HOUSTON (AP) — This is more like it for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
The reigning MVP set a career high and tied a franchise record with six touchdown passes and the Packers played their best game of their so far inconsistent season, beating previously unbeaten Houston 42-24 on Sunday night.
Jordy Nelson caught three touchdown passes and James Jones had two, including a beautiful, diving one-hander in the fourth quarter for the Packers (3-3). Tight end Tom Crabtree had the other, a 48-yarder that Rodgers released just before taking a hit from Texans’ outside linebacker Brooks Reed.
Rodgers completed 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards. He tied Matt Flynn’s game record for TD passes, set in last year’s regular-season finale against Detroit with Rodgers resting on the sideline in advance of the playoffs.
The Packers heard criticism from fans in Green Bay all week after blowing a 21-3 halftime lead to the Indianapolis Colts last week. Another loss would have dropped them to 2-4 for the first time since 2006, and they missed the playoffs that season.
Instead, they put themselves right back in the thick of their divisional race.
”This was an important game for us,” Rodgers said. ”We had a couple not go our way, games we should have won and 2-4 would have been very difficult.”
Arian Foster scored two touchdowns, but ran for only 29 yards for the Texans (5-1). The loss leaves the Atlanta Falcons (6-0) as the only unbeaten team in the NFL.
Rodgers came into the game with a 68.8 completion percentage, 10 touchdown passes and a 96.9 rating – not bad, but not quite his astonishing standard from last season. Green Bay’s offense came in ranked only 21st this year. Rodgers was openly disappointed in his own play, and the offensive line had also been an issue, allowing 21 sacks.
It somehow all came together against the league’s third-ranked defense.
”This is just a team that has a lot of pride in our locker room,” Rodgers said. ”I said it this week, there’s not any quit in that locker room. It’s almost better when people are doubting us a little bit, I think. We kind of band together. People tried to pull us apart this week and we stuck together and found our motivation.”
Houston, meanwhile, badly missed star linebacker Brian Cushing, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing a knee ligament in last week’s 23-17 win over the New York Jets.
But there was more to the Texans’ collapse than just that.
Rookie DeVier Posey lined up offside on a Green Bay punt, resulting in a Packers’ first down. Rodgers then lofted a perfect pass to Nelson over the shoulder of cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a 41-yard touchdown, stunning the noisy crowd.
Houston’s offensive line also looked shaky. The Packers sacked Matt Schaub on each of Houston’s first two series, forcing quick punts. Schaub was only sacked three times in the first five games.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt sacked Rodgers, and fired up the fans by mimicking Rodgers’ ”championship belt” pose after the play. Watt, who finished with two sacks, came into the game with 7 1-2 sacks, just behind Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, who led the league with eight and didn’t have won against the Texans.
That didn’t faze Rodgers, who eluded a rush from Connor Barwin and completed a 24-yard pass to Randall Cobb, who had seven catches for 102 yards. Jones made a diving, fingertip catch in the end zone just before the end of the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.
”As a quarterback, it’s interesting to see the kind of dances that go on around you,” Rodgers said, ”and it’s not often that you get a chance to dance back to them.”
Foster finished a 5-minute drive with a short touchdown run, but the Packers had a quick answer. Rodgers found Nelson with a 21-yard touchdown to cap a smooth drive that took less than 4 minutes.
Rodgers completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards and was only sacked once in the first half. He connected with six receivers before halftime, and didn’t miss Greg Jennings, who sat out again with a groin injury.
”He put on a show tonight,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Rodgers.
Not that they needed it, but the Texans helped Rodgers with untimely penalties.
A holding call wiped out an 11-yard touchdown run by Rodgers. But Barwin stepped on another player’s back trying to block Mason Crosby’s field-goal attempt, an unsportsmanlike conduct call resulting in a first down.
Safety Danieal Manning was called for a personal foul after a whistle on a third-down play, and Rodgers threw another TD pass for a 28-10 lead.
”That’s discipline,” Kubiak said, ”and discipline starts with me.”
Rookie receiver Keshawn Martin made two first-down catches late in the third quarter and Foster scored again. Cobb returned the ensuing kickoff to the Packers’ 43, and Rodgers went back to work. On third down, he scrambled to his right and threw to Crabtree, who was wide open and waltzed into the end zone.
Sam Shields intercepted Schaub and fans started filing for the exits, with more than 14 minutes remaining.
NOTES: Packers LB D.J. Smith and RB Brandon Saine left the game with ”significant” knee injuries, according to the team. … Rodgers surpassed his previous career high (5), set in the second-to-last game of last season, against Chicago. … The Packers improved to 19-5 in Sunday night games. … Texans WR Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 75 yards, going over 10,000 yards receiving in his career. … The Texans made a field goal for the 16th consecutive game, a franchise record. … The announced attendance was 71,702, a record for a regular-season game at Reliant Stadium.
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