There’s an old adage in golf: there’s no pictures on the scorecard.
Without key starters up and down the roster, including the team’s best offensive lineman and two best defensive players, Green Bay was always going to have to gut out a home win against a desperate team with pedigree and pride.
Thanks to some unlikely faces and the right arm of Aaron Rodgers, that’s exactly what the Packers did in a 27-24 overtime win to give Rodgers his first-ever overtime win. Rodgers also now has lead wins against every team in the NFL (except, of course, the Packers).
Cincinnati, under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, looked sharp early, putting up 21 first-half points for a team that had failed to find pay dirty even once the first two weeks.
But the extra time to prepare — the Bengals played the Thursday night game in Week 2 — Dalton fired on time and in rhythm, but key plays from rookie Josh Jones stemmed the proverbial tide.
Jones started the game in place of Jake Ryan at linebacker and finished with a team-high 12 tackles, two sacks, and three TFLs.
The Bengals, with balance and precision, scored on two of their first three drives, knocking the rust off a sluggish offense through the first two weeks.
Conversely, another first-possession touchdown gave way to way to a familiar offensive rut for the Packers. Other than that drive, the Packers had drives of -4, -7, 9 and a pick-six in the first half.
In the first two games, Green bay managed just one touchdown in the first half, compared to six punts and two interceptions.
Kyle Murphy had no chance to block Carl Lawson, who finished the game with 2.5 sacks — and another nullified by penalty. But it wasn’t just Murphy. The offensive line struggled, allowing near constant pressure and a whopping six sacks, five of them in the first half alone.
Cincinnati pressured Rodgers constantly, bottled up Ty Montgomery in the run game and rallied to the football, not allowing any ballcarrier to pick up extra yards.
A pick-six from Williams Jackson on a third down made the game 21-7 Bengals and had the Packers reeling.
Green Bay opened the second half with another virtuoso drive, one propelled by a 51-yard catch and run by Lance Kendricks. Rodgers tossed an across-his-body touchdown to Jordy Nelson, cutting the Bengals lead to 21-14.
And while the offense hardly erupted, at the very least it was an awakening from a slumber.
The two teams traded field goals, keeping the deficit at seven heading into the decisive minutes.
It was a Joe Mixon slip on third-and-one that robbed the Bengals of the chance to salt away the game, giving way to Rodgers with a chance to tie the game with a touchdown drive.
Enter Rodgers, with a chance to lead his team back and just under three minutes to go.
The two-time MVP danced in the pocket, dazzled with off-balance throws, and marched the Packers down the field with his usual panache.
A dime on the run to Jordy Nelson into a keyhole for six tied the game at 24 with just 17 seconds to play in regulation.
It was a fingernail away from an incompletion as Dre Kirkpatrick flashed in front of Nelson, but the veteran — back from a quad injury — steeled his focus and made the play falling out of bounds.
It was the first time the game was tied since the first quarter, with the game knotted at seven.
On the first drive of overtime, the emerging star rookie once again announced his presence. Jones made a terrific open-field tackle on third down to get the Packers defense off the field and give the ball back to Aaron Rodgers, he of no career overtime wins.
At least at that point.
Then, it was Rodgers doing what Rodgers does better than anyone in the history of the league: take advantage of a free play.
On third-and-10, with two backup offensive tackles, Rodgers caught the Bengals offside and found Geronimo Allison streaking down the field.
Allison did the rest, weaving in and out of Cincy defenders for a 72-yard catch and run.
A 27-yard field goal from Mason Crosby sealed the win.
On a day without a host of key Packers, failing to win in impressive fashion feels like a trifle for a team simply in need of a victory ahead of a division matchup with the Bears on a short week.
And it was those backup players, guys filling in for injured starters, who made the decisive plays.
Jones may put Dom Capers in a pickle when Jake Ryan gets healthy because it’s clear he needs to be on the field. Allison, in the lineup for the injured Randall Cobb, made the play of the game to go along with six total catches for 122 yards.
Blake Martinez had his best game as a Packer playing alongside Jones, and new Packer Ahmad Brooks had a game-changing sack in the first half before a critical pressure on third down in the second.
Battered and short-handed, with Bryan Bulaga again leaving the game re-injuring his ankle, the Packers made just enough plays to win.
These are the games that can turn a season, with players emerging as playmakers and a team codifying its ability to win in difficult situations.
It’s hard to call beating an 0-2 team at home a season-changing win, but impressive performances from the rest of the NFC North meant Green Bay needed this one and got it.
There’s no pictures in the standings either.