The shorthanded Green Bay Packers, playing without five starters, showed their talent runs deep by beating the Cleveland Browns 31-13 on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Playing without star receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones, Aaron Rodgers threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns as Green Bay took over the lead in the NFC North.
Green Bay lost tight end Jermichael Finley with about 10 minutes remaining in the game. After a 10-yard catch, he was hit in the head by Cleveland safety Tashaun Gipson. Finley, who sustained a concussion at Cincinnati in Week 3, was taken off the field on a stretch. The team reported he had feeling and movement in his extremeties.
Cleveland fell into a 14-0 hole in the first 12 minutes and never posed much of a threat with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.
The Browns hung around because of their defense but Green Bay finally seized control midway through the fourth quarter. A 39-yard catch-and-run by Jarrett Boykin made it first-and-goal at the 1, and Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for the touchdown to make it 24-6 with 8:30 to play.
Travis Benjamin returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the Packers’ 20, with the Browns getting a fourth-down touchdown pass of 2 yards to Jordan Cameron with 6:09 remaining. The Browns’ Joe Haden recovered the onside kick when Green Bay’s Myles White failed to control the bouncing ball, but Eric Martin was flagged for offside. On the rekick, Haden again recovered but the ball didn’t travel 10 yards, and the Packers took possession – and put the game away on Rodgers’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Boykin.
Cleveland hung around after the dismal start, thanks in large part to its seventh-ranked defense. After opening the game touchdown-touchdown, Green Bay’s next five possessions ended in a punt, field goal, missed field goal, punt and punt.
But the Browns couldn’t take advantage. Trailing 17-6, they drove to Green Bay’s 26-yard line but Weeden’s deep ball to tight end MarQueis Gray was overthrown and a short checkdown was dropped by Willis McGahee. After an illegal-formation penalty made it third-and-15, Weeden threw incomplete just as he was about to get by A.J. Hawk. On fourth down, the Browns bypassed a long field goal. Mike Daniels hit Weeden, and his deep throw to Josh Gordon was broken up at the last moment by Davon House.
At that point, the Browns had just 158 yards and were 4-of-13 on third down.
The Packers, despite being without standout players Jones (knee), Cobb (broken fibula), Clay Matthews (broken thumb) and Nick Perry (foot), were 10-point favorites. And they wasted no time racing to a 14-0 lead.
Green Bay took advantage of shoddy tackling on its opening drive. After a 26-yard catch by Jermichael Finley in which he ran over safety Tashaun Gibson, Finley barreled through four would-be tacklers for a 9-yard touchdown.
The Packers extended the advantage to 14-0 on their next possession. Rodgers hit Boykin for 14 yards on third-and-7, Rodgers ran for 6 yards on third-and-3 and Eddie Lacy blew threw a huge hole for 13 yards on third-and-5. That set up first-and-goal at the 9, and Lacy ran for 8 yards and then a 1-yard score.
Meanwhile, Weeden was terrible. In the opening quarter, he completed 2-of-11 passes for 23 yards with one interception and a 1.7 passer rating.
Weeden did hit Cameron for 15 yards on third-and-3 to set up a 46-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff. The Packers answered with a field goal just before halftime to lead 17-3.
Notes: Finley was taken off the field on a stretcher after a fourth-quarter reception in which he was hit by Gipson. Finley, who sustained a concussion in Week 3 against Cincinnati, had movement and feeling in his extremeties, the team reported. … Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon, who was second in the NFL in receiving yards per game, caught just two passes for 21 yards. … Before scoring on their first two red-zone possessions, the Packers were on an 0-for-6 skid and had been 5-of-16 since Week 1. … The Browns ran out of Wildcat for one play in the second quarter and one play in the third, with rookie tight end MarQueis Gray at quarterback. Gray played quarterback for much of his career at Minnesota. Neither play was successful. … Browns linebacker Quintin Groves was lost with an ankle injury. … The Packers entered the day with a team-record eight consecutive games with 385 yards. They finished with 357. … The Packers claimed receiver Chris Harper off waivers from San Francisco on Friday and he was active on Sunday.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.