GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The short-handed Green Bay Packers, playing without five starters, showed their talent runs deep by beating the Cleveland Browns 31-13 on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Playing without receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones, Aaron Rodgers threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns as Green Bay took over the lead in the NFC North.
"They're all special," Rodgers said. "I think you have to remind yourself after a win like this, where it wasn't the cleanest game for us, it's tough to win in this league. I'm proud of our guys."
Cleveland fell into a 14-0 hole in the first 12 minutes and never posed much of a threat with Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Weeden completed just 17-of-42 passes for 149 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, and the Browns finished with just 216 yards.
Still, the Browns were able to hang around because of their defense, but Green Bay finally seized control midway through the fourth quarter.
A 39-yard catch-and-run by Jarrett Boykin gave the Packers a first-and-goal at the 1, and Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for the touchdown to make it 24-6 with 8:30 to play.
Travis Benjamin returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the Packers' 20, with the Browns getting a fourth-down touchdown pass of 2 yards to Jordan Cameron with 6:09 remaining. The Browns' Joe Haden recovered the onside kick when Green Bay's Myles White failed to control the bouncing ball, but Eric Martin was flagged for offside.
On the rekick, Haden again recovered but the ball didn't travel the required 10 yards, and the Packers took possession. They put the game away on Rodgers' 20-yard touchdown pass to Boykin. Boykin, a second-year player who entered the game with six career catches, caught eight balls for 103 yards.
"Disappointing loss for us tonight," Browns coach Rod Chudzinski said. "We were not able to get the job done against an outstanding football team. Give Green Bay a lot of credit the way they played. Aaron Rodgers showed the kind of quarterback that he is and they did a heck of a job against us tonight."
Cleveland stayed in the game despite the dismal start, thanks in large part to its seventh-ranked defense. After opening the game with two touchdowns, Green Bay's next five possessions ended in a punt, field goal, missed field goal, punt and punt.
But the Browns couldn't take advantage. Trailing 17-6, they drove to Green Bay's 26-yard line, but Weeden's deep ball intended for tight end MarQueis Gray was overthrown, and a short checkdown was dropped by Willis McGahee.
After an illegal-formation penalty made it third-and-15, Weeden threw incomplete just as he was about to get hit by A.J. Hawk. On fourth down, the Browns bypassed a 49-yard field-goal attempt. Mike Daniels hit Weeden, and his deep throw to Josh Gordon was broken up at the last moment by Davon House.
At that point, the Browns had just 158 yards and were 4-of-13 on third down.
"I say it every week, but I think it's a consensus every week, and that's first and second down," Weeden said. "We aren't really giving ourselves a chance in those third-and-longs, and you get in those third-and-7s, plus playing against a defense like that, they can really give you some different looks and make it tough to convert."
What the Packers said
"I've got to really point to the veterans, and I called on them, too. I called on them at the beginning of the week and I called on them again last night. There were young players that had a role and it was important for them to go out and do their role and just play football and not to do too much. Don't get outside of yourself." -- Coach Mike McCarthy, of entering the game without five starters.
What the Browns said
"You have to think of a team like a machine. We need to come back, refocus and get our attention on Kansas City. We have to watch the film to see what we did wrong and correct our mistakes. Hopefully, we won't make the same mistakes next week. I know that all the players and every teammate that I have gave it 100 percent today, and that is what really counts the most." -- S T.J. Ward.
What we learned about the Packers
1. As long as Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback, the Packers can win, regardless of the situation. In 2010, they won the Super Bowl despite losing their preferred starters for a league-high 91 games. In 2013, they're doing it again. Playing without star receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones, and then losing tight end Jermichael Finley to a neck injury in the fourth quarter, the Packers still scored 31 points against the NFL's seventh-ranked defense. For the first time all season, they topped 50 percent on third down, going 7-of-13. "I think we've got a good recipe with the kind of leadership that we have," Rodgers said. "Our defense is playing really well, and that helps. We're pretty healthy on that side of the ball. Offensively, we'd like to think that if we don't turn the football over and we take care of the situational football -- red zone and third down -- we should be in good position to win the game."