At the rate Green Bay's season is going, don't be surprised if Aaron Rodgers is in a full body cast heading into Week 17, and then don't be surprised if he leads the Packers to a win.
Playing with an injured right calf, Rodgers somehow willed the Packers to a 30-27 win over the Bears on Sunday in a game that looked like it was going to get ugly after Green Bay blew a 27-10 lead.
With Rodgers hobbled, the Bears' pinned their ears back and went after him for four quarters, which worked to an extent: Chicago sacked the Packers quarterback four times in the game.
The one thing the Bears defense didn't account for though was the magical renaissance of the Green Bay's running game. For the first 14 weeks of the season, the Packers' hopes of winning were basically tied to how well Rodgers played. That didn't happen in Week 15, though.
In Week 15, the Packers showed off something that should scare the rest of the NFC: a well-rounded running game with the twist being that Packers' leading running back isn't even a running back.
Wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery was Green Bay's secret weapon against Chicago, carrying the ball 16 times for 162 yards. Montgomery was the star of a rushing attack that totaled 226 yards in the game.
Rodgers almost never gets that kind of help from Green Bay's ground game. As a matter of fact, Sunday's win marked just the second time in his career that the Packers rushed for over 220 yards in a game that Rodgers started.
Despite Montgomery's performance, the Packers still needed some last second magic from Rodgers to beat Chicago. After the Bears tied the game at 27 with 1:19 left, Rodgers got the ball back with no timeouts and his team in need of a field goal to win.
Of course, this is Rodgers we're talking about, so you know exactly what happened. Throwing off his injured right calf, the Packers quarterback launched a perfect 60-yard pass to Jordy Nelson that would set up Mason Crosby's game-winning field goal.
That 60-yard pass helped Rodgers finish 19 of 31 for 252 yards in the game.
Two weeks ago, Rodgers said that the Packers would run the table and get to 10-6. Since then, he's suffered two injuries (hamstring, calf), he's played against one of the league's best defenses (Seattle), and he's played in one of the coldest games in Bears' history (temperature was 11 degrees at kickoff), yet none of those things has stopped him, and maybe that's because he can't be stopped. He's like a football Terminator.
The scary thing for the rest of the NFC is that the 8-6 Packers, who were once 4-6, now control their own playoff fate. If the Packers win out, they'll end the season as NFC North champions, and based on the past few weeks, the Packers aren't a team anyone should want to play in the postseason.
If a hobbled Rodgers can beat teams, just imagine what will happen if he finally gets healthy.
Green Bay 30-27 Chicago
Not even the combination of sub-arctic temperatures and an injured calf could stop Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. In what might go down as his most clutch throw of year, Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with a 60-yard bomb with under 30 seconds left to play to set up Mason Crosby's game-winning field goal. Although Rodgers was big for Green Bay, coach Mike McCarthy should probably make sure Ty Montgomery gets a game ball. The wide receiver-turned-running back averaged more than 10 yards per carry in this game took some serious pressure off of Rodgers with a 16 carry, 162-yard performance.
The fact that the Bears almost won this game was a minor miracle considering how their second half started. Chicago turned the ball over THREE straight times to start the half, which the Packers' turned into 17 points. If you give the Packers 17 free points in a game, you're probably going to lose. If you include the first half, Matt Barkley actually turned the ball over on four straight possessions at one point (three interceptions and a lost fumble). Barkley almost made up for the turnovers with a late rally, but Aaron Rodgers quashed that.
Pittsburgh 24-20 over Cincinnati
Last week, the Steelers rode Le'Veon Bell to a win over the Bills. This week, they decided to change things up by riding their kicker. Chris Boswell tied a franchise record with six field goals in this game. The Steelers didn't make things easy, either, with five of the six kicks coming from over 40-yards (45, 49, 49, 40, 49, 30). Before Sunday, the last time the Steelers played in Cincinnati was in January when they eliminated them from the playoffs. Fittingly, they kind of did the same thing this year: the Steelers win eliminated the Bengals from playoff contentions.
Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Bengals there was a second half in this game. After an impressive first half where they jumped out to a 20-9 lead, the Bengals managed just 38 yards in the second half. The closest the Bengals got to Steelers' territory in the second half was a drive that ended at the Bengals' own 41-yard line. Cincy's 222 total yards was the team's lowest output since November 2014.
Houston 21-20 over Jacksonville
The Jaguars offense might have actually hit rock bottom on Sunday, which is saying a lot for a team that's been borderline horrible all year. The Jags only totaled 150 yards in this game, marking just the fourth time since 2000 that they didn't put up more than 150 yards. The only reason the Jags were in this game is because they got 10 points off of two Brock Osweiler interceptions and they also got 100-yard kickoff return for a TD from Marqise Lee.
Week 15 is definitely a weird time to bench your starting quarterback, but don't tell to Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who finally reached his breaking point with Brock Osweiler. After watching Osweiler throw two interceptions against the Jags, O'Brien decided to the Texans would be better off with Tom Savage in the game. The QB change worked as Savage led the Texans to a score on four of their first five drives of the second half. Osweiler should probably get used to the bench because after his 6 of 11, 48 yard performance that included two interceptions, he's probably not getting his job back.
Buffalo 33-13 over Cleveland
The highlight of this game for the Browns was a 35-yard field goal by Cody Parkey in the first quarter that tied the game at three. For Browns fans, any time their team is in a tie game, it's worth cheering about. After that kick, things got completely ugly for Cleveland. The Browns are now just the fourth team in NFL history to start a season 0-14. They're going to need a Christmas miracle to win next week.
A loss in this game would've been embarrassing for the Bills, so LeSean McCoy and Buffalo's defense made sure that didn't happen. The Browns had no clue how to tackle McCoy, who ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries. The Bills defense had a field with the Browns offensive line, sacking Robert Griffin five times. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander racked up 1.5 of those sacks and now has 11.5 on the season.
Baltimore 27-26 over Philadelphia
The Eagles actually looked decent against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense in Baltimore, but that decency went out the window every time Philly reached the red zone. The Eagles got inside of Baltimore's 20-yard line FIVE times in this game, but only came away with two touchdowns. Any coach in the NFL will tell you that's not going to cut it. Ryan Matthews had resurgent game, rushing for 128 yards on 20 carries. If Philly can figure out how to get Carson Wentz (22 of 42, 170 yards) to throw downfield, this could be a lethal offense next season.
December football means punishing your opponent with defense and the run game, and that's exactly what the Ravens did against the Eagles. Thanks in large part to 77 yards from Terrance West, the Ravens were able to rush for a season-high 151 yards as a team (their previous high on the year was 13o). Defensively, the Ravens weren't perfect, but they came up big at the right time. With just four seconds left in the game, Baltimore stopped the Eagles on a two-point conversion that would've won it for Philly.
Tennessee 19-17 over Kansas City
With a kickoff temperature of 2 degrees, this was the coldest game in Titans history, which was fitting because the Titans looked ice cold in the first half. After thawing off though, Tennessee exploded for 12 points over the game's final 12 minutes to win. Although Marcus Mariota (19 of 33, 241 yards, one interception) struggled in the cold, the Titans' ground game didn't. Tennessee totaled 148 rushing yards, thanks in large part to DeMarco Murray (89 yards), who averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Derrick Henry also came up big with 58 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. Of course, the happiest person in Kansas City was probably former Chiefs' kicker Ryan Succop, who nailed a 53-yard field goal as time expired to beat his former team.
This is a tough loss to swallow for the Chiefs and there's a few reasons why. First, they had the game won after Ryan Succop missed his first 53-yard attempt at a game-winner, however, he got another crack at it after Andy Reid called a timeout. The second attempt went through. Second, there were two instances in this game where the Chiefs got inside of Tennessee's 7-yard line and came away with zero points. The first time, K.C. was stopped at the 1-yard line on a goal line stand. The second time, Alex Smith threw an interception.
N.Y. Giants 17-6 over Detroit
The only thing worse than turning the ball over in an NFL game is turning the ball over in the red zone, something that the Lions did TWICE in this game. A lost fumble in the end zone by Zach Zenner in the second quarter and an interception by Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter cost the Lions big time. It's hard to blame Stafford for the loss though; it's almost impossible to beat a team with a good defense when you have zero running game, and the Lions had zero running game, totaling just 56 yards on the ground.
The Giants weren't great on Sunday, but they were great then it mattered: On third down and in the red zone. The Giants converted 7 of 15 times on third down and went 2 of 2 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Their second touchdown of the day came on a wild one-handed catch by Odell Beckham that went for a 4-yard score.
Of course, the Giants don't win this game without a phenomenal performance from their defense. One week after holding the Cowboys to just seven points, the G-men limited the Lions to just two field goals. One of the biggest plays of the game came in the second quarter when the Giants forced a Lions fumble when Detroit was just yards away from a touchdown. The Giants would recover the ball in the end zone to end the Lions' scoring threat.
Indianapolis 34-6 over Minnesota
With three rookie offensive linemen starting against the second-best defense in the NFL, no one would've been surprised if this game turned into an offensive disaster for the Colts, but that's not what happened. The Colts actually dominated the trenches in this game, which was a big reason why Frank Gore (26 carries, 101 yards) was able to hit the 100-yard mark for just the second time this year. The line also gave Andrew Luck plenty of time to throw, and Luck responded by picking the Vikings apart (250 yards, two touchdowns). The Colts defense also had a surprising performance, racking up five sacks in the game. Going into this week, the Colts had just 25 sacks in their first 13 games (1.9 sacks per game).
With their season on the line, the Vikings fell flat on their face in spectacular fashion against Indy. The entire team basically melted down in the loss: the Vikings running game was bad, their offensive line was bad and their defense was horrible. The return of Adrian Peterson didn't help at all as the Vikings only totaled 34 rushing yards in the game, with 22 of those coming from Peterson. The loss marked just the fourth time in Peterson's career that Minnesota didn't rush for at least 35 yards with him on the field. Defensively, things weren't much better as the Vikings surrendered a season-high 411 yards of offense to Indy.
Atlanta 41-13 over San Francisco
The one amazing thing about the 49ers season is that they manage to find a new ugly way to lose every week. After choking away a win against the Jets in Week 14, the 49ers went the opposite route in this game and got blown out from the start. The 49ers trailed in this game 21-0 before they even had 12 total yards.
The Falcons have so many weapons on offense that it didn't even matter that Julio Jones spent Sunday's game on the sideline with an injury. With Jones out, Aldrick Robinson stepped up and caught four passes for 111 yards. He wasn't the star of the game though; that honor would go to Devonta Freeman, who rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns. As a team, the Falcons rushed for 248 yards in the game, which was their highest total since the team's regular season finale in 2011. The Falcons also totaled 550 yards in the game, marking just the third time since 1981 that they've put up 550 or more yards in the game. All three of those games have come since the beginning of 2014.
New Orleans 48-41 over Arizona
After two straight games of throwing zero touchdown passes, Drew Brees blew up on Sunday. The Saints quarterback threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns, and most of that went to Brandin Cooks, who will probably never complain about his lack of touches ever again. Three weeks after Cooks reportedly complained about his role in the offense, Brees made sure to focus on his speedy receiver. Cooks caught seven passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. A big reason the Saints won this game is because they were able to stay on the field. New Orleans was 9 of 14 on third down conversions, which allowed them to dominate in time of possession (37:13 to 22:47).
Although it's been a rough year to be a Cardinals fan, at least they have David Johnson to watch. The Cardinals versatile running back totaled 108 yards in this game (55 receiving, 53 rushing), becoming the first player in NFL history to total 100 or more yards in the first 14 games to start a season. Unfortunately, Johnson and the Cardinals offense got no help from Arizona's defense, which was shredded by Drew Brees. This game marked the first time since 2014 that an opposing quarterback threw four or more touchdown passes against Arizona.
New England 16-3 over Denver
It was almost fitting that the Patriots won this game by giving the Broncos a taste of their own medicine. On a day where Tom Brady was completely average, the Patriots rode Dion Lewis and their defense to a win in Denver. The Patriots forced two turnovers in the first half and turned those into 10 points, which proved to be a huge difference in the game. A big reason why the Broncos weren't able to get anything going on offense is because Trevor Siemian spent half the game running for his life. The Broncos quarterback was sacked four times, with two of those coming from Trey Flowers. Another plus for the Patriots is that Stephen Gostkowski might have put his early season struggles behind him. The Patriots kicker went 3 for 3 on field goals with makes from 45, 40, and 21 yards.
The Broncos' best hope to win a game at this point might just be to play all-time defense, because they're offense can't do anything. On their first five possessions of the second half, Denver totaled all of nine yards. That's less than two yards per drive, which isn't going to win games. On the bright side, the Broncos defense did shut down Tom Brady, and they held their opponent to 16 or less points for the second straight week. The loss to the Patriots marks the first time since 1990 that Denver held its opponents to 16 or fewer points in two straight games and lost both games.
Oakland 19-16 over San Diego
If you're a Raiders fan, the most encouraging thing about this game is the fact that Oakland's defense finally shut someone down. The Raiders' 30th-ranked defense has struggled all year, but that changed in San Diego as they held the Chargers to just 263 yards and 16 points, which were both season lows for San Diego. If you're going to win in the playoffs, it helps to have a defense, and the Raiders proved they have one on Sunday. Speaking of the playoffs, if everyone in Oakland is out celebrating tonight, it's because this win clinched the Raiders' first playoff berth since 2002.
For the eighth time in nine losses this season, the Chargers lost by one score. It was also the sixth time this year that the Chargers led at some point in the fourth quarter and still lost. Basically, it hasn't been an easy year to be a Chargers fan, and now, it sound like the team is going to throw a bucket of salt on the wound by moving to Los Angeles.
Dallas 26-20 over Tampa Bay
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers actually led this game 20-17, but then they went ice cold. Tampa melted down in crunch time, totaling just 10 yards on their five offensive drives in the fourth quarter. Although Jameis Winston threw three interceptions, his biggest mistake actually came when he lost a second-quarter fumble. The turnover set up the Cowboys on Tampa's 14-yard line, a gift that Dallas eventually turned into a touchdown. The bad news for the Bucs is that they no longer control their playoff fate. Winning out won't guarantee Tampa a playoff spot.
After this game, they just need to cut the Rookie of the Year award in half for Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. The only thing more impressive than Prescott's performance (32 of 36 for 279 yards) was Elliott's ability to run over the Buccaneers defense. The rookie running back totaled a career-high 159 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. Let's not give all the credit to the Cowboys' rookies, though: The defense in Dallas was also pretty solid. The Cowboys tied a season-high by forcing four turnovers and limited the Bucs to just 276 yards.