Aaron Rodgers threw a career-high six touchdown passes, including three to Jordy Nelson and two more by James Jones, as the Packers destroyed the previously undefeated Houston Texans 42-24 on Sunday night.
"We're nobody's underdog," cornerback Charles Woodson told NBC after the game, echoing coach Mike McCarthy's comments from the Packers' near-miss loss at New England in 2010 that triggered a run to the championship.
It might not have been a must-win game but it was as close as possible for Week 6. Had the Packers lost, they would have been in last place in the NFC North and only two teams in the conference would have had a lower winning percentage. Instead, Green Bay improved to 3-3. Chicago, which had a bye, leads the NFC North at 4-1. Minnesota, which lost at Washington, fell to 4-2 while Detroit, which rallied at Philadelphia, improved to 2-3.
The Texans (5-1) self-destructed in their first appearance on "Sunday Night Football." On the Packers' first series, Rodgers missed a wide-open Jones for what should have been a touchdown on third-and-3. Green Bay punted but DeVier Posey was flagged for lining up offside — he was one of three Texans in the neutral zone. On the next play, Rodgers hit Nelson for a 41-yard touchdown.
The Packers were off and running with an outlandish offensive performance against one of the NFL's top defenses.
"They challenged us," Rodgers said. "They played a lot of one-high safety, a lot of man coverage and put those corners in one-on-one spots with not a lot of safety help, so we wanted to take some shots early. As we got into the flow of the game, we were able to dictate some of the stuff we wanted on offense with in-breaking stuff, shots down the field, double moves and made the most out of a lot of them."
Leading 21-10 at halftime, they got the ball to start the second half and got in position for a touchdown, only for the drive to stall. On fourth-and-20 from the Texans' 21, Mason Crosby kicked a field goal but Connor Barwin was flagged for using Packers lineman Don Barclay as a springboard on his attempt to block the field goal. The unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty gave the Packers a first down, but Rodgers was sacked on first down at the 11. On third-and-14, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for 10 yards. In the pile, Texans safety Danieal Manning punched Marshall Newhouse. That gave the Packers a first-and-goal at the 2, with Rodgers hitting Nelson for a 1-yard touchdown on second down.
Rodgers finished 24-of-37 for 338 yards and the six touchdowns. Nelson (nine catches, 121 yards) and Cobb (seven for 102) led the receiving corps, and Jones made two acrobatic touchdown catches — becoming the first Packers receiver since Don Hutson in 1943 to have three consecutive two-touchdown games. The sixth touchdown came on third-and-1 on the second snap of the fourth quarter, with Rodgers' play-action fake letting Tom Crabtree free for a 48-yard touchdown that made it 35-17.
"Aaron was on fire. Did a great job of putting the ball where it needed to be," McCarthy said.
Meanwhile, a maligned defense played its best game of the season against arguably the NFL's most balanced offensive attack. Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher since the start of the 2010 season, was held to 29 yards on 17 attempts. Casey Hayward (two) and Sam Shields combined for three interceptions.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.