Wild Card Turning Points, Nelson Injury Update

NFL games are often decided by the sum of a handful of small moments throughout the course of the affair, and that concept almost always applies in the playoffs. Anyone who watched the first 25 or so minutes of Sunday’s NFC wild card matchup between the Packers and Giants saw a scene in which New York absolutely dominated, yet only held a 6-0 lead. How did Green Bay turn their flat, uninspired start to the game into a 38-13 blowout win? Here’s a list of the key moments that added up to a Packer victory:

  • 1st quarter, 7:30, OBJ drop. On a 1st & 10 at the Green Bay 28-yard line, Eli Manning lofted a pass down the left sideline for a streaking Odell Beckham, Jr., who had run right by cornerback Ladarius Gunter. The ball hit Beckham in the hands, but he couldn’t hang on in the end zone. The Packers held the Giants to a field goal on the drive.

  • 2nd quarter, 3:45, Rodgers to Adams. After a bad punt put the Packers in great field position, Aaron Rodgers hit Davante Adams down the right sideline for a 31-yard gain. After the game, Rodgers said this was the throw that finally got him going. Two plays later, the duo connected again for a five-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 7-6 lead.

  • 2nd quarter, 1:58, 4th down stop. After Mike McCarthy aggressively called a timeout prior to the two-minute warning, the Giants were left with a 3rd & 1 at their own 41-yard line. Had the Giants converted and moved the chains, they would have had a chance to move down the field and score before the half. Instead, they handed the ball to Bobby Rainey, who was stopped short of the line to gain, and were forced to punt.

  • 2nd quarter, :12, Jared Cook drop. With time winding down and needing about 10 yards to conceivably give Mason Crosby a shot at a field goal to end the half, Aaron Rodgers fired a bullet up the right seam. Tight end Jared Cook had a chance to reel the ball in, but took a hit and the pass fell incomplete. For the Packers, this was a huge break, as the clock would have expired had Cook held on. On the next play, Rodgers launched a Hail Mary into the arms of Randall Cobb as time ran out, and the Packers went to halftime leading 14-6.

  • 3rd quarter, 2:53, Cobb’s 2nd TD. On the previous Green Bay possession, Mike McCarthy elected to go for a 4th & 1 on his own 42-yard line. The Packers were stopped, and the Giants pulled to within 14-13 two plays later on a 41-yard touchdown pass. It seemed like a potentially momentum changing moment, until the Green Bay offense took the field again. It took the Packers just four plays to go 63 yards on a drive capped by a 30-yard touchdown from Rodgers to Cobb, and they never relinquished the momentum again.

Of the five plays listed, the drop by Jared Cook late in the first half may have been the most important to the outcome of the game. Multiple Packer players commented on a similar situation in the 2012 divisional game against the Giants in which Eli Manning found Hakeem Nicks for a Hail Mary touchdown to end the first half. The Packers were visibly more downtrodden after that play, and the Giants won the game comfortably. This time, the shoe was on the other foot. Had Cook caught the pass and allowed time to expire, who knows what would have transpired in the 2nd half? Instead, it set up Aaron Rodgers to do what he does better than any quarterback in history, and it had to be demoralizing to a Giants team that had largely dominated the first half.

In other news:

  • Jordy Nelson’s status for the divisional game at Dallas next Sunday is in serious doubt. Mike McCarthy told reporters at his Monday press conference that Nelson spent Sunday night in the hospital after suffering a rib injury during the Giants game. Multiple reports have stated that Nelson suffered at least two fractured ribs, which makes it incredibly unlikely he’ll be able to play against the Cowboys. Still McCarthy said the plan will be for Nelson to rehab through Friday, and that his status for the game will be determined by whether or not he practices on Saturday.

  • The Packers cut defensive tackle Mike Pennel on Monday. The third year undrafted free agent bookended the season with two four-game suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Pennel had shown glimpses of really good talent, but this marks an unfortunate end to his tenure as a Packer.