For much of Aaron Rodgers’ career, the Green Bay Packers defense created game-changing plays in ways that made his life more difficult, not easier. They’d blow a coverage at a key time, or fail to get a stop in an obvious run situation late in a game, or simply act like a sieve all game, forcing Rodgers to play the hero. We’ve seen plenty of blown coverages and big plays allowed from Mike Pettine’s group this season, but again on Sunday they showed resiliency and playmaking. They couldn’t quit get a handle on Andy Reid’s offense, but made the one play that swung the game.
This can no longer be written off as fluke-y or lucky. Adrian Amos sealed the Bears game with an interception in the end zone. Kevin King and Preston Smith co-ended the Vikings game with a pick and then a sack. A meet-at-the-quarterback sack put the Broncos game to bed. Two red zone turnovers and a goal line stand swung the Raiders game and an opportunistic defense thwarted a feverish Cowboys comeback.
Now add big No. 95 swiping at LeSean McCoy’s ever-precarious’ grasp on the ball to that list.
Right after the Packers tied the game at 17 with an impressive field goal drive draining more than half the third quarter, the Chiefs got the ball with a chance to re-take the lead. Reid found a rhythm with Matt Moore and Kansas City’s plethora of playmakers was giving this defense fits. On the first play of the drive, Lancaster gets his mitt on the ball, pries it free, then recovers his own fumble to set the Packers up in prime field position.
Green Bay scores to go up 24-17, a needed cushion with the Chiefs evening the score on the next drive and setting the table for the eventual game-winning score from the Packers offense. This was the defense giving the offense extra chances, and the way Rodgers and Aaron Jones are cooking in this Matt LaFleur offense, those second chances create premium opportunities for scores.
Coming into the game, the Packers’ D ranked fourth in points per red zone trip, thanks in part to the secondary’s ability to take the ball away. Green Bay’s willingness to play small and execute the proverbial bend-but-don’t-break game plan puts them in position to close down windows in the red zone, ramp up the pressure, and create negative plays for the offense.
On Sunday night, a key sack set up the game-tying drive in the third quarter. Za’Darius Smith tracked down Matt Moore on 3rd-and-7 in Green Bay territory. If Moore completes a pass, even one short of the first, Reid could have opted to go for it. Though that’s not his style, and he eschewed an opportunity to go on 4th-and-3 on the last drive of the game for the Chiefs, Smith ended any potential discussion.
These are plays the Packers haven’t made in years. They’re making them this year.
We know close game records can be unreliable. Teams often fluctuate wildly year-to-year in that category, and certainly red zone turnovers like the ones the Packers are getting don’t represent a consistent way to win over time. But they’re winning that way now and that’s all that matters. The offense found a way to ride the defense the first month, and they’ve carried the load the last month even with Davante Adams out.
Rodgers said after the game this team still hasn’t played a complete game with the offense and defense clicking in the same game. That would elevate the Packers even further in the Super Bowl contender discussion. For now though, they’re winning games with complementary football doing just enough to pick up the other side when one struggles. It must be a welcome burden lifted from Rodgers as he regains his form in this offense. If the Packers can put together this version of the Packers offense with the suffocating version of the Packers defense we saw in September, Green Bay will be feeling awfully super coming January.