who knows he's about to get on a roll.
Additional coverage - Oct. 14