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Packers top plays of 2016, No. 2: Rodgers’ bomb to Nelson for the win

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Our rundown of the Green Bay Packers' top plays from 2016 continues with another last second heave late in the season.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In a season filled with fascinating, incredible, and sometimes hilarious plays, we at Acme Packing Company looked back at the 2016 Green Bay Packers to determine which ones were truly the best. Over the next few days, we will reveal our countdown of the top ten plays of the 2016 season, as voted on by 13 APC contributors.

The contributors were asked to vote on what they believed to be the best overall plays of the 2016 season, based on a number of factors. Included in the analysis were impact on the season overall, impact within the game, highlight-reel spectacle, individual effort or achievement, and hilarity or ridiculousness.

I think avid readers have already picked up on a few similarities among the top plays of 2016; but for those of you who haven’t, Aaron Rodgers is the best, and don’t you forget it. Today’s play is another Rodgers bomb, this time to Jordy Nelson for 60 yards with only 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, setting up Mason Crosby to win the game in the final seconds in the week 15 game against the Chicago Bears.

The Situation

Coming into their week 15 match-up against the Bears, the Packers were winners of three in a row, managing to absolutely stomp the Seattle Seahawks in week 14 and climb back into the playoff chase. However, each game had become a must-win, as their record was only 7-6 and they sat third in the NFC North.

Chicago, meanwhile, sat at 3-10 and had given up hope on a playoff berth a long time ago. Matt Barkley had taken over starting quarterback duties, and the Bears coaching staff let him absolutely fling the ball all over the field. Given the state of the Packers’ secondary, that was probably a wise choice.

The game itself was one of scoring runs; the Packers managed to score 20 unanswered points across the second and third quarters, only to let the Bears 17 unanswered in the fourth quarter. It was the definition of letting your foot off the pedal against an inferior team with nothing to lose. Perhaps the cold weather — just 11 degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff — played a factor. Or maybe it was just porous defense facing a rival with an unscouted quarterback.

The drive in which Rodgers connected with Nelson for 60 is peculiar in of itself; on second down, after an incompletion to Jared Cook, Aaron Rodgers completed a shovel pass to Ty Montgomery which lost a yard, leaving the offense with 3rd down and 11 to go on their own 26 yard line. Lane Taylor was injured on the play, but the Packers were out of timeouts, thus giving Chicago the option to enforce a 10 second runoff of the game clock. Chicago refused the runoff, thinking they had a chance to get the ball back as the Packers didn’t seem to be in any type of scoring position. This is where we pick up our savior hero offense.

The Play

What a thing of beauty.

The Bears line up in a dime package, with one linebacker roaming the middle, and their safeties starting around 16-18 yards off the ball. The Packers are in a shotgun formation, with Davante Adams and Cobb in an offset stack position, Jared Cook on next to David Bakhtiari, and Jordy Nelson in the traditional X spot out wide.

As with any play, it begins with the offensive line. The Bears, smartly, try and pressure to their left, forcing Rodgers to make a more difficult throw across his body. However, they only rush three of their four down linemen, and leave one in a spy coverage. As you would expect, the very good pass blocking line of Green Bay picks up the three rushers rather easily. While Rodgers does take a few steps to his left, his eyes are never distracted by any sort of oncoming rush, and no one is in his face the entire time. This is mistake number one.

The Bears make a second mistake. Their defensive backs, playing zone coverage, expect the typical 2-minute drill throw; just past the sticks, toward the sideline. You can see their logic; if you sit in a soft coverage and give up 10 yard completions that only take 8 seconds a piece, the Packers could conceivably march down the field and kick a field goal. That’s all fine and good, as long as you don’t let anyone get behind you. As a safety, however, that is priority #1 on nearly every single play.

Cre’Von LeBlanc (awesome name), #22, turns his hips a bit late, but still has OK underneath coverage on Jordy. With a safety over the top, the play would be nullified. What I can’t get over, though, is the angle that Bears safety #26, Deon Bush, takes on Nelson’s route. At the beginning of the play, he’s fine. But instead of backpedaling, he goes directly to the sideline, completely unaware of Jordy running right past him. It’s bizarre.

At any rate, Nelson does just that - zooms past a misguided Deon Bush, running a skinny post route inside of LeBlanc, and finds green grass.

(Side note - I did a quick bit of math, and as the ball hit Nelson in the mitts at Chicago’s 25 yard line, while Aaron launched it from his own 17 yard line, that pass traveled 58 yards in the air. I’m lucky to throw my dog’s ball 20 yards in the air with a hurricane wind at my back. Rodgers didn’t even crow hop, he only needed one step into it!)

But the play doesn’t stop here; Nelson stumbles while hauling in the bomb from Rodgers, finally down at the Chicago 14 yard line. As soon as Nelson gets tagged down, he gets up with the ball in his hands, looking at the clock, trying to place the ball in the correct position on the line for the referees while simultaneously avoiding swiping Bear hands trying to knock the ball loose and run more clock down. At the risk of sounding like an overpaid talking head, that’s a veteran move.

The Impact

We all know what happens next; Rodgers spikes the ball with 4 seconds left, Crosby nails the ensuing field goal, and the Packers walk out of Soldier Field with cold hands. Oh, and a very important win, keeping their playoff hopes alive and improving their record to 8-6 and one game off the top spot in the NFC North.

The Countdown

10. Gone in 8.78 seconds
9. Ty Montgomery is a wide receiver no more
8. Clay Matthews forces two fumbles on one play
7. Davante Adams torches the Seahawks
6. Another Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary
5. Another 9-second touchdown pass
4. Rodgers hits Adams while being dragged to the ground
3. Micah Hyde reads Dak Prescott’s mind