‘Gutty performance’ ends Packers’ four-decade skid in Philly
By: By Jim Polzin, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
PHILADELPHIA — As the player who has been with the Green Bay Packers the longest, Donald Driver has a better perspective than any of his teammates on the pain inflicted on the organization over the years in the City of Brotherly Love.
So forgive the veteran wide receiver if he spends a little extra time savoring the Packers’ 27-20 season-opening victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday before a crowd of 69,144 at Lincoln Financial Field.
“You get the opportunity to come here and win, like this, and it’s fun,” said Driver, who caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter. “You have to smile. To get this win in front of the fans and that home crowd is something we have to (be happy) about for a long time.”
Coach Mike McCarthy used the phrase “gutty performance” more than once during his postgame news conference after the Packers won in Philadelphia for the first time since 1962, ending a run of nine consecutive losses that included the unforgettable “Fourth-and-26 Game” in the playoffs following the 2003 season.
McCarthy didn’t mention the losing skid to his team leading up to the game, but he made sure to bring it up to his players after the Packers survived a shaky performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and some injuries to key players.
“I’ve been here and had a lot of heartbreakers,” Packers middle linebacker Nick Barnett said. “It feels good to leave this stadium with a win.”
For a while it looked like it might be a breeze, but the Packers knew better than to get too comfortable after building a 17-point lead in the third quarter. Strange stuff happens when Green Bay visits Philadelphia, and it almost did again Sunday.
The Eagles went nowhere behind quarterback Kevin Kolb, who was making his third career start after being handed the team in the offseason when Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins. It wasn’t until Kolb left the game with a concussion that Philadelphia came to life.
Led by backup Michael Vick, who looked like the same electric player he was early in his career, Philadelphia rallied to pull within a touchdown late in the game.
Vick ran for 103 yards — he averaged 9.4 yards per carry — but the Eagles needed one more from him.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Packers’ 42-yard line after the 2-minute warning, Vick lined up in the shotgun and tried a quarterback sneak. But Packers defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, who weigh a combined 677 pounds, plugged the A gap and allowed Barnett and outside linebacker Clay Matthews to stop Vick for no gain.
“We knew what they were going to try to do — everyone in the stadium knew,” Raji said. “It was just a matter of will.”
Three kneel-downs from Rodgers, and Green Bay had won in Philadelphia for the first time in 48 years.
“It wasn’t always pretty for us,” Packers running back Ryan Grant said, “but you’ve got to be able to pull out some wins like that.”
It certainly wasn’t pretty at times for the offense, which lost Grant to an ankle injury in the second quarter and struggled mightily in the first and fourth quarters.
In between, the Packers turned a 3-0 deficit into a 27-10 lead by scoring on five of six possessions that stretched over the halves. Three of those drives lasted at least 10 plays as the Packers had the Eagles almost doubled in time of possession at the midway point of the third quarter.
But the Packers’ next three possessions resulted in a three-and-out, Rodgers’ second interception of the game and another punt. Rodgers, who started slow before finding his rhythm in the middle of the game, finished 19-for-31 for 188 yards — his fifth-lowest total in his 33 career starts — with touchdown passes to Driver and Greg Jennings and the two picks.
“I played terrible,” Rodgers said. “It was probably about as bad as I could play. ... It’s got to get better. I missed a lot of throws that I make in my sleep, so I’m disappointed about that. But I think we made just enough plays to win.”
Indeed, the Packers did. And the importance of the victory — even though it’s only Week 1 — can’t be discounted.
Green Bay faces difficult road games at the New York Jets, Minnesota, Atlanta and New England, so Sunday’s victory in a difficult environment was a crucial first step for a team that hasn’t hidden the fact that it views itself as a Super Bowl contender.
“It makes a real big statement,” Packers tight end Jermichael Finley said. “It just lets people know that we’re not going to back down and we’re not going to stop.”
— Copyright (c) 2010, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services