• Cue The Monkees...

    OK, I’m a believer.

    If you listened to me over the weekend, you know I had my doubts about this one. Too much seemed to be stacked against the Pack: the rested Rams coming off their bye, Green Bay’s makeshift O-line against their star-studded pass rushers, Rodgers not practicing with a busted (don’t call it Covid toe), etc.

    Once again, this team refused to drop consecutive games—something they have yet to do under Matt LaFleur. Credit a sturdy offensive gameplan that mirrored what the 49ers did two weeks ago: pound the ball on the ground and get the ball out of Rodgers’ hand quickly and into the hands of his playmakers, most notably Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and MVS.

    The running game wasn’t explosive because the Rams are one of the toughest teams to run against. But the Pack stuck with it, handing off to AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones 30 times; they didn’t crack 100 yards between them, but they (mostly Dillon) did enough to move the chains, control the clock and tire out that star studded defense that found itself on the field for 40 of the game’s 60 minutes.

    And as for that young, vulnerable offensive line? They did their jobs in the passing game too, keeping Rodgers upright (just one sack allowed) and rendering the trio of Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd mostly invisible. This will be the stiffest test they face the rest of the regular season, with just the always snarling Ravens still to come (OK, it would be nice to have David Bakhtiari back for Myles Garrett and the Browns too).

    Defensively, all was not perfect. They gave up two explosive touchdown plays, one to Van Jefferson and one to OBJ—something they’ve avoided doing most of the season. But for the most part, they kept stud receiver Cooper Kupp in check until they had a three score lead and they were strong against the run, holding their two backs to 69 yards combined.

    The earlier than expected return of Rashan Gary was huge—his strip sack of Stafford (on a play where he was being held by Andrew Whitworth) led to Rodgers’ one yard TD scamper and the first points of the day and set the tone for the day. Between Kenny Clark, Krys Barnes, and the two safeties (Adrian Amos’ blistering stop on a fourth and one play was huge), the defense continues to play with some bite.

    And then there’s Rasul Douglas, the most important in-season pick up of 2021. I shudder to think what the CB group would look like without him—especially on a day when Kevin King was unavailable. His pick six was the dagger in this game and he had four passes defended on the day. Yes, he gave up the big touchdown to OBJ, but he has been a revelation and is just the latest under the radar move made Gutey, like acquiring Campbell, Corey Bojorquez and even Cobb.

    Of course, we can’t forget about special teams, because those units won’t let us. Mason Crosby looked more like himself, though he missed one of his four field goal attempts. When Amari Rodgers refused to field a punt, backing up the Pack inside the ten, they turned to Randall Cobb, who promptly muffed one and turned it over. Now Cobb has a groin injury and the team seems to be back at square one. Maybe they can find a punt returner off a practice squad or the street during the bye week. Everything should be on the table at this point. We should credit the special teams for recovering a muffed punt by the Rams, who inexplicably pulled Kupp for JJ Koski.

    It was a strong, statement performance at home for the Pack, showing that their version of going all-in (re-signing their own guys and keeping the band together) can be more effective than playing fantasy football the Rams’ way. They remain perfect at home this season and now get a couple weeks to rest, heal up and maybe even welcome back their three All Pros who have missed a combined 31 of 36 starts.

    At 9-3, the Packers don’t control their destiny in the NFC hierarchy, but they’ve put themselves in great position to pass the Cardinals, who have a slightly trickier final stretch of games, including a late season game in Dallas. With three if the final five at home, and just one tough road test left (at Baltimore—a team that can’t defend the pass), the Pack has set itself up for a shot at the top seed.

    What this team has shown us in this “Last Dance” season is that they are talented and tough enough to tango with anyone.

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