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Packers Top Plays of 2019: #6 - An unlikely hero saves the day against the Panthers

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Two oft-maligned linebackers combined to secure a win that became vital for playoff seeding.

Carolina Panthers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers won 14 games in 2019, compiling a 13-3 regular season record and a home victory in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Many tremendous individual plays contributed to that success, and with the summer upon us we at Acme Packing Company have ranked our favorites from the entire season.

Compared to 2018, when the Packers finished 6-9-1, 2019 was much more fun and had far more memorable plays to look back on. This year’s countdown was one of the toughest to decide in recent memory, with the top two plays separated by a single point. 11 APC contributors pitched in, each ranking our 15 favorite plays in order. After compiling the rankings, we finalized our top ten and will present them in reverse order over the next several days.

Keep it here at APC as we reveal our picks for the top ten plays of the Packers’ 2019 season. Today we continue the countdown at number six with a game-saving play by a much-maligned linebacker.

The Game

The Packers had just returned from their embarrassing defeat against the Chargers in what was now an important game for maintaining contact with the top-seeded 49ers. The Panthers were hardly an intimidating proposition with a backup quarterback who would finish the year 32nd out of 34 qualifying QBs in DVOA and a defense that finished 25th in total DVOA. They had a rush defense that was actually problematic for them, as it ranked dead last in DVOA at 18.6%. Running against them was more productive than passing against the Atlanta Falcons. They were a mess. They remained a mess all year. This game should not have been close. It was stupidly close.

The Situation

I think this might be the most frustrating victory I’ve seen in a while. Again, the Panthers were awful last year. The first quarter ended with the teams tied 7-7, and a very early second quarter field goal put Carolina up 10-7. The teams then traded some offensive incompetence with Green Bay having a quick three-and-out and Carolina giving the ball right back with a Kyle Allen fumble. Aaron Jones would nab his second touchdown of the half and put Green Bay on top 14-10. A punt would pin Green Bay deep in their own territory on their next drive, but they would embark on a long drive that would put Green Bay in a 1st and goal from the two with 18 seconds left.

What happens next can only be described as an affront to the human experience. Jamaal Williams false starts. Now it’s 1st and goal from the 7. After an incomplete pass attempt to Allen Lazard, the Packers think they have a touchdown! But wait! The call on the field is reversed! The Packers then do that thing where they run the clock down and burn a timeout. And then they give the ball to big and slow Jamaal Williams on the goal line because he is big and slow and it ends poorly. Green Bay gets zero points and we go to half with a 14-10 scoreline.

Ugh.

The Packers respond with a nice touchdown drive capped by yet another Aaron Jones touchdown to take what should be a commanding 21-10 lead. The Panthers drive down the field into the red zone, but Green Bay’s pass defense steps up in the red area yet again with an interception. Cool, no problem. Go get a touchdown and end this already. Green Bay approaches the red zone and then stalls, Crosby makes it 24-10. Carolina responds with a touchdown and an interesting two-point attempt that fails, which sets our stage at 24-16.

The teams trade punts on the next three possessions as the Packers are fully engaged in the prevent offense. Carolina gets the ball down eight with 2:24 left. And they march. They rack up SEVENTEEN PLAYS in just 2:21! They convert three third downs and two fourth downs in that time. The Packers defense is pretty committed to trying to burn the clock on them.

The Play

Now the stage is fully set. It is 2nd and goal from the two, but the down doesn’t matter. There are four seconds left. This is the last play. The Panthers need a touchdown and a two-point conversion to send it to overtime, which is always a bucket of fun.

The Panthers come out in shotgun and 11 personnel, with the TE flexed into the slot. A pretty standard formation. Christian McCaffrey is offset to Allen’s right. Green Bay’s defense is anything but conventional. At the time of the snap they’re not even lined up properly. There are only two players with their hand in the dirt: nose tackle Kenny Clark and right EDGE Za’Darius Smith. The Packers are running a 1-4-6. Honestly, this is an absolutely crazy call for a situation where a run is quite likely. Green Bay is soft in the middle. It’s Kenny Clark and... Kyler Fackrell? Like, routinely rekt on television by NFL offensive linemen Kyler Fackrell? The best part is that Fackrell wasn’t even lined up in the right spot, he was moved mere moments before the snap. This mistake on his part might be his salvation.

The playcall itself doesn’t look like anything crazy. It appears to be a pretty simple RPO with a flat/pick concept on the bottom and inside zone. The Packers have the flat/pick snuffed out and are playing Kyler freaking Fackrell over the guard so Kyle Allen hands it to NFL Fantasy Football MVP Christian McCaffrey. This SHOULD be a walk into the end zone.

But wait, a hero emerges, or rather stumbles into the picture. As McCaffrey approaches the line of scrimmage a lanky awkward green jersey emerges from the white of Carolina’s line. Could it be? It IS! Fackrell has slipped through the line to meet the All-Pro in the backfield. Our hero cannot slay this dragon on his own, however. After all, he still is Kyler Fackrell. McCaffrey quickly discards Fackrell with a spin move as he breaks the line of scrimmage, but enough time was bought for star EDGE Preston Smith to arrive. He wraps McCaffrey up, but cannot drive him to the ground. McCaffrey is grabbed by a Panthers offensive lineman Greg Van Roten and flung forward. Van Roten at least tried to fling him forward. Except Van Roten is kind of in the way. As he lands on the pile that has mounted near the goal-line, Blake Martinez slips his block and pushes the football backwards. The referees determine that McCaffrey did not break the plane, which is then held up upon further review.

The Impact

Carolina still would have needed to convert the two-point conversion and then win in overtime, but this prevented what could have been a disastrous two weeks from the Packers. After getting whopped by a bad Chargers team the week prior, they barely snuck out a home win against a bad Panthers team. The win did momentarily keep them in the race for the #1 seed in the NFC, although their poor play the past two weeks showed up again two weeks later, as they were absolutely destroyed by the 49ers after the bye week.

This win was vital to getting a first-round bye though, as the Packers and Saints both ended the year with 13-3 records. This was a major boost in the Packers reaching the NFC Championship Game. It’s pretty amazing that if Kyler Fackrell actually lined up in the right spot from the start, the Packers might not have earned that first-round bye.


2019 Top Plays Countdown

#10: Davante Adams’ second TD helps put the Seahawks away
#9: Aaron Jones’ spinning TD catch makes up for a previous drop
#8: Aaron Jones secures NFC North title for the Packers
#7: Rodgers hits Adams for huge third-down conversion to all but clinch playoff win