In the midst of a brutal stretch, coming off consecutive road losses, the Packers didn’t just need a win Sunday. They needed a moral boost, proof this team had some kind of juice to urge them forward with road tilts on deck against the Seahawks and Vikings on deck.
An eight-play 50 yard opening drive from the Dolphins, blowing the Packers defensive front off the ball, wasn’t what the doctor ordered. A gift from backup Brock Osweiler, fumbling the shotgun snap, was luckily right there on the prescription pad. It was the first red zone take away in 25 games for the Green Bay defense.
Adding to the cure, Mike McCarthy finally fed Aaron Jones, giving the second-year back four touches for 54 yards on a 70-yard touchdown march. Jones took the ball on half of the Packers eight plays and it would have been even more had he not dropped an opening swing pass from Rodgers. Each touch, two runs and two passes, produced double-digit gains, setting up a seven-yard touchdown strike to Davante Adams.
This first drive was the game in a nutshell: Jones and Adams giving this offense the boost it needed, en route to a 31-12 win to push the Packers to 4-4-1 and hint at a team capable of making a second-half run.
After forcing a three-and-out, the defense appeared to be settling in. A Tramon Williams fumble gave the Dolphins good field position at the 50-yard line, but Kyler Fackrell sacked Oswiler on third down to force a field goal, the defense’s first red zone sack in nearly two full seasons.
For what seems like the first time all season, McCarthy stuck with his dynamic back and it paid off immediately. On the first play following the kickoff, Jones ripped off a 66-yard run to set up a two-yard touchdown run. In just the first quarter alone, Jones accounted for 123 total yards. It turns out, the Packers offense can really hum when the best players are actually getting the ball.
In other words, paging Dr. Jones.
But, of course, the Packers head coach couldn’t leave well enough alone. Mike Pettine’s defense bends but doesn’t break, allowing a field goal to cut the Packers lead to 14-6. With Jones running roughshod over the Dolphins, Jamaal Williams plays the entire ensuing series. On second-and-1, Williams got blasted in the backfield for a one-yard loss and the Dolphins pass rush got to Rodgers on fourth-and-2 to turn it over on downs at midfield.
There’s no guarantee Aaron Jones picks up that first down, but he’s so clearly the better back, McCarthy’s strategy of handing Williams entire series makes absolutely no sense. It hasn’t all season, but if this supposed to be a hot hand offense, what possible justification is there for Jones not staying in the game when he’s cruising?
Blake Martinez, playing much better after early season struggles, snuffed out a third down screen to force another field goal from the Dolphins as the Green Bay defense once again followed the bend-but-don’t-break mantra. Miami was 0/4 converting in Packers territory scoring touchdowns in the first half.
Just to prove the point about Jones vs. Williams, it was Jones picking up a third-and-1 on the ensuing drive with the Packers running the two-minute offense late in the second quarter. But another sack ended a promising Green Bay drive, knocking Rodgers and Co. out of field goal range. Robert Quinn whooped David Bakhtiari on third-and-2, another third-and-short the Packers couldn’t convert. Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, but it’s worth wondering why, with two timeouts left, the Packers didn’t just hand it off to their running back who leads the league in yards per carry.
In the first half, the Packers were 1-3 converting third-and-2 or shorter throw the air and 1-1 doing so on the ground. It hadn’t been long before the symptoms returned. Fever, coughing, runny nose and lack of running game.
A costly penalty stymied Green Bay’s opening drive, the first time all season the Packers failed to score on their first second-half possession. Rodgers hit Adams for an easy first down, but a blindside block from Equanimous St. Brown negated the conversion, and a false start from Aaron Jones turned a third-and-manageable into third-and-long. Penalties and mental errors: this is what we’ve come to expect from this offense and it lead to something else Green Bay has been all too familiar with: special teams gaffes.
A Miami defender knifed through to block JK Scott’s punt, setting up the Dolphins once again with great field position. Despite being constantly put in bad positions, Green Bay’s defense once again held to force a field goal. Special teams have long been a bugaboo for McCarthy and this season has been no different. It’s fair to wonder if a change is made sooner rather than later after yet another disastrous special teams performance from Ron Zook’s group.
But the cure-all once again came through. After a great play design got Marcedes Lewis free for a critical third-down conversion, Jones slithered for 12 yards before a 10-yard touchdown pushed the lead to 21-12. On the second run, Rodgers quick-snapped the Dolphins who weren’t ready for the play and Jones scampered into the end zone untouched until he crossed the goal line for the first multi-touchdown game of his career.
From there, the Packers started rolling once again.
Bashaud Breeland stepped in front of an Osweiler throw for his first interception as a Packer. Rodgers didn’t take long to make the Dolphins pay, finding Adams once again for a 25-yard touchdown. Osweiler foreshadowed the interception with a handful of near-picks in the first half and it was the newest Packer defender who finally got him.
On the other side Josh Jackson struggled starting for Kevin King, missing tackles, misplaying balls and just flat out getting beat. His fellow rookie cornerback stacked success yet again as Jaire Alexander was one of the Green Bay defenders with a near pick on Osweiler, providing blanket coverage all game. Signing Breeland provides some veteran know-how in the secondary with the Packers shuffling defensive backs around.
An injury to Kentrell Brice muddied the waters further with Josh Jones having to play more safety after opening the game playing de facto linebacker. Jones played well in the role, finishing near the team lead in tackles and showing his speed in the open field on a number of occasions.
Raven Greene also saw time at safety, joining the cadre of Packers with near-picks, adding a third-down sack with the Dolphins driving in the third quarter. But it was a special teams play, on a day when Zook’s unit was atrocious, that most impacted the game. On fourth-and-2 from midfield, the Packers called a fake to Greene he took for 26 yards to prolong the icing drive for the Green Bay offense. A Mason Crosby field goal extended the lead to 31-12 with under nine minutes to go and everything after that was merely aesthetic.
A blowout win with the offense still showing some inconsistencies should be a welcome sight for Packers fans who have been used to the sloppy turnovers and special teams miscues costing this team wins this season. Instead, the defense came through and Jones stepped up to take over the game. McCarthy followed the right playbook: feed Jones and Adams — with one glaring example — and the offense will find its footing. On defense, the Packers sacked Osweiler six times, harassed him countless others and got the big turnover from Breeland. Mike Pettine’s unit is rounding into form and if they can get/stay healthy, should be able to keep this team in games consistently.
Rodgers and Co. started the game 4-4 on red zone trips scoring touchdowns before the last field goal. Still, a 31-point performance against a solid defense with some quality players should be considered a step in the right direction for Green Bay. Taking apart a team coming to Lambeau as a double-digit underdog won’t save the season or McCarthy’s job, but it does keep the Packers in the NFC playoff picture. That’s all they had to do Sunday and they did it.
There are plenty of questions surrounding this team, but dominating a 5-4 squad without its A-game means Green Bay will get a few more chances to answer some of those questions.