GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers shuffled around the field to make plays. He jokingly needled a young receiver about his first Lambeau leap.
And perhaps even most importantly, he was one of the calming influences this week on a Packers team beset with injuries.
Rodgers threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, Eddie Lacy ran for another score, and the defence came up clutch in a grinding, 31-13 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.
"Hang with us fans, it might not be the prettiest game," Rodgers said. "But we’ve got to kind of win with defence, not turn the ball over and make the plays that are there."
Rodgers finished 25 for 36 in methodically carving up Cleveland (3-4) despite already being without two of his top targets in injured receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb.
Then tight end Jermichael Finley left on a stretcher with about 10 minutes to go with a neck injury after a late hit by Brown safety Tashaun Gipson on a 10-yard gain. The team later said Finley had movement and feeling in his extremities.
"Those are tough to see," Rodgers said. "Not being able to walk off the field I know, in the back of our minds, is kind of our worst nightmare."
The Packers pressed on during a rainy night. Coach Mike McCarthy praised Rodgers and the team’s other veterans with helping young players called upon to fill the holes at receiver and linebacker.
They came through, starting with receiver Jarrett Boykin. Making his first start with Jones and Cobb out, finished with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side, second-year Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled again. He finished 17 for 42 for 149 yards with an interception and a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron with 6:09 left.
"It was definitely slippery, but that’s no excuse," Weeden said. "Aaron was throwing the ball just fine" in the rain.
Weeden’s already on the hot seat with fans following his ugly flip that turned into an interception that made lowlight reels in last week’s 31-17 loss to the Lions. The offence has been struggling since Brian Hoyer went down with a season-ending knee injury earlier this month against the Bills.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said changing quarterbacks Sunday wasn’t an option. He also didn’t give Weeden a resounding endorsement.
"I’ll look at the film and we’ll evaluate his play and everybody’s play after the game," Chudzinski said.
Green Bay (4-2) won its third straight and took over first place in the NFC North. Lacy finished with 82 yards, while Finley had a 10-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter before leaving with the injury.
The defence took care of the rest against a struggling Weeden, recording three sacks in spite of being without starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.
Still the Browns had hope late. Cleveland thought it caught a huge break after recovering an onside kick, only for the play to be erased by an offside penalty.
The Packers got the ball back, and Rodgers found Boykin for the touchdown. The second-year pro out of Virginia Tech had two Browns closing in before leaping at about the 1 to stretch the ball out over the goal line to stretch the lead back to 18.
"If you don’t make the (Lambeau) leap all the way to the wall, you’re going to hear about it," Rodgers said. "I’m sure if it wasn’t, he had a guy help him up."
Boykin was just happy to get in the end zone.
"I just had to stretch it," he said. "I can’t be denied at that point."
The Browns did have two nice fourth-quarter kickoff returns that helped set up drives into Green Bay territory, including an 80-yarder by Travis Benjamin that led to Cameron’s score.
Otherwise, bad luck lingered over the Browns like the dark clouds that drenched Lambeau Field with a steady shower most of the game.
On an earlier drive, a fourth-down pass from the 31 to Josh Gordon was broken up by Davon House at the last second. House also had the first-quarter interception of Weeden.
The Packers finished strong and got off to a hot start.
Rodgers connected with Finley for a 7-0 lead after the athletic, 6-foot-5 tight end spun around one defender, then caromed off two others like a pinball into the end zone.
Lacy followed on the next drive with a 1-yard score to give Green Bay a two-touchdown lead late in the first quarter.