Thursday, January 2, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The gang’s back together, mostly, for the Packers in the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb pulled off a fourth-down stunner last week against the Chicago Bears in each player’s first game back from injury. Now imagine what Green Bay can do with the franchise quarterback and speedy receiver practicing without limitations for a full week, joining Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Eddie Lacy on the list of playmakers.
Just in time for Sunday’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC wild-card game.
“It’s going to be tough for defenses to play us, the way they’re going to approach the game as far as are they going to try to take the pass away, or are they going to try to take the run away,” Cobb said Wednesday. “So, we (pose) a pretty obvious threat, I think.”
No need to think about it. After a roller-coaster season, the Packers (8-7-1) are brimming with confidence. They took the NFC North title by winning three of their last four games, and getting help from collapses by the Lions and Bears. Rodgers and Cobb helped seal a third straight division crown by connecting on an unlikely 48-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left.
With Rodgers back, anything is possible.
“He runs our offense at a very, very high level,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “When he’s on the field we’re different.”
That left collarbone injury that kept him out for seven games is fine, so much so that McCarthy has no worries about him for practice this week. McCarthy isn’t worried about the leg injury that kept Cobb out, either.
In fact, Rodgers was bothered more by cramping in his calves. He was facing his first game action in nearly two months. But Rodgers said his legs are fine, too.
“Well, myself and Randall are back, that helps. We had a couple good connections on Sunday. It’s doing the stuff we want to do,” Rodgers said. “We want to be an up-tempo team, we want to get a lot of plays run, we want to try to wear the defense down a little bit.”
Rodgers’ impact on the offense is a no-brainer. The 2011 NFL MVP excels as a decision maker and can make pinpoint throws for big plays.
But Cobb’s recovery from his October injury got lost in the soap opera surrounding when Rodgers might come back. Cobb may not be at full speed, but just his mere presence and versatility might cause defenders to think twice about what might be coming. Against the Bears, he maneuvered his way open for two touchdown catches.
When Cobb was out, Jordy Nelson moved inside and Jarrett Boykin emerged as another competent receiver.
“Randall does so much for our offense. We can give him the ball, we can get it to him quickly out of the backfield. We can have him in the slot,” Rodgers said. “So, bringing Randall back with the way those guys can be interchangeable at different positions definitely has a lot to offer.”
There’s also the matter of Cobb’s quickness, and his ability to turn a screen pass into a 20-yard gain. Toss in the emergence of rooking running back Lacy and the hard running of backup James Starks, the Packers have that offensive balance the team sought at the beginning of a season that started with a 34-28 loss at San Francisco.
Note: As of Tuesday afternoon, the Packers had roughly 7,500 tickets left for Sunday’s playoff game. About 40,000 available seats went on sale Monday, about 12 hours after the team locked up a playoff berth, with season-ticket holders getting first crack. A spokesman said the team was optimistic the game would sell out. “These are the games our fans live for, so I really have no concern about it at all,” McCarthy said. ... The National Weather Service in Green Bay has said the high temperature Sunday could range from zero to 10 degrees with an arctic front pushing through the Midwest.