Last week has turned into this week, and the Packers-Colts game is long over. It was, to be sure, a memorable one, with Indianapolis winning for coach Chuck Pagano and providing an uplifting moment in his battle with leukemia.
Want to hear what else happened last week?
— The Packers offense disappeared in the second half against the Colts, scoring just six points and allowing Indy to fight back. QB Aaron Rodgers struggled even more than he did in the first half, showing indecision and inaccuracy. What the heck happened?
“Earlier in the game, Aaron was doing a great job of getting rid of the football, he didn’t have to hold it,” OLB Dwight Freeney explained. “Toward the end of the game, he had to try to make some plays for himself. Whatever had happened (in the first half) wasn’t working. When you have to hold the ball, we have to be there to tackle and make the sack. We had made some adjustments, took some things away they wanted to do, and that caused him to hold the ball.”
— OK, that’s one thing. The Colts forced Rodgers to hold it. But how? DB Cassius Vaughn said they became more intense, saying it was because they were fighting for Pagano. No doubt. In addition, though, there was a change in the method of attacking the Packers O. Safety Antoine Bethea said early on, the D-line was asking for “one more second.” In the second half, Bethea told me how they gave it to Freeney and the boys.
“With Green Bay, their stuff is based on rhythm,” Bethea said. “As DBs, you try to get your hands on the receivers, knock off their timing a little bit, take away his first read. Once that first read is gone, (Rodgers) tends to move around a little bit. That’s when Dwight and Rob could get him.”
— This trip, I spent one day in Green Bay, and many more in Indy. That meant visits to two of my all-time favorite road restaurants. One, Mo’s, A Place for Steaks. That’s pictured. I know St. Elmo’s gets all the publicity, and their shrimp cocktail is an experience. But there is no better steak in town than Mo’s. It’s cooked perfectly, the meat is always tender, and it’s a cool spot to hang out. I’m on Team Mo’s. And the other place is more under-the-radar. Kountry Kitchen. A hole-in-the-wall soul food spot where last Super Bowl, Chad Ochocinco walked in, interrupted my meal and kissed me on the cheek (awkward). But anyway, it’s two miles out of town, but a must-visit place. Just loved the pork chop and meatloaf, and I ended up chatting with the owner for about 30 minutes after.
— Probably the most disturbing thing you saw from the Packers on Sunday was that Rodgers didn’t play like himself. It’s really his fault. He played at such a high level last year that you’re shocked when he’s not perfect. He was far from it. As Rodgers noted, “There was an opportunity to put them down four scores and probably close the book.” Didn’t happen. And I think there are some fundamental problems with Green Bay right now. They want to run and run, believing carries lead to wins. But they can’t block well enough. And their top runner, Cedric Benson, is now injured. Oh, and star WR Greg Jennings is injured, too, but no one else has game-breaking ability. Rodgers needs to be on point this week, but even then you wonder if it’s enough.
— Speaking of Green Bay runners, who the heck is Alex Green? I know, I know, I looked it up. Former Hawaii runner who had torn knee ligaments last year. Green may get the bulk of the carries this week, hoping to show that wiggle he showed on one, 41-yard run last week. If it’s not him, it’ll be James Starks, who hasn’t played yet this season. An offensive line that already hasn’t been fantastic has to pave the way for someone. I don’t know how Green Bay will be balanced even a little bit, which puts more pressure on the QB.
— The improvement and savvy of rookie QB Andrew Luck is stunning. In this game, he led the brilliant fourth-quarter comeback, relied on Reggie Wayne even though he was often double-covered, and showed remarkable escapability. It’s the skill of getting away from on-rushing Clay Matthews that drew the oohs and ahhs. But it wasn’t what interim coach Bruce Arians felt was the best play.
“The biggest play Andrew made in the game, he got hit, the ball came out, he went flying across the field, dove, and knocked it out of bounds or they would have had it right there on the 35 or 40,” Arians said. “That was the biggest play of the game for him I thought. It shows his grit and his determination. He was not letting them get that ball. He got plastered. He should have been on the ground, but he knew it was out and he went and got it. I thought that was the best play, the turning point, because we wouldn’t have recovered from that.”
— A lot of teams talk about a “Next Man Up” mentality, which is just what happens when someone else needs to play. But Vaughn really showed it. Missing Vontae Davis, the Colts didn’t actually miss Davis. Vaughn was really good, particularly in the final 30 minutes. “I’ve been in that situation before,” Vaughn told me. “Being in Denver when Champ (Bailey) got hurt, I got the start for three games and had to hold it down. This opportunity presented itself, and I just wanted to make myself better. On Sunday, I think I became a better player playing the Packers. This wasn’t a run-first thing. It was a pass-first offense against one of the best quarterbacks in the league.” That’s how you earn more time.
— I only got to spend one night in Green Bay, though hopefully I’ll be back in the future. At Lambeau Field, it was a cool experience seeing that old stadium. The access was nice, as assistant coaches were available and informative. Outside the facility, I enjoyed the spot I dropped in on Wednesday night — St. Michael’s Pub on Riverside Drive. The in-depth, Packers-centric discussion going on between the bartender and his patrons was like something you’d see on one of our shows. It was awesome.
— One more quick thing that stuck with me came from Freeney’s mouth. He was bragging about Reggie Wayne’s performance, the best of his career. And he described Wayne as “overshadowed at times.” Thinking about it, he’s kinda right. Whether Peyton Manning or Marvin Harrison or Joseph Addai, it’s rarely been about Wayne. As great as he’s been, it’s rarely been with the spotlight shining on him. Cool, now, with this young team that Wayne is getting his due.