On desperate ground, fight. Sun Tzu was talking about literal life-and-death battles when he wrote that, but the Philadelphia Eagles came to Lambeau Field in a metaphoric battle for their life, with a coach reportedly on the hot seat and a quarterback in search of of answers. After jumping out to a 3-0, the Eagles surrendered 23 straight points to the Green Bay Packers, who benched Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts, and Green Bay held off a Hurts-led charge to take care of the Eagles 30-16.
Doug Pederson reportedly met with team leaders with Philly this week to discuss accountability as the coach faces questions about his own future. For the first time in four games, the Eagles posted the lead with an opening-drive field goal, a drive aided by a third-down penalty on Chandon Sullivan. Facing a desperate team, the Packers had to weather the proverbial storm, particularly given some of Green Bay’s stinkers at home when they failed to bring the necessary energy.
A three-and-out by the Packers offense, hamstrung by an Aaron Jones fumbled toss, wouldn’t exactly batten down the hatches, but the Packers defense obliged with back-to-back sacks to keep the Eagles out of field goal range. Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke, who combined to turn a sure field goal attempt into a punt, put up 3.5 sacks in the first half alone, marking the 10th consecutive game Wentz took three or more sacks. The Packers hit Wentz 7 times in the first half, finishing with 11 hits and seven sacks for the game.
Aaron Rodgers provided the port in the storm, going 13/14 for 161 and 2 touchdowns in the first half, just a hair shy of a perfect passer rating on just three first-half possessions and staking the Packers to a 14-3 lead. The score marked the ninth time in 12 games the Eagles have trailed by double-digits.
Rodgers said earlier this season of LaFleur’s offense he’s never seen so many guys running free. Even when this offense hummed at peak efficiency in years like 2011 and 2014, players didn’t streak free down the middle of the field the way Robert Tonyan did on the second touchdown of the game, a 25-yard laser down the seam. Even Rodgers’ incompletions mostly came on drops, including a would-be shot play to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to open the second half.
After just three possessions in the first half, Rodgers became the fastest player ever to 400 touchdown passes on an RPO flip to Adams for his second score of the game, pushing the Packers’ lead to 20-3 lead in the third quarter. It was the seventh straight game with a touchdown for Adams, which ties Hall of Famer Don Hutson for the the Packers record.
And that was it for Wentz, finishing 6/15 for 79 yards. Rookie second-round pick Jalen Hurts came into the game and provided a spark for Philly, evincing shades of 2010 when Michael Vick came in for Kevin Kolb after Clay Matthews snatched his soul. Hurts led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to manage the aesthetics, but only after Mason Crosby extended his league-best streak of 30 consecutive field goals made under 50 yards with his fourth-quarter 40-yarder that gave the Packers a 23-3 margin.
Hurts found Greg Ward Jr. on a beautiful corner route to convert 4th-and-18, not exactly 4th-and-26, but yet another late-game let down from this Packers defense trying to hold a big lead. That too, echoed that ‘10 contest in which Vick helped the Eagles close a 27-10 deficit into a 27-20 game.
Jalen Reagor played his part too, one of the rookie receivers Green Bay coveted in the draft. His 74-yard punt return touchdown, punctuated by yet another embarrassing juke on JK Scott, cut the lead to 23-16 after a missed extra point. The more desperate team kept fighting and the Super Bowl hopeful had to counter.
Aaron Jones found his jab and his cross for the knockout punch, a 77-yard highlight reel run featuring multiple broken tackles, a cutback, and the highest paid offensive lineman in football, David Bakhtiari, trying to throw a block 70 yards down the field. In a way, it embodied the season: even when they weren’t really trying to score—just finish the game—the offense offers enough explosive playmaking to push leads and light up the scoreboard.
The win pushed the Packers to 20-3 in December under Rodgers, already the highest win percentage since 1950 coming into the game.
A head-scratching loss by the Seahawks puts the Packers back in position for the No. 1 seed in the NFC following a Taysom Hill-led win over the Falcons. New Orleans and Green Bay boast the only 9-win or better records in the conference and the Saints still have to face Patrick Mahomes in a few weeks.
LaFleur’s team hit crucial checkpoints in Week 13: they didn’t let Wentz get right, the offense hit 30, they got a crucial turnover (Darnell Savage’s game-sealing interception), and they didn’t let the run game be the reason they lost a game they had no business losing. Special teams questions and late-game defense remain question marks, but if wondering how three-score leads turn into single-score wins is the worst thing we can say about this team, everyone at 1265 Lombardi will take it.
Desperate teams often call for desperate measures and the Eagles made theirs with the quarterback change. The Packers found enough, by talent and by grit, to hold them off. That, in and of itself, displays championship mettle even if some Hurts-led scoring drives incite some late-night film session with Mike Pettine’s group. The basic truth remains: When the Packers get to 30, they’re going to be hard to beat, and even against a stout Philly defense, Green Bay got there with seeming ease.
We’re to the point with the Packers that we are wondering when, not if, they hit these offensive milestones, the Green Bay offense on a record-setting pace. The defense didn’t let up, harassing Eagles quarterbacks and disrupting a flawed team’s offense. Despite the cynical perspective, Pettine’s group didn’t give Wentz the unlikely resurgence Eagles fans hoped for. They stomped out any hope early, built a double-digit lead, and held on, putting themselves in position for another long playoff run. An Eagles win started the 2010 Packers on that path, and a win against Philly opened that playoff run. This victory could buoy LaFleur’s team in the same way, fitting symmetry as Rodgers and Co. make one more run at Lombardi.