GREEN BAY, WIS. - Nobody wanted to fire anyone at Lambeau Field on Sunday as the Packers did what the Vikings, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning couldn't.
Win. And look really good doing so.
Aaron Rodgers outplayed Manning, and it wasn't even close. The Packers' banged-up defense outplayed the Colts' banged-up defense, and it wasn't even close. And Mike McCarthy outcoached the universally revered Tony Dungy in their first meeting. And that wasn't close, either, as the Packers rolled gleefully into their bye with a 34-14 rout.
"This one was very sweet for us," said Rodgers, who helped lift the Packers to 4-3 and a share of first place with Chicago in the NFC North.
Rodgers completed 21 of 28 passes for 186 yards, one touchdown and a 104.2 passer rating. Manning's 46.6 passer rating was his lowest since Week 2 of the 2005 season against Jacksonville(44.0), and his two interceptions were returned for second-half touchdowns.
Free safety Nick Collins grabbed a pass that went through receiver Reggie Wayne's hands and returned it 62 yards for a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter. About 22 minutes later, strong safety Aaron Rouse made it 34-7 when he went 99 yards to tie the franchise record for longest interception return for a touchdown set by Tim Lewis in 1984.
"Lambeau Field, 99-yard interception return, Peyton Manning ... Priceless," said Rouse, who started for the injured Atari Bigby. "It's something I'll never forget the rest of my life."
Manning probably won't, either. It was only the second time in his career that he's thrown two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the same game. He did it against the Patriots in 2001.
"We just need to play better," said Manning, whose team fell to 1-2 against the NFC North. "I need to play better."
Now on to McCarthy. All he did was set the tone for the entire game with an approach that was so aggressive early on, it caught Dungy off guard and forced him to take a timeout.
The Packers took the game's opening kickoff and went 67 yards in 13 plays. A 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby gave them a 3-0 lead after keeping Manning on the sideline for nearly seven minutes.
Knowing that ball control would be a premium against a Colts offense that had scored 31 points in each of the past two games, McCarthy called for an onside kick with eight minutes left in the first quarter.
It didn't work, and the Colts ended up taking a 7-3 lead.
But McCarthy didn't let that deter his aggressiveness.
Leading 10-7 and facing fourth-and-1 from his 44 with 7:15 left in the second quarter, McCarthy never flinched. Good, bad or ugly, running back Ryan Grant was going over right end with the football.
Dungy was shocked. With his punt return team on the field, he was forced to call timeout. Even with additional time to think about the risk, McCarthy stuck with his original plan.
"We were looking to steal a series from their offense," McCarthy said.
So Grant got the ball and shot over right end for 7 yards and an easy first down. Six plays later, Grant scored on an 11-yard touchdown run. The Packers took firm control of the game, 17-7, and never lost it.
"That fourth down was huge," said Grant, who ran 31 times for 105 yards. "We don't do that, maybe they come back and score and we're down 14-10. And then who knows?"
The Packers controlled the ball for 33:46 and didn't punt until the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. The Colts had only three first-half possessions, not counting a kneel-down at the end.
"That's the way we wanted the first half to go," McCarthy said. "With their offense, you have to take those chances sometimes."
Mark Craig • email@example.com