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Packers outlast Ravens in gut-wrenching 31-30 thriller to clinch NFC North title

It came down to a two-point conversion attempt and an onside kick recovery, but Green Bay escaped week 15 with a win to hold on to the top seed in the NFC.

Green Bay Packers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Much of Sunday afternoon’s game was ugly for the Green Bay Packers. Facing a Baltimore Ravens squad that was massively depleted by injury and COVID-19, the betting line ballooned up to nine points when news broke that Lamar Jackson would not play. But Tyler Huntley and Mark Andrews gave the Packers’ defense everything it could handle before the two failed to connect on a two-point conversion attempt inside the final minute that would have handed Baltimore a one-point lead.

Instead, John Harbaugh’s gamble late fell incomplete as Darnell Savage and Eric Stokes combined to help ensure that Andrews would not burn the defense yet again. Andrews’ performance — 10 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns — raises major questions about the Packers’ ability to defend elite tight ends, while Huntley made it two straight games in which the defense struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks.

On offense, the Packers turned in one of their best red zone performances of the season, but although the unit moved the ball consistently, there were points where it seemed disjointed. Facing a Ravens secondary with no preferred starters on the field, the Packers seemingly focused on establishing the run early rather than throwing the football, leading to a quick three-and-out. They also failed to pick up a first down on a critical series late in the game while clinging to a seven-point lead.

But at times, the group looked stellar, and they got a great performance from Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He led the team with 98 yards from scrimmage, scoring a touchdown as well on one of his five receptions. Aaron Rodgers threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his career total to 442 to tie Brett Favre for the highest mark in franchise history.

Ultimately, it was the defense’s inability to contain Huntley and Andrews that put the team in dire peril late. But Harbaugh’s decision to go for two led to disappointment for the second time in three games for the Ravens, who have now lost their last three games by a total of four points.

Green Bay improves to 11-3 on the season with the victory, and the win clinched their third straight NFC North title. The Packers are back in the playoffs and will remain in first place in the conference for another week. The Arizona Cardinals’ shocking loss to the Detroit Lions early on Sunday gives the Packers the possibility of just a two-way tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play on Sunday night.

The Packers elected to kick to the Ravens to open the game, and they paid for it in time of possession early. Baltimore’s opening drive would go without points, but they ran 14 plays and gained 75 yards before failing on a quarterback draw attempt for Tyler Huntley on 4th-and-goal from the three-yard line. The Packers would go three-and-out quickly, however, starting the game with two runs by Aaron Jones before Aaron Rodgers misfired to a wide-open Davante Adams, who had run a slant-and-go.

Baltimore would take the lead on the next series, after Isaac Yiadom delivered yet another mistake from the Packers’ special teams. He hit punt returner Devin Duvernay after he had called a fair catch, giving the Ravens great field position at the Packers’ 45-yard line. Huntley would hit Mark Andrews for the first touchdown of the game, giving Andrews four catches for 77 yards and a score in the first quarter.

The Packers would turn to their passing game with their second drive, and Rodgers got heated up. He found Allen Lazard for a pair of third down conversions early, then hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a big 31-yard gain to get into the red zone. After a roughing the passer penalty on Odafe Oweh, the Packers turned to AJ Dillon to plow into the end zone, tying the game at 7 on a two-yard score.

Andrews would deliver another strike on the next drive, however. The Ravens tight end caught one pass for a third down conversion, then added his second touchdown to give the Ravens a 14-7 lead. The Packers were matching Darnell Savage on Andrews in coverage for much of the first half with no success, as he was targeted on both scoring passes and a few of his other receptions.

With just over a minute left in the first half, however, the Packers’ offense delivered a response. Following a big 22-yard gain up the seam by tight end Tyler Davis early on in the drive, the Packers got some good running from Aaron Jones on 7- and 9-yard carries. A swing pass to AJ Dillon for 13 yards set up the Packers with a first-and-goal from the two, and after an incompletion and a run for a loss of a yard by Dillon, Rodgers found Davante Adams in the front corner of the end zone for the tying score.

A short kick and a nice return left Huntley and the Ravens at the Packers’ 35 with 1:09 left on the clock and all three timeouts. However, after an incomplete pass, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary combined to force Huntley into an intentional grounding penalty, and the Packers got the football back with two timeouts of their own and 38 seconds left on the clock.

On first down, Rodgers delivered an incredible throw to MVS for a 25-yard gain to midfield, but the Packers allowed their first sack of the game on the next play as Dennis Kelly allowed Justin Houston to get a free run at Rodgers. That killed off both of the Packers’ timeouts and put the Packers in long yardage, and two straight incompletions and a punt sent the game into halftime.

Coming out of the half, it was the Aaron Jones drive for the Packers. Rodgers was able to move the ball on two early third down opportunities on the series, just barely getting to the sticks on a 3rd-and-6 to Davante Adams and a 3rd-and-1 to Josiah Deguara. But Jones ripped off runs of 11 and 9 yards around a handful of other solid rushing attempts. It looked like the drive was destined to end in a field goal when Allen Lazard dropped a catchable pass on a 3rd-and-10, but a holding penalty on Baltimore kept the drive alive and Rodgers found Jones wide open in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown. That gave Green Bay its first lead of the day at 21-14 and was Jones’ tenth score of the year (six through the air and four on the ground).

The Ravens would respond with a scoring drive, but one that ended in a field goal to keep the Packers in front. Baltimore ran the ball well on the series, but the Packers got a stop in the red zone, forcing a 4th-and-1. After lining up to go for it, the Ravens were called for a false start, forcing Justin Tucker to come on for a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-17.

Green Bay got another star on the next drive as they took their first two-possession lead of the game. Marquez Valdes-Scantling got his turn to shine. But first, the Packers had some controversy as Aaron Rodgers caught the Ravens with 12 men on the field — a call that required a challenge from Matt LaFleur. Ultimately, Rodgers would get the call and found MVS on a massive 25-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 to move the chains and get into scoring territory. Three plays later, he hit MVS once again, this time for an 11-yard touchdown and a 28-17 lead.

Finally, the Packers defense got its big, quick stop on the next series. After a first-down neutral zone infraction on Preston Smith, the Ravens did not gain another yard. Green Bay would get a turnover on downs as the Ravens threw incomplete on 4th-and-6, giving Rodgers and the offense another short field. The Packers would add a field goal to pull their lead up to a full 14 points, but Rodgers missed Allen Lazard for a wide-open touchdown pass on 3rd-and-goal. Still, Mason Crosby hit his short field goal attempt to extend the lead to 31-17, though the Packers burned a pair of timeouts on the series.

The Ravens would not go quietly into the night, however. Tyler Huntley began scrambling for first downs and hitting Marquise Brown for short passes, but the modest gains kept the clock moving consistently towards zeroes. Still, the Ravens converted a 4th-and-6 to Andrews inside the five-yard line, leading to Huntley scrambling to the corner of the end zone for a three-yard score. The Packers only had ten men on the field on the touchdown, giving up contain on Huntley with not enough players covering up the left side of the offense.

The offense hit its first real snag of the second half at the worst time on the next series. A failed pitch on first down, an ugly Rodgers scramble on second, and a sack on third down — when the Ravens jumped offsides but got back before Lucas Patrick snapped the football — led to Corey Bojorquez’s third punt of the game, this one from inside his own end zone. That left 2:24 for the Ravens, down seven points and starting from midfield.

The same issues that the Packers’ defense had displayed all game continued to rear their ugly heads on the Ravens’ attempt to tie the game. Huntley escaped containment a few times on scrambles and hit Mark Andrews for a pair of big gains, including one huge third-and-5 conversion. He hit Andrews again for 11 yards to get the ball inside the 15, then scrambled into the end zone for a touchdown to pull the Ravens within one.

That set up John Harbaugh to call for a two-point conversion to try to take the lead with just 42 seconds left. But with the Ravens predictably setting up a play for Andrews, Darnell Savage got a fingertip on Huntley’s pass, which hit Eric Stokes in the chest and fell incomplete.

That then left the Packers’ special teams desperately needing a play — an onside kick recovery — to secure the victory. AJ Dillon was sure-handed with the recovery on the hands team, falling on the football and clinching a 31-30 victory to send the Packers to 11-3 on the season.

The 11-3 Packers return home this week for their final 2021 regular season game against an AFC opponent, as they will play the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Day. Meanwhile, Baltimore now drops to 8-6 and falls all the way out of the playoff picture, thanks to losing a divisional tiebreaker against the Cincinnati Bengals and tiebreakers for the Wild Card with the 8-6 Colts, Chargers, and Bills.