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Is the Packers’ win over the 49ers a jumping off point or simply forestalling the inevitable?

The Packers enter the bye week preparing for their toughest stretch of the season. Will they be up to the task?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Mason Crosby redeemed himself, but can the Packers now redeem their season?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With a win Monday night, the Packers put themselves squarely back in the NFC playoff picture if only by virtue of record. For much of the game, and frankly much of the season, Green Bay has not played like a playoff team. If the offense is clicking, the defense can’t get a stop. If the defense is getting stops, Aaron Rodgers can’t get on the same page with his receivers or the playcalling bogs down. And even when some combination of those things do work in conjunction, the special teams remains an indefatigable trash fire.

With five-game stretch upcoming featuring the two best teams in the league plus trips to Minnesota and Seattle on a short week, the Packers needed to beat the 49ers or risk the season falling off the proverbial cliff.

Until the fourth quarter, Mike McCarthy’s team didn’t play like a team with that much on the line. They rightfully believe the offense will get going. Two straight 500-yard games suggests that’s a fair assumption to make. The defense, play-to-play, has been solid but can’t stop giving up big plays, though a young secondary should improve as the season wears on.

A come-from-behind win, in which an inferior opponent out-efforted the Packers most of the night, leaves Green Bay at a junction point: use this 49ers game as a catapult to be the team your talent say you can be or it will ultimately become evidence this team remains too reliant on Aaron Rodgers, lacks defensive playmaking, and ultimately needs a new voice in the locker room.

In 2016, the Packers infamously started 4-6, then famously finished Running the Table™, where their magical run ended with the Falcons debacle in the NFC Championship Game. This team could easily be 4-6-1 by mid-November. If they are, we’ll likely know this comeback win was fun but hollow, simply putting off the inevitable decline of a team that simply isn’t very good. Then again, we thought that about the ‘16 team after the offense looked lethargic and out of sorts for nearly all of 2015.

Offensively, the Packers really are getting close. Plenty of teams with worse quarterbacks and worse numbers would say they’re already there. Green Bay sits 6th in offensive DVOA, even with a sluggish start from Rodgers and the injuries to key weapons like Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. After all, this team put up over 1,000 total yards in two games starting Davante Adams and three rookie receivers.

Given that they’re still just 11th throwing the ball, if these rookies continue to improve and Rodgers gets healthy, this offense should absolutely inch up toward the top 3-5 in total offense.

On the other side of the ball, Mike Pettine’s group clearly misses Jaire Alexander’s speed and playmaking. Fellow rookie Oren Burks flashes, but hasn’t put things together yet, playing beside Blake Martinez who is having a major regression season. But even for their struggles, this defense is one of the best in football at forcing punts and three-and-outs. They’re getting sacks and blitzing effectively. If they could cut down the big plays (Alexander’s athleticism would help) this defense could be solid.

But we can’t expect any of these improvements. If if’s and but’s were candy and nuts etc. The Packers have struggled on both sides of the ball in the red zone, giving up too many touchdowns and not scoring enough themselves. That, perhaps above all else, must change. With Aaron Rodgers under center, the offensive part has a good chance. The defense, coming off one of the worst defensive performances in the red zone last season, may not.

Over the next month and a half, we’ll find out if Rodgers’ virtuoso comeback performance foreshadowed greatness to come — a team coalescing and making another run at the conference — or if it was an aesthetic win for the record. It’s a performance Packers fans won’t soon forget and, for that, they should be thankful. But if the game becomes a footnote on another underwhelming season, big changes could be coming this offseason with coaches and marquee players being shown the door.

If the slow starts and inconsistent play becomes a hallmark of this season rather than just a rusty start, the answer to which it is will become clear in the coming weeks. The 2018 Packers have a clear choice: use this win as a springboard and the bye week to clean up some of the problems that have plagued them to become a contending team, or let their dramatic win be wasted with another season coming up short.

Mason Crosby redeemed himself with the walkoff win. Can Green Bay redeem itself by making the same kind of turnaround the reason of the season?