I report on the Green Bay Packers.
It was one of the uglier wins in recent memory.
But it was a win. And really, that’s all that mattered.
The Green Bay Packers rallied past the Detroit Lions, 23-20, Sunday and finished the regular season with a 13-3 record. The victory guaranteed Green Bay a first round playoff bye and no worse than the NFC’s No. 2 seed.
“I know it doesn’t always look pretty, but our guys are resilient and we find a way,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “And I can’t explain it, but just thankful for every guy in that locker rom. Those guys care about each other and they battle and you don’t find that on every team that you’re on. And it’s just a credit to the character in that locker room.”
If San Francisco (12-3) defeats Seattle (11-4) Sunday night, the 49ers will be the conference’s No. 1 seed and the Packers will be the No. 2 seed. If the Seahawks beat the 49ers, Green Bay jumps up to the No. 1 seed and New Orleans (13-3) will be the No. 2 seed.
HISTORICAL SEASON: This marked just the sixth time in franchise history that the Packers won 13 regular season games.
The 1962 team went 13-1 and won the NFL Championship, while the 1996 Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. The 1997 Packers lost Super Bowl XXXII, Green Bay’s 2007 squad lost in the NFC Championship Game and the 2011 Packers lost in the divisional playoffs.
AARON JONES: Green Bay’s offensive MVP was terrific again.
Jones entered the game with 984 rushing yards, then had 100 yards on 25 carries. Jones finished the regular season with a career-high 1,084 rushing yards.
Jones also caught two passes for 43 yards, including a huge 31-yard reception on the Packers’ final possession. That catch set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired.
“We don’t blink,” Jones said. “We stay together. We stay as a team. We don’t let anything stop us, and we just come in here at halftime refocused, and we know we’ve got to do it. no matter how you win, you get it done. A W is a W.”
AARON RODGERS — SECOND HALF: Rodgers was dreadful in the first half (see below).
But Rodgers was much sharper in the second half, when he completed 21-of-37 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
For the Packers to have any postseason success, they’ll need Rodgers to play like he did in the second half — not the first.
“I think the tempo helped,” Rodgers said of the offense finding its rhythm. “I think the tempo allowed us to get into some simple stuff, and then it was about minor adjustments … We made some minor adjustments that helped us out.”
UNSUNG HEROES: Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point in Detroit a year ago. On Sunday, Crosby made three field goals — including the game-winner as time expired.
“That feels like a long time ago,” Rodgers said of his 2018 struggles in Detroit. “I’m happy how this one ended. I’ve got to talk about this team. I mean, the way that we came back here, didn’t have a lead until last kick. We’ve got some special (guys) in this locker room. All I could think about on that last one was ‘get this team a bye and let’s get healthy and get in the playoffs.”
Wide receiver Allen Lazard continued his strong play with four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. And linebacker Blake Martinez had the defensive play of the game with a huge fourth quarter interception of Lions’ quarterback David Blough.
LUCKY AND GOOD: The Packers have been historically healthy this season and had all 22 preferred starters available against the Lions. On the flip side, Green Bay has been remarkably fortuitous when it comes to opponent’s injuries.
In Week 8, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes — the reigning MVP — was out. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook — arguably the Vikings’ MVP this season — was out in Week 16.
But Week 17 took the cake.
Detroit began the day with 12 players on injured reserve and was missing 21 players due to injury. The Lions then lost their best wide receiver (Kenny Golladay), their top cornerback (Darius Slay) and their sack leader (Devon Kennard) during the game.
Green Bay has done plenty of things well on its way to a 13-3 record this year. But the Packers have been remarkably lucky, too.
SLEEPING AT THE SWITCH: Green Bay talked all week how it needed to be ready for some trickery from the Lions. Still, when Detroit dialed up a trick play in the first quarter, the Packers were caught napping.
Lions wideout Danny Amendola lined up wide left, came in motion to the right and received a flip from quarterback David Blough. Amendola took three steps to the right, stopped and fired back down the left sideline for Blough.
Blough was wide open behind Green Bay’s defense, caught Amendola’s pass at the 5-yard line and waltzed into the endzone for a 7-0 Detroit lead.
RUN DEFENSE: After 11 games, Green Bay ranked 26th in rushing defense, allowing 125.5 yards per game. In the last four games, though, the Packers allowed just 92.3 rushing yards per game.
Well, in Green Bay’s biggest game of the year it reverted to form and allowed 171 rushing yards in 25 carries. The Lions averaged 6.8 yards per rushing attempt and got a rushing touchdown from Kerryon Johnson.
JAIRE ALEXANDER: Green Bay’s second-year cornerback has been up and down all season. He was down again on Sunday.
Alexander was whipped by Kenny Golladay for a 42-yard gain and had a 30-yard pass interference penalty when he tackled Chris Lacy. Alexander was also flagged for unnecessary roughness on wideout Danny Amendola.
AARON RODGERS — FIRST HALF: Green Bay’s former MVP quarterback was dreadful in the first half.
Rodgers was just 6-of-18 for 90 yards and had a quarterback rating of 50.7. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers overthrew eight of his incomplete passes.
With Rodgers struggling immensely, the Packers dug themselves a 17-3 halftime deficit.
“Yeah, the timing was off a little at times,” Rodgers said. “Other than that, I can’t really tell you. Just sometimes the ball is coming off really good. Today was one of those days, really too good at times where I felt good about a number of those throws and I’m missing by a yard, yard and a half, two yards. Just one of those days.”
JIMMY GRAHAM: On the Packers’ first play of the game, Graham was wide open down the seam and Aaron Rodgers delivered a strike. Graham dropped the ball, though, and Green Bay punted two plays later.
That continued what’s become a disastrous regular season for Graham.
Graham finished the year with 38 receptions for 447 yards. Both of those totals were Graham’s lowest since his rookie year in 2010.
Graham, who is in the second year of a three-year, $30 million deal, almost certainly won’t be back in 2020.