The Packers’ playoff hopes are still alive and their odds to make the postseason are quickly improving.
Green Bay gifted fans a win in their Christmas Day matchup with the Miami Dolphins after coming back from a 20-10 deficit to win, 26-20.
It’s the Packers’ third-straight win as they continue to assert themselves as legitimate contenders for a final NFC Wild Card spot. Matt LaFleur’s Packers are now 15-0 in December, the second-longest winning streak in December in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers and LaFleur’s late-season greatness is shining through in the most crucial moments, as a single loss has meant erasure from relevancy for nearly a month.
I sincerely had doubted this Packers team would be able to run the table, but it’s truly beginning to look like a possibility. Although none of the games left on the Packers’ schedule are easy, Miami was arguably the most challenging game they had left to win.
The offense worked out some kinks a while ago and seems to be as close to a return to form as they’re going to get. Rodgers was up and down in the first half but played a much cleaner second half. The offense as a whole, though, is far more consistent than they were in the first half of the year. Stretches of utter incompetence defined by three-and-outs and miscommunications between the signal caller and receivers have drastically decreased.
Green Bay has sported an above-average offense for a while now. They’re 7th in offensive DVOA against the 6th most difficult defensive schedule, according to Football Outsiders. They haven’t scored 30 or more points this month, but consistency has been key, exemplified by their 13 points in each half against the Dolphins.
LaFleur’s playcalling was great for much of the game besides a few moments where they got a little too cute, including a fake punt call that ended in disaster. The use of motion and misdirection on offense kept Miami on their heels. It’s surprising the offense was as effective as it was despite going 2-14 (14%!!) on third down.
What’s more surprising is the improved play of the defense. They’re lucky the Dolphins abandoned the run game, as the run defense is still suspect. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson received 8 and 9 carries despite averaging 5.6 and 4.1 yards per carry, respectively. The biggest difference has been the emergence of a playmaking defense that creates turnovers and capitalizes on them.
Volatility is an improvement for this defense. But the bad in the first half was bad. The Packers put on a demonstration of how not to tackle in the NFL, allowing an 84-yard touchdown to Jaylen Waddle early and letting infamous Packer-killer Mostert gash them for some big runs. Miami hung 20 on them in the half with Tua Tagovailoa well over 200 yards passing.
Then Joe Barry’s defense adjusted and pitched a scoreless second half to one of the more explosive and fast offenses in the league. They picked off Tagovailoa three times and allowed less than 100 passing yards in the second half – Tua had thrown 5 INTs during the entire season prior. The Dolphins lost a fumble in the first half as well. The Packers have forced 9 turnovers in their last three outings, a fantastic average that’s led their defense to allow just 17 points per game this month.
The last few years, the Packers have been best when frontrunning. When they’ve been punched in the mouth, they cower and get pushed around. If there’s one thing this version of the Packers does well, it’s display resiliency and the will to fight back. A double-digit deficit no longer spells doom.
It hasn’t all been pretty. In fact, some moments have been pretty ugly. But the Packers are getting it done in must-win affairs, showing determination and looking improved in every phase of the game. Matt LaFleur deserves loads of credit after weeks of people calling for his job during their rough stretch in the midseason.——————