GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — For years, Aaron Rodgers’ greatness powered the Green Bay Packers’ success.
After a two-year hiatus out of the playoffs, Rodgers again will be a huge key in the postseason.
This time, however, the focus will be on getting the Rodgers-led passing attack back on track. Struggling with long-ball inaccuracy in the first half, Rodgers completed 27 of 55 passes in a 23-20, come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The victory helped give the Packers a first-round bye. As the No. 2 seed, they’ll host a divisional-round game on Jan. 12.
While Rodgers got going in the second half, he was uncharacteristically off the mark for a second consecutive week. In games that he started and wasn’t knocked out because of injury, Rodgers entered the season with only six career games with a completion percentage of less than 50 percent. He’s failed to complete half his passes in back-to-back games.
“We’ve just been off on a lot of plays, whether it’s a guy dropping a ball or maybe the ball is just a tad off,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “He can’t do it himself. The play around him has got to be better. The guys that have opportunities, they’ve got to make plays.”
Green Bay’s close-game prowess. Few teams can match the Packers’ 8-1 record in games decided by eight points or fewer. Green Bay survived three first-half turnovers a week ago at Minnesota and a two-touchdown deficit at halftime at Detroit to extend its winning streak to five games, win the NFC North and gain a first-round bye. The Packers swept the Lions despite not leading for a single second of regulation in those games.
“It’s definitely belief,” Rodgers said. “There’s an expectation that if we get the ball in two-minute (offense), we’re going to score. That belief carries a lot of weight in those situations. The calmness with which we operate in those situations, I think, allows us to really focus and personally allows me to get in my zone as far as what plays I want to get to.”
WHAT’S NOT WORKING
Deep passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers threw 17 passes at least 20 yards downfield against Detroit. He was rewarded with only three completions, though two of those were touchdowns of 20 yards to Davante Adams and 28 yards to Allen Lazard during the big second-half comeback.
Aaron Jones has answered every question this season. After missing chunks of his first two seasons with knee injuries, could he stay healthy? Could he become a viable three-down back? Could he carry the load? Jones checked all of those boxes, punctuated with a superb effort against the Lions. In 75 snaps, he carried 25 times for 100 yards and caught two passes for 43 yards. With the Packers needing to move into field-goal range on the final drive, he found daylight on a screen pass, broke two tackles and gained 31 yards to set up the winning kick. Jones finished the season with 1,084 rushing yards, 1,558 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns — just one touchdown shy of the franchise record set by Ahman Green in 2003.
Green Bay’s run defense had tightened up during a four-game winning streak, including a dominant effort at Minnesota in Week 16, but regressed against the Lions. Highlighted by Ty Johnson’s 41-yard run before halftime, runs of 20 and 14 yards by Kerryon Johnson and a run of 15 yards by Bo Scarbrough, the Lions gouged Green Bay for 171 yards on 26 attempts – a 6.8 average.
The Packers have been remarkably healthy this season but will gladly take the bye to get to full strength for the playoffs. No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams missed the Detroit game with a shoulder injury and center Corey Linsley (back) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (head) left the game. Lucas Patrick (for Linsley) and Jared Veldheer (for Bulaga) played well, which is why the Packers signed Patrick to a contract extension on Saturday and claimed the veteran Veldheer off waivers on Nov. 27.
997: For the second time in four years, Adams finished 3 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. After missing four games with a toe injury, Adams caught 58 passes for 619 yards and five touchdowns in the final eight games. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all about what we’ve got going on as a team,” Adams said. “But (it was) a personal goal. Obviously, missing a month of football, it’s tough to hit that milestone.”
The bye will allow the players to get healthy and the team to get ready for one of three playoff opponents. If third-seeded New Orleans beats sixth-seeded Minnesota, the Saints would come to Lambeau Field. If the Vikings pull off the upset, Green Bay would face the winner of Seattle at Philadelphia.
The team will practice on Thursday and Friday, get the weekend off, then get back to work on Monday. “How many plays we played in this last game and how came out health-wise, I just don’t think our guys are going to be ready to practice on Wednesday,” LaFleur said. “I want them to get some work in. That’s the most important. There’s a lot of stuff that we can clean up on the field.”
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