Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pick Six; Pack Stix

By Eric Goska

It is doubtful anyone on the field knew the long odds the Packers faced after being subjected to a pick-6 Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Perhaps that was best.

For just the second time in his career,  Aaron Rodgers threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. This time it was the Bengals who snagged this rarest of turnover, a steal that forced Green Bay to rally for a 27-24 overtime victory before 78,323 fans at the historic stadium.

The pick-6 was the first Rodgers has thrown in a home game.

Rodgers has been tossing passes for the Packers since connecting with Vonta Leach in a 52-3 blowout of the Saints in 2005. In the years since he’s taken a liking to this line of work, and his regular-season total had swelled to 4,749 forward passes prior to the meeting with Cincinnati.

As with Seattle and Atlanta, Rodgers generated little excitement early against the Bengals. He completed four of six passes for a scant 13 yards but did find Lance Kendricks for a 1-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter that evened the score at seven apiece.

Then, for the third game in a row, Rodgers threw a first-half interception. William Jackson III undercut an out intended for Jordy Nelson, and the cornerback raced 75 yards the other way.

Jackson’s TD return came with just under 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter, and it pushed the Bengals ahead 21-7. Earlier in the period, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and halfback Giovani Bernard combined on a 6-yard scoring pass.

As with any turnover, there is no good time for a pick-6. More problematic are those that occur when the team that gives up the six is already trailing on the scoreboard.

The Packers have thrown 120 pick-6s in 111 different regular-season games since 1921. Their record in those contests is 27-81-3 (.257).

Just over half of those pick-6s (62) added to an opponent’s already existing lead. The Pack is 6-53 (.102) when throwing a pick-6 from behind.

The five previous wins came courtesy of Bart Starr (1965), Zeke Bratkowski (1967), David Whitehurst (1979), Brett Favre (2003) and Matt Flynn (2013). In overcoming such an ill-timed turnover, Rodgers boosted membership in this group to a full Pack six.

Quarterbacks, of course, get credit for a win. But, as always, many players contribute to a comeback.

In the case of the Bengals, Green Bay’s defense tightened. After giving up 145 yards and 11 first downs in the first 17:31, the unit surrendered 156 yards and 10 first downs the rest of the way.

Of note, the Packers did not allow the Bengals to convert a third down (0-for-7) once behind by 14 points.

Rodgers, too, played better. His passer rating, a paltry 44.9 after the interception, was a more robust 120.1 on his final 33 attempts.

Kendricks, one of three Packers tight ends to see action, chipped in 34 yards after the catch on a 51-yard reception to open the second half. His long gainer set up a 1-yard TD throw to Nelson that pulled Green Bay to 21-14.

Nelson hauled in a second touchdown pass as well. His 3-yarder – a bullet that narrowly missed the outstretched arms of cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick – tied the score at 24-all with 17 seconds left in regulation.

In overtime, Geronimo Allison added a highlight of his own. He turned a 36-yard, third-down throw into a 72-yard sprint that reached the Cincinnati 7-yard line.

Mason Crosby completed the comeback with a game-winning, 27-yard field goal with four minutes, 34 seconds of the extra period having elapsed.

The numbers that surround Rodgers and his lack of pick-6s are eye-opening. They include Packers records and at least one NFL best.

In between his two pick-6s – Tanard Jackson of the Buccaneers had the first in 2009 – Rodgers attempted 3,907 regular-season passes without one. That’s an NFL record, far better than the previous best of 3,113 by Randall Cunningham (1986-94).

But don’t go spreading that around. It’s not worth the trouble.

Rodgers’ streak of 3,907 is nearly twice the length of the previous record by a Packer. Brett Favre once lobbed 1,974 regular-season passes (1993-97) without one.

Again, keep that to yourself. We wouldn’t want anyone to know.

Eight years ago, Tanard Jackson nicked Rodgers in Raymond James Stadium. Sunday William Jackson caught him at Lambeau.

The latter Jackson became the fourth Bengal to record a pick-6 against the Packers (Tommy Casanova and Ken Riley in 1976 and Lemar Parrish in 1971), and he put an end to Rodgers’ string of regular-season passes at home (2,323) without a pick-6. That long run is the best start to a regular-season career at Lambeau Field, well ahead of the previous record by Starr who attempted 573 at the stadium before Lem Barney put on the skids in the 1967 season opener.

Pick-Six or Pick-Sick?
The 13 Packers passers who attempted 500 or more regular-season throws and how often they were pick-sixed.

Pct.          Atts.      No.         Passer
0.04        4,791          2         Aaron Rodgers
0.19           537          1         John Hadl
0.20        1,006          2         Arnie Herber
0.25        3,149          8         Bart Starr
0.27        8,754        24         Brett Favre
0.31        1,607          5         Don Majkowski
0.37           818          3         Cecil Isbell
0.39           519          2         Irv Comp
0.41           980          4         David Whitehurst
0.45        1,119          5         Randy Wright
0.46        2,831        13         Lynn Dickey
0.59        1,854        11         Tobin Rote
0.66           602          4         Babe Parilli

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