To poorly paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Green Bay’s death were greatly exaggerated.
The Packers, in yet another must-win situation – they probably had to win out anyway, and Aaron Rodgers has said he believes they can, for whatever that’s worth, but they especially needed a victory after Detroit and Minnesota prevailed earlier in the day – came out and absolutely pounded the Seahawks, considered an NFC Championship contender by many. Green Bay, behind a masterful performance by Rodgers and a dominantly opportunistic game on defense, beat up Seattle, 38-10, on a cold but picturesque December Sunday, with the snow cleared, at Lambeau Field.
Where has this team been all year? The Packers have gotten healthier, sure, but this was more than a few more able bodies playing the way they were expected to since before the season began, when they were thought to be Super Bowl-caliber. Green Bay played with the aggressive energy of a team with its backs against the wall, desperately needing a win, but the patient, skilled poise of a team that knew it was better than its opponent.
The fact that the Packers did what they did to the Seahawks makes it even more impressive. Seattle has had the best scoring defense in the NFL since 2012, and Green Bay shredded it. Seattle had only 10 turnovers in 12 games before Sunday; the Packers, whose defense had only 12 turnovers on the season, took the ball away six times, including five interceptions of quarterback Russell Wilson. Even on special teams, Green Bay held Tyler Lockett, one of the NFL’s best returners, to a long return of 32 yards, and punter Jacob Schum again was very good.
Rodgers looked like a former two-time MVP, continuing his two-month stretch of strong play; his protection against a dangerous Seattle front was tremendous, being hit just three times and getting plenty of time to carve up the defense; the run game was not ignored, with Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael taking 19 carries for 77 yards (4.1 average) and a touchdown, while receiver Jeff Janis bringing a 19-yard run into the end zone.
On defense, Datone Jones led a rampaging pass rush that hit Wilson nine times, including three sacks; the linebacker corps, without injured starters Nick Perry and Blake Martinez and with Clay Matthews limited mostly to passing downs, did its job; and the secondary – particularly thanks to inspired play from embattled second-year cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins – bounced back in a big way, with five interceptions and seven passes broken up. The Packers finished an astounding plus-six in turnover differential.
This was the game Packers fans have been waiting for, basically all season long. Now on a three-game winning streak and with a 7-6 record, Green Bay is still in third place in the NFC North but has crept up to ninth in the conference. Remember, six teams make the playoffs. But their final three games are against divisional opponents, so, while you can’t control your own destiny because destiny is predetermined (sorry; sports cliché pet peeve), the Packers can still control how well they perform. And, if they play the final three weeks the way they played Sunday, they should be a playoff team for the eighth straight year.
So how did we get to this point, celebrating the possible revival of a Packers team that looked actually dead less than a month ago? Here's everything you need to know, or just forgot, or missed because you were outside shoveling for the fourth time on Sunday – plus all kinds of other wacky whatnots, from the Packers' Week 14 win over the Seahawks.
We should have an idea of the wonder that was to come 90 seconds into the game, when Rodgers rolled to his right out of the pocket, spotted Davante Adams running down the sideline and launched a picture-perfect throw that fell right into the wide receiver’s arms for a third-play touchdown that gave Green Bay a lead it would never lose.
The rest of the way, Rodgers was terrific. Despite injuries that limited his excellent mobility – he came into the game nursing a sore hamstring and the hurt his calf Sunday – Rodgers, with superb pass protection, sliced up Seattle’s defense with surgical precision, making lightning-quick throws at seemingly impossible angles. He finished with 246 yards and three touchdowns; his completion percentage of 78.3, yards per attempt of 10.7 and passer rating of 150.8 were all season-high marks. Rodgers threw two touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson, giving the duo 57 passing scores, which tied with Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman for the most between a quarterback and receiver in team history.
Wilson? K.J. Wright, that Seattle headhunter? All of the Seahawks on Sunday? This is a Packers column, so we’ll leave them out of this, but Green Bay really made its opponent look like the Legion of Mute. Still, while the ground game was more well-rounded, the team’s actual running backs still look like they’re running in mud.
With Rodgers hobbled and unable to take off and, because he was protecting a big lead held all game only passing 23 times – his fewest attempts of the season – the Packers ran the ball a lot. As a team, they carried 30 times for 93 yards (3.1 average) and two touchdowns; but take out Montgomery and Janis, receivers bolstering the backfield, and the quarterbacks, and you’re left with a rushing attack that gained just 41 yards on 15 carries (2.7 average) and didn’t score. It’s not a big deal when Rodgers and the passing game are being prolific again; but as the weather gets colder, and against grind-it-out divisional foes, Green Bay’s going to need a ground game.
It has not been a great year for Datone Jones. After remaking his body and switching positions to a hybrid linebacker-defensive lineman role before the season, Jones has been healthy – he’s played in 12 of Green Bay’s 13 games in 2016 – but, coming into this game, had just not produced.
Before Sunday, he was sack-less with seven quarterback hits for the year; against the Seahawks, Jones had five QB hits and a big sack, powerfully propelling a Packers pass rush that harried and harassed Wilson into a career-high five interceptions.
(Mike McCarthy isn't renowned for his play-calling, having fired and then rehired himself for that role last year, but he does try his best. Here we rate his coaching performance, on a score from one to 10 McCarthy heads.)
There was a missed challenge and another one of those head-scratching timeouts near the end of the first half, when the Packers were on defense, and stopping the clock just didn’t seem necessary or smart. But on the whole, McCarthy had his team prepared and energized and he called a good game.
Against perhaps the second-best opponent Green Bay has faced this year (after the Cowboys), and one with which the Packers have a bitter history, McCarthy used an offensive formula that has emerged as successful over the past month: he got Rodgers in a groove with short and intermediate timing throws, mixing in some creative looks out of the backfield, and then picking spots to let Rodgers go for the big play downfield. It was the offense’s best and most-composed performance of 2016, and the defense played with the fiery intensity and measured smarts that make coaches look very good. Nine heads.
"It was a statement win. They had us favored to lose at home. That was disrespectful. We really took that disrespectfully. Just to let people know we are not going nowhere. The Packers aren’t going nowhere." – cornerback Damarious Randall, who had five tackles and two interceptions.
This was a comprehensively good football game for the Packers. The offense was the most dynamic and crisp it’s been in more than a calendar year; the defense got to the quarterback and made big plays in the secondary; the special teams units did their jobs and won the field-position battle, with kicker Mason Crosby adding a field goal.
This was reminiscent of the 2010 and 2011 squads, which had explosive offenses and opportunistic defenses that simply overpowered their opponents. Heading into the final three games, it’s heartening for dispirited fans to see a team that actually looks worthy of being in the playoffs, especially as it final starts to get healthy again.
The Rodgers injuries are at least eyebrow-raising, if not alarming. He was already dealing with a nagging hamstring problem going into Sunday’s game, and hamstring injuries don’t exactly heal quickly or easily – just ask Clay Matthews. Then, the quarterback suffered some kind of calf injury that had him limp-hopping around on the field against the Seahawks. He didn’t want to talk about it afterward, saying, "That's football. You deal with injuries, you know. I'd like to talk about the win, you're talking about my injuries. I'm not missing games, so ... we've won three in a row."
It’s reassuring that he believes he won’t be sidelined, and I guess if you’re into supernatural things – the last time Rodgers had a calf injury, in the 2014 season, the Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game … before collapsing at Seattle.
It’s do-or-die time for Green Bay’s weird, up-and-down 2016 campaign. After the abominable four-game losing streak, the Packers are now on a rousing three-game winning streak, with the final three contests against highly familiar NFC North opponents.
This week, they travel down to Chicago to take on – and presumably take care of – the 3-10 Bears, the second-worst team in the conference. Then, Green Bay will host Minnesota, looking to earn the tiebreaker over the currently second-place Vikings (7-6). And in the Week 17 season finale, the Packers will head to Detroit to face the division-leading Lions (9-4), probably playing for their playoff lives.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.