The good news is, as things stand right now the Packers are the #1 seed in the NFC. The bad news is, that means they would have to host a playoff game or two.
After a second consecutive flat, uninspiring, lifeless performance against a one win team at Lambeau, you start to question how badly your team wants it. When a young team on a seven game losing streak, with a QB playing in just his second professional game, comes into your house and makes you sweat for 60 minutes, you need to look at the film, every single play, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Remember when your relatives from (insert southern state here) came up to Minnesota to visit and the kids saw snow for the first time? That’s how the Jaguars played on Sunday, on a cold, rainy, windy afternoon that was 50 degrees colder than where they came from. They were having fun, hitting hard and celebrating the fact that they were going toe to toe with an NFL heavyweight.
Where do we start? Let’s start with the offense, which was the least culpable on this day. Though a three and out on the first series should have given us a clue that this would be a tough day. Let’s move to the final series: they get the ball back with under four minutes to play, nursing a four point lead. Last season, this team was surgical in stringing together a big boy drive by running it down their opponent’s throat, letting the time slip away.
Not this time. Three and out, including an uninspired 3rd and one play call by LaFleur that was so old school. Run it right up the middle, where you’ve had no luck all day. Which takes me to my other big takeaway. Why couldn’t the Pack run against this team? They came into the game as the second worst defense in the league against the run. But Green Bay managed just 3.2 yards per carry and 80 total yards for the game. The Jags were more physical up front and quicker off the ball. That’s alarming. Aaron Jones was productive in the passing game, but didn’t look like his usual explosive self when he ran with it.
The bright side offensively, besides Aaron Rodgers’ predictable excellence, was the day MVS had, beginning with the long touchdown catch and run, and continuing with a few other key receptions at big moments. Davante Adams’ ankle injury is a concern moving forward. Though he returned to the game and made the game winning TD catch, he was clearly not 100%. Let’s hope he doesn’t miss any time.
The second biggest offender on this day was the defense, but I’m not that down on their performance. Yes, the run defense continues to be a problem, especially on first down, when you know they’re going to hand it to the impressive rookie James Robinson (apparently you are not required to draft a running back in the second round; the Jags found one after the draft had ended). Their offensive line is the strength of their team, but you can’t let them push you around all afternoon.
With Jaire Alexander and Kevin King both out, the Pack turned to Josh Jackson and Ka’Dar Hollman at corner and both guys seemed to have solid days. Granted, they weren’t facing Russell Wilson, but on a day when the pass rush was pretty silent till the last series, they didn’t give up any big plays.
Which takes us to 4th and 26th. When I saw the graphic appear, my heart sank. Admit it, didn’t this just seem like the kind of day where something crazy was going to happen at the end? And didn’t it take you back to that playoff game in Philly? Fortunately, the pass rush finally broke through–with an assist from Matt LaFleur. When the Packers called timeout before the play, they had lined up with a three man rush. After the timeout, there were four guys there. Apparently LaFleur “requested” that Mike Pettine get after the rattled rookie QB. Ya think? Throw the kitchen sink at him, it’s fourth and 26!
And then there’s the special teams units, which wear the goat horns on this day, mostly for allowing a 91 yard punt return to Keelan Cole and injecting life into a team that was trailing 7-3 and had done virtually nothing offensively. There’s no question that the rash of injuries the Pack has endured has impacted special teams. Losing John Lovett to a torn ACL on Thursday impacts all four units. But the execution on that punt return was awful and looked even uglier when JK Scott turned in his impression of a Packer linebacker (cheap shot, sorry, kinda grouchy this morning).
The special teams weren’t helped when Tyler Ervin left the game with an injury. With Darius Shepherd out, Josh Jackson got the call. I was just hoping he’d catch the ball and fall down. Anything but a turnover. The final indignity was Scott’s final punt after the Packers failed to get a first down on their final drive. The shank set up the Jags in a great position to steal the game, but the pass rush saved the day.
It was a win, but a hollow one, and the Packers will need to play a lot better if they’re going to beat the Colts next Sunday. Maybe the level of competition, combined with the fact that they’re away from home and indoors, will give us a glimpse of the team that for most of the season has looked like an NFC blue blood.
After a maddening three hours of football, we were presented with some news that was just what the doctor ordered: The Pack and David Bakhtiari agree to a deal that makes him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history, just eclipsing the deal Laremy Tunsil signed with the Texans. Bak his arguably the best LT in football and at 29, has plenty of good years ahead of him. His recent rib injury was really the first time he’d missed any significant time in his career and he gives the Packers stability at one of the premier positions on the field.
Sounds like it was structured in a cap-friendly way that will allow the team to pay at least two of their other three main free agents: Jones, Linsley and King–should they want to.
It was a happy ending to a day that was frustrating on many levels. But the 7-2 Packers still have everything in front of them. The next time they play at home is in two weeks against the Bears on Sunday night. If they can’t come out and play with fire and emotion on that stage, we’ll know what this team is all about. And how high we should get our hopes up.