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Packers win despite not playing their best

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Even when Aaron Rodgers does the unheard-of, the Green Bay Packers refuse to lose.

“Well, Aaron is human,” head coach Mike McCarthy said.

Despite Rodgers’ throwing his first interceptions at Lambeau Field in nearly three full calendar years, Green Bay stayed unbeaten Sunday with a 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams.

“Happy to be 5-0, but we need to play a little bit better on offense,” Rodgers said.

The Packers had just enough production on offense with big-play catch-and-run touchdowns from rookie Ty Montgomery and James Jones to overcome an atypical three giveaways by Rodgers.

A deflected pass into the hands of Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis with four minutes left in the first quarter ended Rodgers’ NFL-record streak of 586 passes without an interception in a home game. His last Lambeau interception was Dec. 2, 2012, against the Minnesota Vikings.

Rodgers had another pass picked off later in the first half Sunday, but turnabout was fair play as a resurgent Packers defense picked up its sluggish offensive counterparts for the second straight week. Green Bay slogged its way to a 17-3 victory at the San Francisco 49ers the previous week.

“We’ve been struggling the last couple weeks,” said Rodgers, who finished Sunday’s game just 19-of-30 for 241 yards, a good chunk of those on Jones’ breakaway 65-yard touchdown right after halftime to stretch the Packers’ lead to 21-10.

“We’ve played three NFC West opponents now, and the division is really known for its defense. They bring it,” said Rodgers, referring to the Rams, 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, whom the Packers beat 27-17 in Week 2. “That’s three really good defenses we’ve faced and five difficult opponents for us to start the season.”

To the delight of Rodgers and others on offense, Green Bay has asserted itself as an early NFC title contender because of the prowess of its defense in recent weeks.

After piling up 13 sacks in the wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and the 49ers the previous two weeks, the Packers forced Rams quarterback Nick Foles into a career-high four interceptions with consistent pocket pressure.

“We can complain all we want on the sideline about, ‘Yeah, let’s get points,’ but would the defense want it any other way?” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had 1.5 of Green Bay’s three sacks Sunday. “For so long now, this has been (an offensive team). It still is an offensive team, but it’s nice when the defense can hold their own, especially the last couple weeks of doing so, especially when the opposition is having a good defensive game and maybe our offense isn’t clicking.

“These are the types of games that we need sometimes and kind of show our identity.”

Rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins led the takeaway assault against Foles with two interceptions, highlighted by his 45-yard return for a touchdown in the opening quarter.

The Packers, who have won 12 straight games at Lambeau since the start of the 2014 season, remain home to play the San Diego Chargers on Sunday before going into the bye week.

REPORT CARD VS. RAMS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C. Aaron Rodgers came down to earth Sunday, throwing two interceptions (and nearly a third) while also giving away the football on a strip-sack by defensive end Robert Quinn. The first pick, on linebacker James Laurinaitis’ lunging grab of a deflected pass over the middle in the first quarter, put an end to a remarkable streak. Going back to December 2012, Rodgers hadn’t thrown an interception in 586 consecutive pass attempts in a home game, including the playoffs. Later in the first half, cornerback Trumaine Johnson jumped a short outside route by James Jones for a diving interception. Jones (two catches, 77 yards), though, gave Rodgers and Green Bay’s stagnant offense the lift they needed by outrunning the back end of St. Louis’ defense the last 50 yards for a 65-yard touchdown in the first series of the second half to put the Packers ahead 21-10. Green Bay’s opening drive of the game also ended with a bang, as rookie wideout Ty Montgomery (four catches, 59 yards) broke free on a crossing route to take a short pass from Rodgers and blazed straight up the vacated middle of the field for a 31-yard touchdown. Those huge catch-and-run plays by Jones and Montgomery not only held up as the 14-point difference in the final score, but they also were a huge chunk of the output for Rodgers, who completed only 19 of 30 passes for 241 yards. As expected, the Rams’ formidable front caused fits for Rodgers, who was sacked twice.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D. Thanks to the Rams’ effective pass rush having Rodgers on the run frequently, Green Bay’s rushing numbers were skewed. Rodgers led the Packers with 39 yards in eight rushing attempts, one of which was a game-ending kneeldown that took away two yards. The Packers’ lone explosive run of the game came from Rodgers in their first series, when he alertly dashed up the open middle for 18 yards on third-and-7. Otherwise, Green Bay struggled to move the ball on the ground, finishing with a season-low 86 yards after racking up more than 120 yards in each of the first four games. Featured back Eddie Lacy was a nonfactor with just 27 yards in 13 carries. The Rams stuffed Lacy for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play in Rams territory in the first quarter. Frequently used change-of-pace back James Starks also was ineffective, carrying the ball five times for only 17 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: A-minus. Week 5 of the 2015 season may go down as the start of a prosperous pro career for rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins. Of the career-high four interceptions thrown by Rams quarterback Nick Foles, two wound up in the hands of Rollins. The second-round draft pick, who saw the field a lot in Green Bay’s nickel and dime packages, followed up a pick by safety Micah Hyde in the previous St. Louis possession by snaring a short pass from Foles and running the other way 45 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Two plays after giving up a Foles deep ball of 68 yards to Stedman Bailey, Rollins cemented the victory by picking off a Foles pass inside the Green Bay 5 in the final minute. Foles also had a crucial giveaway in the red zone earlier in the fourth quarter, when safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made a lunging catch in the end zone on a pass deflected by linebacker Joe Thomas. Foles’ miserable day of 11-of-30 passing for 141 yards with one touchdown also included three sacks. Roving linebacker Clay Matthews, who had 1.5 sacks, epitomized the Packers’ relentless pressure of Foles in the pocket, and outside linebacker Julius Peppers contributed a sack that resulted in a fumble, which the Rams recovered.

–RUN DEFENSE: D. The loss of nose tackle B.J. Raji for the entire second half because of a groin injury exacerbated matters for Green Bay’s defense, which reverted back to its run-stopping struggles that had been alleviated in recent weeks. The Packers allowed a season-worst 191 rushing yards. Impressive rookie Todd Gurley inflicted most of the damage. Despite getting behind 14-0 in the early going, the Rams went with a heavy dose of Gurley on the ground. He responded by wearing down the Packers’ depleted defensive front for 159 yards in 30 carries. Gurley ripped off a 55-yard run out to the right side in the fourth quarter, getting Hyde to miss on an open-field tackle attempt. Fleet-footed receiver Tavon Austin (three carries, 22 yards) had a 15-yard run.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus. A blocked field goal by defensive lineman Datone Jones and a strong punting performance from Tim Masthay spared the Packers from having a disastrous outing with their special-teams units. Jones’ free release up the middle to deflect a 50-yard attempt by Greg Zuerlein was the first of three field-goal misses by the Rams’ strong-legged kicker in the second half. The Jones block came four plays after St. Louis pulled off a fake punt, as punter Johnny Hekker connected with an open Cody Davis for a 20-yard completion on fourth-and-2 from the Rams’ 43 in the third quarter. Early in the final quarter, an illegal-use-of-hands penalty on Richard Rodgers erased a 47-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. A 35-yard field goal from Crosby with about a minute to play completed the scoring. Masthay had big punts of 53 and 52 yards. However, his 53-yard strike in the second quarter resulted in a touchback instead of being downed at the St. Louis 1 because Jeff Janis made an unnecessary play on the football while coming out of the end zone.

–COACHING: B-minus. Despite the occasional difficulties in bringing down the powerful Gurley on the Rams’ frequent run calls, the Green Bay defense coordinated by Dom Capers deserved the lion’s share of the credit for keeping the Packers unbeaten after five games. Capers’ liberal use of players and packages as well as constant pressure on the immobile Foles enabled the defense to be opportunistic and mostly dominating, as the Rams amassed just 334 total yards even though they had possession of the football for nearly 34 minutes. The Green Bay offense sputtered for most of the game, mostly due to the rare “off” game by Rodgers, especially at Lambeau Field. First-year coordinator Ron Zook for the first time endured the special-teams pratfalls of previous seasons with the executed fake punt by the Rams leaving a black mark. The Packers also had 12 men on the field on two occasions late in the game – one falling on the offense and the other on the defense.


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