With an early bye week on tap for next weekend, the Green Bay Packers know they can spend a little extra energy as they try to break through a tough opening stretch on the positive side of .500.
The Packers try to secure their second victory in a row this Sunday when they visit another 1-1 club in the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Green Bay is one of only two clubs to open this season against three 2012 playoff teams. The other is the San Francisco 49ers, who handed the Packers a Week 1 road loss.
Looking to avoid an 0-2 hole, Green Bay hosted the Washington Redskins this past weekend and put on an offensive show in a 38-20 victory.
Aaron Rodgers tied a club record with a personal-best 480 passing yards and hooked up with his receivers for four touchdowns, two to wide receiver Jordy Nelson. James Starks, in an increased role because of a concussion that Eddie Lacy suffered early in the game, added 132 yards rushing as the Packers totaled 580 yards of offense. That was the second-highest total in franchise history behind only a 628-yard effort on Nov. 11, 1962.
"I think that was the tip of the iceberg today," said tight end Jermichael Finley, who also came down with a touchdown catch. "It was awesome to see it."
Rodgers had 335 yards in the first half to help Green Bay build a 24-0 lead and under his direction the Packers are averaging 38.8 points per game over their last four regular-season contests.
The Packers also had a 400-yard passer and 100-yard rusher in the same game for the first time in club history and became the first team in league annuals to have a 450-yard passer and 125-yard rusher in the same contest.
Green Bay won't need to reserve any energy with a Week 4 bye on tap. That is the earliest the club will enjoy the week off under head coach Mike McCarthy and the earliest since also being off on Week 4 in 1999.
But the Packers can't look past the Bengals, who rebounded from a three-point loss at the Chicago Bears in Week 1 to top the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10 this past Monday night.
Cincinnati held struggling Pittsburgh to 278 yards, while rookie running back Giovani Bernard scored the first two touchdowns of his career. He ran for an early score and also caught a 27-yard scoring pass from Andy Dalton.
Bernard had 38 of Cincinnati's 127 rushing yards, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis leading the way with 75 yards on 22 carries.
"He did the things that we expect him to continue to do. He had the great catch-and-run. He had a big run earlier. And then (Green-Ellis) comes back and finishes it off. So it was a good job today by the two of them," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Dalton threw for 280 yards as the Bengals totaled 407 yards of offense and held the ball for 35 minutes and 34 seconds.
"One of the humps for us was supposed to be playing better in prime-time games," noted offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. "So check one game off that list. Now we get another huge hump: Green Bay."
The Bengals will host the Packers for the first time since 2005 and have won the past two encounters to take a 6-5 edge in the all-time series. Cincinnati secured a 31-24 road win in the last encounter on Sept. 20, 2009.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Green Bay's offense certainly is entertaining to watch, isn't it?
Rodgers has once again looked superhuman under center. He has thrown for 1,811 yards with 17 touchdowns and one interception over his last five regular- season games and has not posted a two-interception game in 41 straight starts in the regular season, the longest streak in league history since the 1970 merger.
Rodgers also became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 480-plus yards with at least four touchdowns and zero picks in a game, joining Y.A. Tittle in 1962.
"Going forward now and looking at the Packers, obviously it starts with Aaron Rodgers and his tremendous ability," noted Lewis. "He's quick with the ball in his hands and he's got a great arm. The ball gets out of his hand quickly and to the right spots. He understands in-and-out what they do offensively."
Of course, Rodgers' big games also mean huge numbers for his receivers. Nelson is averaging 21.8 yards per catch over his past three games. while fellow wide receiver James Jones had career bests of 11 catches and 178 yards last weekend.
With Randall Cobb posting 128 yards and a score on nine catches, it marked the first time in team history that Packers had a pair of 100-yard receivers in back-to-back games.
Not helping the Bengals is the fact that cornerbacks Brandon Ghee (concussion), Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring) and Adam Jones (unknown) did not practice on Wednesday.
Cincinnati added depth by signing former Philadelphia Eagles corner Curtis Marsh, but also had to place key defensive end reserve Robert Geathers on injured reserve with a season-ending elbow injury.
And then there is Starks, who became Green Bay's first 100-yard rusher since Brandon Jackson had 115 on Oct. 10, 2010.
"All training camp he's had a chip on his shoulder, and he came in there and ran like that today -- tried to punish people, tried to finish runs," said Jones of Starks. "If we can get that out of him every game, he adds another dimension."
With Lacy's status for this weekend likely not decided until week's end, Starks and Johnathan Franklin could see extended work.
"Really going into last week and even into this week, the plan was to have Eddie and James kind of play to a certain pattern of things we were trying to do. We'll just continue that," said McCarthy.
Though they were playing with a sizeable lead, the Packers did allow 20 second-half points to the Redskins after letting the 49ers put up 20 over the last 30 minutes of action in Week 1.
McCarthy would like his defense to play strong from start to finish this weekend and that will mean that linebacker A.J. Hawk will need to keep an eye on Cincinnati's duel-threat in the backfield while cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields deal with star Bengals wideout A.J. Green (15 receptions, 2 TD).
"The defense had a great start. (Washington) didn't convert a third down until the score was 31-0, but we gave up 20 points down the stretch there," noted McCarthy. "It's just unnecessary production when you look at the tape."
As teams focus on taking away Green, Dalton made use of Cincinnati's first two picks in the most recent draft, Bernard and tight end and first-round choice Tyler Eifert.
Bernard became the first Bengals rookie to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game since fullback Craig Taylor in 1989.
"Giovani's done a really good job," declared Dalton. "We drafted him to be a guy that's versatile; a guy that we can move around and catch the ball out of the backfield and make big plays. That's exactly what we've got out of him."
Eifert, meanwhile, has eight catches on the year and hauled in a 61-yard pass versus the Steelers to set up a score. His presence has allowed Lewis to use two tight- end sets with Eifert and Jermaine Gresham.
"He's versatile and can move all around -- outside, inside and line up at tight end," Dalton said of Eifert. "We feel like we've got matchups with both of our tight ends. Those guys have done a lot of really good things for us. We're going to do all the things we can to get matchups with those guys."
The Bengals certainly showed under the big lights that they are ready to take over as the head of the class in the AFC North, but succeeding against the struggling Steelers in one thing.
Slowing down Rodgers is a whole other level and few teams have done it as of late. He has a 125.8 passer rating and 68.9 completion percentage over his last five regular-season games.
Green Bay also comes into this game against a hard-nosed club in the Bengals but knowing it has a week off on the horizon. Green Bay is 5-2 ahead of the bye week under McCarthy, winning three straight in that scenario while scoring 36.3 points per game and allowing 17.0.
"They're an offense than can score a lot, and can score really quick," said Dalton of the Packers. "Aaron is one of the best in the game. They've done a really good job offensively there, and they score a lot of points. The offense has to come to play this week. We've got to do whatever we can to keep scoring, keep drives going, get some long drives against them to keep their offense off the field."
The Bengals have a nice array of options on the offensive side of things, but their secondary will see their heads spinning against Rodgers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 31, Bengals 21