EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tied with less than a minute to play and 80 yards from the end zone, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to wait until overtime.
It was the perfect choice for a team pushing for perfection.
Rodgers completed passes of 24, 27 and 18 yards in a lightning-quick five-play drive to set up a 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby on the final play, and the Green Bay Packers remained undefeated and clinched a playoff berth with a 38-35 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.
“Those are the fun ones when they end up like that,” Rodgers said.
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The defending Super Bowl champion Packers (12-0) won their 18th consecutive game.
“We’ve had a number of games we won by a couple scores,” Rodgers said. “You get the ball on the 20, under a minute, and we get it down there for a chip-shot field goal, it’s very rewarding. It probably (ranks) right at the top.”
Rodgers hit all four of his passes in the 58-second drive that sent the Giants (6-6) to their fourth consecutive loss, starting with a 24-yard laser to tight end Jermichael Finley just over the hands of rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams.
“I thought it was mine. I thought it was mine,” Williams said. “Like I said, it’s a good throw and catch. He made some good throws.”
The second one covered 24 yards to Jordy Nelson down the left sideline and moved the ball to the New York 29. An 18-yard pass to Greg Jennings two plays later moved the ball to the 12. The third toss was a 1-yard loss.
Green Bay called timeout with 3 seconds to go, and then Crosby delivered his winning kick.
“It was a huge drive,” said Jennings, who also caught a 20-yard touchdown. “We haven’t had one like that at the end in a while. It was very quiet in the huddle, actually. You could see everybody was focused. It’s great to see what we could do at the end like that.”
Coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers practice the two-minute drive all the time. Having Rodgers at the helm is just a bonus.
“I’m running out things to say about him,” McCarthy said. “He’s a great quarterback. Playing against the pass rush they had tonight, he hung in there and made the plays.”
Rodgers, harassed by the Giants’ front four and sacked three times, finished 28-for- 46 passing for 369 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 7 and 13 yards to Donald Driver and 12 to Finley in addition to the one to Jennings.
The loss was another heartbreaker for New York, which played well after being blown out by New Orleans last week.
“We really came in prepared to shock the world,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said.
The Giants tied it on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks, and a two-point conversion run by D.J. Ware on a Manning audible with just under a minute to play.
However, Rodgers wasn’t going to settle for overtime after a touchback on the ensuing kickoff.
“He’s a great quarterback, but I expect more out of us on defense,” Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson said. “You know, it’s not like Jesus in cleats. He’s Aaron Rodgers. He’s a great quarterback, but we have to do a better job of finishing on defense.”
The Packers later clinched the NFC North when Detroit lost to New Orleans on Sunday night.
“We’re 12-0 and we’re focused on that,” said linebacker Clay Matthews who scored on a 38-yard second-quarter interception. “It’s been something we’ve been talking about since we were 7-0 or 8-0. So we’ll keep going from that.”
For the Giants, everything wasn’t terrible. Dallas also lost, leaving New York a game behind the Cowboys with four games to go. The teams will play twice over that span.
“It gives us relief to know we’re still right in the mix,” said Manning, who was 23-for-40 for 347 yards and three touchdowns. “If we handle our business and win out, we’ll be in the playoffs. It’s a playoff atmosphere now.”
Manning’s touchdowns covered 67-yards to Travis Beckum and 4 and 2 yards to Nicks. Brandon Jacobs scored on a 1-yard run after a rare interception of Rodgers and Lawrence Tynes kicked two field goals, with a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter to cur the deficit to 28-27.
Rodgers hooked up with Driver on a 7-yard TD with 3:34 to go to push the lead to 35-27.
However, Manning hit tight end Jake Ballard on two 15-yard passes and connected with Victor Cruz for 22 yards to set up the tying score that New York hoped would send the game to OT.
New York seemed to be in control until Manning made a mistake on the first play of the second quarter. With his primary receiver covered, Manning threw a sideline pass to Ahmad Bradshaw and Matthews jumped the route and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Rodgers had been intercepted only four times all season but linebacker Chase Blackburn, signed Wednesday, picked him off at the Green Bay 21 and returned the ball to the 12.
Two plays later, Brandon Jacobs plowed in from the 1 to give New York a 17-14 edge.
“We have to regroup,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I think this brings us together even tighter than we have ever been before as a team.”
McClatchy news services contributed to this report.