Even when the Green Bay Packers won 13 games in three straight seasons under Matt LaFleur, too often they cower in the face of adversity.
When the Packers are on the wrong end of a long touchdown, a brutal turnover, or they go down multiple scores, mistakes snowball, and things spiral out of control. The gameplan is abandoned. They’re beaten down with swift blows that drastically shift momentum.
Sunday, in what might be their Super Bowl this season, the Packers got up and fought back in a back-and-forth overtime thriller that saw Green Bay edging out a 31-28 win against the Dallas Cowboys and their former Super Bowl winning head coach Mike McCarthy.
The game was tied at 14 in the third quarter when the Packers fumbled a punt that the Cowboys recovered. Dallas scored a touchdown to go up seven, followed by a 3-and-out by the Packers that led to another Dallas touchdown to lead 28-14. This quick series of terrible gaffes by the Packers looked all too familiar and spelled doom for Green Bay.
Then, shockingly, Aaron Rodgers and this Packers team came through in the clutch. They started the fourth quarter with another long touchdown, followed by a defensive stop that led to a 10-play, 89-yard touchdown drive by the Packers to tie the game. Rodgers was nearly perfect throughout the day.
The Packers got the stop in overtime when Dallas got the ball first, and then Rodgers found Allen Lazard for 36 yards to set them up for an easy Mason Crosby game-winning field goal. It seems that no matter how the teams might look on paper, Rodgers and the Packers always bring their A-game vs. Dallas.
The team that played Sunday looked almost nothing like the one that we’ve seen over the last dreadful five-game losing skid. The offense looked to be on the same page, finally connecting on big plays that they’ve been so close to hitting the past month.
There were great performances from unexpected contributors. Rookie receiver Christian Watson has struggled with injuries all season, playing in six games and only gathering 10 catches for 88 yards and no touchdowns. Watson eclipsed two of those marks in one game against Dallas. He went off for 107 yards and 3 touchdowns, all coming in crucial situations.
Watson is the deep threat this offense was sorely missing. After Watson dropped two passes in back-to-back plays, Rodgers and LaFleur didn’t scrub him from the plan, leaving the door open for electric plays that defined the win. If Watson can build on this performance and be more consistent, his talent transforms the offense and complements the run game well.
The threat of Watson paved the way for huge days from both Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. The Packers ran for over 200 yards, getting 138 from Jones and an efficient 65 from Dillon. The offense looked like it did the past couple seasons, using a lot of play action and calling well-timed deep shot plays.
Safety Rudy Ford intercepted Dak Prescott twice. Ford has been slowly gaining more playing time throughout the season since he’s been playing so well in short stints. There isn’t any reason the Packers should start Darnell Savage over Ford at this point. Savage is a former first-round pick whose fifth-year option the Packers just picked up; Ford is on his fourth team since entering the league in 2017.
The Packers haven’t had a great defense in over a decade. At their best, they’ve typically been opportunistic with takeaways. Green Bay is 28th in takeaways per game this year but were able to capitalize on Ford’s interceptions this week.
Linebacker Isaiah McDuffie, filling in for injured former All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell, struggled at points during the game but also led the team with 13 total tackles in the game. The Packers were missing several starters on defense, and though they gave up 28 points, they played fantastically in the fourth quarter and got the stop in overtime.
For whatever reason, things started clicking this week against Dallas. Maybe even more impressively, the Packers showed a lot of grit and heart for a team whose season was deemed over after last week’s ugly loss. The Packers badly needed this win to prove to themselves they can still be a cohesive, good team.
Green Bay is still 1-5 in their last six games, and I’m not sure I’m ready to say they’re a team to look out for in the NFC, but we might’ve seen the peak performance of this 2022 team this week. When they play like that, not many teams in the NFC can beat them.
The Packers face a short week, with the 6-3 Tennessee Titans coming to Lambeau Thursday night. Which version of the Packers will show up for that game remains to be seen. If Green Bay can get to 5-6, they’re right back in the playoff hunt for a wild card spot in a relatively weak NFC.——————