On a windy, raw, bone-chilling day at Lambeau Field, the color that stood out wasn’t the turquoise details on the Jacksonville Jaguars jerseys, with the AFC South squad making a rare trip to Green Bay. It was blaze orange, or rather, the lack of it, as the aluminum stands rattled empty despite the fans’ beloved Packers making a Super Bowl push. Two weeks after Aaron Rodgers called out his team’s lack of energy at home in the cold against the Vikings, noting the inability to feed off the crowd, his squad once again came out flat on a cold day against a team on a seven-game losing streak.
At least the fans have an excuse for not showing up, with Wisconsin COVID cases surging and the Packers avoiding adding to the spread on game day. Green Bay held on for a 24-20 victory, but it took a 4th-and-26 stop with just over a minute left to preserve a win that came much harder fought than most predicted.
And it started right away. Not only did the Packers not score on the first drive of the game, something they’ve done in every game this season, but the Jaguars forced a three-and-out, despite coming into the game last in passing and total defense by DVOA. The Jaguars out-gained the Packers in the first quarter despite being minus-40 in first quarter point differential this season, a worrying harbinger of things to come.
Two turnovers and a 91-yard punt return touchdown by Keelan Cole, the longest in Jaguars history, kept the 1-7 Jags in a game where they were out-gained 395-260 and dominated in yards per play 6.6 to 4.3. The sloppy turnovers, a fumble by Davante Adams and a stupefying interception by Rodgers, embodied the lack of intensity and focus by the Packers. They sleep-walked to a play-to-play domination of Jacksonville, but the Jags played harder, tackled with more ferocity, and made every borderline play.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s finest game as a Packer stood between the Jaguars and victory. His 78-yard bomb in the second quarter gave Green Bay its first lead and with Davante Adams hobbling in the second half, MVS came through with big catches for chunk yards, in all 149 yards on just 4 catches, all momentous in their own right.
His play buoyed a run game the Packers couldn’t get going against a below average run defense. The Packers consistently win in the trenches this season and while they kept Rodgers clean to toss for 325 yards a 2 touchdowns, the run game sputtered for 80 yards on 30 carries.
The play of MVS and a bit of history were the lone bright spots on a day that was otherwise just spotty. Davante Adams passed Don Hutson for 5th on the Packers all-time receptions list, while Aaron Rodgers eclipsed Warren Moon for 11th all-time in passing yards.
Box scores can and often do lie, as they will for this game. Statistically, the game was only close on the scoreboard, but that’s also the place where the numbers matter most. This kind of execution won’t cut it against the better teams in the league no matter what fantasy football numbers come along with them.
Winning as two touchdowns favorites wouldn’t change perception among some fans and media critics about whether or not this team can take a punch from a quality opponent. We’ll have to wait at least a week for the chance to quiet the questions when they head to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. Then again, the Jags’ only win this season came against those same Colts, a testament to the “any given Sunday” cliché and another reason not to dismiss a win, any win, as meaningless regardless of the opponent’s record.
Jacksonville came out with more life, more verve, and more punch in their play. When the Packers ran receiver screens, the Jaguars defensive backs flew downhill, shook off blocks, and made tackles. When Jacksonville dialed up the same play, they’d find 10 yards. Despite coming in the worst defense in football by DVOA, Myles Jack and Co. flew around the field, relishing the big sticks and physical play in the trenches. Green Bay’s offensive line, one that has mauled just about every team it faced, played like a C-level effort would yield A results, a problem that plagued every facet of the Packers on Sunday, from coaching to offense, defense, and special teams.
The cold can be no excuse, not for a team who wants to host games at Lambeau in even worse weather come January. Injuries also can’t absolve this sluggish performance, playing without Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Allen Lazard. They’ve played much more impressive games with far bigger injury problems. This is the worst team in the league plus or minus the Jets. Banking on a playoff atmosphere or the intensity of facing a playoff caliber team walks a perilous line for the Packers. These are the kinds of games Super Bowl contenders come out and decide they want to be over by halftime.
That’s not to say the Packers are pretenders, or can’t go on to win a Super Bowl, but their performance against a team who hung them them because they wanted it more speaks to effort and resolve. More to the point, Jacksonville played more disciplined football, turning it over less often and not blowing gap integrity to give up a momentous punt return. If the Packers play their best game, they beat the Jaguars by 30, but they didn’t ... so they didn’t.
Green Bay hasn’t won anything as currently constituted. There’s no switch to flip. The Packers have to bring the intensity every week in ways they haven’t this season despite their record. On the other hand, they don’t play the game to cover point spreads, just to win. And whether it’s in November or January, no team will apologize for winning. In scope of the season, this game only meant something if the Packers took the L. The true test awaits in Indianapolis and whether the Packers were looking ahead to that matchup, who’s to say? All that matters is they pass that test. Their C-game won’t cut it.