The Green Bay Packers’ return to Earth coincides with a heartbreaking, season-ending 20-16 loss at Lambeau Field.
Cracks in the armor of a team tend to reveal themselves in the heat of the playoffs – Green Bay’s win-and-in scenario presented to them after a four-game winning streak was squashed in a contest that held playoff-like atmosphere at the Frozen Tundra.
All the flaws documented during the 2022-2023 campaign reared their ugly head in this disaster of a game. Though the Packers only lost by four points, there was hardly a moment where it surely felt like the Packers had the game in hand.
When Green Bay went down 13-9 in the third quarter, the opportunity to prove themselves as scrappy, undying underdogs, an identity that flashed in the best moments of the year, was capitalized on with a sound touchdown drive led by Aaron Rodgers.
From there on out, an inconsistent and sloppy Packers team that defined a long stretch of the midsection of the season were exposed. This disappointing end to the year feels like a formality.
Much like they have been all season, the Packers were beat up on the ground. Even during their recent winning streak, they were a suspect run defense. Former Packer Jamaal Williams pounded Green Bay to the tune of 72 yards on 16 carries and added 2 TDs. Williams broke Barry Sanders’ former franchise record for rushing TDs in a single season (16) with 17 on the year.
Green Bay didn’t allow a passing touchdown but also broke their streak of an incredible turnover differential. They failed to intercept Jared Goff, who now hasn’t thrown an INT in his past 9 games, and they didn’t recover a fumble. After forcing 12 turnovers in the past four games, the lucky streak halted with nothing against Detroit.
Aaron Rodgers has taken a lot of credit for their previous winning streak, but his year culminated in an affair that reflected the sum of his 2022-2023 season. This was Rodgers’ worst season as a starter. His relatively average 91.5 passer rating is the lowest of his career as a starter, and his 25 TDs are the lowest since 2018, when he matched the total but threw 9 less INTs and nearly 1,000 more yards. He didn’t throw for over 300 yards a single time this season.
Rodgers heated up in the third quarter, connecting on a beautiful deep throw down the right sideline to Christian Watson. Watson caught the ball in traffic while having his arm pulled and drawing a defensive pass interference penalty. Rodgers capped the drive by finding Allen Lazard in the end zone to put the Packers up, 16-13.
And then, Rodgers and the offense collapsed. They would only get the ball twice in the fourth quarter, resulting in a punt and an interception. Their two drives in the fourth quarter consisted of 11 plays for 24 yards. The second drive of the fourth quarter saw rookie Kirby Joseph snag his record-breaking third interception of Aaron Rodgers in a single season, a record for any player. The previous drive that ended in a punt included another interception by Joseph that was overturned because of a Lions penalty.
Green Bay looked nothing like the team that rose to the challenge of double-digit deficits against Dallas, Chicago and Miami. They were smothered in the fourth quarter. The Packers subbed out struggling RT Yosh Nijman for rookie Zach Tom during the game and it didn’t make a difference. Whoever was at RT was beaten by several different Detroit pass rushers. Rodgers’ diminishing pocket awareness was on a full, ugly display. He took two terrible sacks.
For the second straight week, Darnell Savage was a bright spot. He had seven solo tackles, one tackle for a loss and two passes defensed. Christian Watson ended on a high note as well, capping off his explosive second half of the season with five catches for 104 yards.
The Packers were 4/12 on third down, a lower mark than their already below-league-average rate on third down conversions. An offense that found their footing a couple months into the season reverted to a lackluster early-season form. The Packers largely abandoned the run game as they were down late in the game – Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon received only 21 combined carries against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Green Bay was thrown out of their plan the flow of the game.
It looked like the Packers might be able to run the table again and make the playoffs off an improbable late season winning streak, but it isn’t shocking that they ended up missing the postseason. The final game of the season proved that the issues Green Bay struggled with all year were not solved, but instead hidden by a hot streak that included a ridiculous number of takeaways.
Still, after being 4-8 at one point in the year, it was fun to have the hope that this team could reel off five straight and barge their way into the playoffs. It’s more than I could have asked for at that point that felt like rock bottom.
Rodgers’ uncertain future with the Packers muddies what the team will do regarding roster and draft decisions, including their decision on keeping or giving up Jordan Love. The next few months will be idle for fans and the team as Green Bay watches seven other NFC teams represent the conference in the playoffs.
Although this loss isn’t as painful as the conclusions to the 2014, 2020 and 2021 seasons, a period to finally distance ourselves from the wildly, frustratingly inconsistent 2022 Green Bay Packers feels overdue.——————