In the Green Bay Packers’ game against the Cleveland Browns on Christmas afternoon, both quarterbacks delivered presents to Packers fans in the first half. Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdowns, setting a new franchise record for touchdown passes, while Baker Mayfield gave the Packers three gift-wrapped interceptions before the break.
After halftime, however, the Packers turned in a poor effort on both offense and defense, allowing Cleveland to fight back. Green Bay opened the half with a field goal to take a 24-12 lead, but the offense gained just one first down on their next three series. That gave the Browns a chance to whittle the lead away, but with the score sitting at 24-22 and Cleveland driving, Mayfield threw his fourth pick of the game — and his second to Rasul Douglas — to effectively clinch the Packers’ victory.
The Packers’ run defense was a problem all game long, allowing the Browns to rack up 219 yards on just 25 carries. The Packers got outgained on offense by a margin of 408 to 311, but the turnovers made the difference.
Green Bay turned each of Mayfield’s three first-half interceptions into touchdowns, largely struggling to move the football otherwise for much of the game. But those points — and a missed PAT followed by a missed two-point conversion attempt later — proved to be meaningful late in the game. Those two points ended up being the margin of victory, sending the Packers in to week 16 with at least a full-game lead on the rest of the NFC playoff field.
Rodgers’ record-breaking touchdown went to Allen Lazard in the first quarter, as he entered the game tied with Brett Favre for the franchise lead at 442. He would finish the game with 202 yards while Davante Adams caught the other two scores. Adams led the way with 10 catches for 114 yards, but he committed a crucial drop shortly before the two-minute warning with the Packers trying to run the clock out or extend their lead.
Instead, that set up more heroics from Douglas, who came up with his second game-clinching pick of the season. The Packers can now head into a slightly longer-than-usual week on a four-game winning streak and carrying a 12-3 record.
The Packers’ defense opened up the game in a similar manner to how they played last week in Baltimore. Nick Chubb got off to a strong start with a 41-yard screen pass on the opening drive, which was helped out by a block by center Nick Harris, which looked like an uncalled hold. Safety Darnell Savage was flagged for a low block for the second straight game, giving the Browns an extra 15 yards, and Chubb eventually plunged into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown and a quick 6-0 Browns lead (after a missed PAT by new kicker Chris Naggar).
Green Bay would punt on their first offensive series, but not until after converting a 4th and 1 deep in their own territory. A toss to Aaron Jones picked up two yards on that play, but Rodgers misfired on a pass to Allen Lazard on 3rd down, leading to a punt by Corey Bojorquez. Cleveland was called for a block in the back on the punt, leading them to start inside their own ten-yard line.
On first down, Baker Mayfield delivered an arm punt right back to the Packers, as his deep ball for Donovan Peoples-Jones fell into Savage’s awaiting arms. Rodgers would deliver a record-breaking touchdown pass on the ensuing drive, hitting Allen Lazard for an 11-yard score. That gave him 443 for his career, breaking Brett Favre’s franchise record and giving Green Bay a 7-6 lead.
After a long run by Chubb on the ensuing drive, Mayfield would deliver another gift to the Packers defense, this one deep in Packers territory. He sailed a throw to Jarvis Landry off his back foot, and Chandon Sullivan picked off the high throw. Rodgers would then hit Allen Lazard with a picture-perfect throw on the next play for 34 yards before Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and Lazard each broke off a long run and Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a 9-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
Rodgers’ injured toe would flare up in the first half, however. He was spotted limping heavily after appearing to get kicked in the foot twice, once by the Browns’ Myles Garrett and again by right guard Royce Newman. Rodgers would not leave the game, but he was clearly in pain for much of the game afterwards.
The Browns would bounce back, picking up chunks of yardage on their next drive. Cleveland had gains of 17, 11, 24, and 14 yards to reach the goal line, and Mayfield would hit tight end Harrison Bryant for a short touchdown. However, Eric Stokes broke up a pass for Peoples-Jones on a two-point conversion attempt, preserving the Packers’ lead at 14-12.
That would prove to be a huge play down the stretch, with the Browns chasing those two points throughout the second half. In a sense, this would be the second game in a row that was decided by the Packers’ opponents failing on a two-point attempt.
Immediately afterwards, the Packers would go three-and-out, but Mayfield would deliver once again, throwing an interception to Rasul Douglas near midfield just inside the two-minute warning. That allowed the Packers a chance to double up around the halftime break. They would deliver the first part of the double-up, with Rodgers and Adams paying a two-man game all the way down the field. Adams caught five passes on the ensuing drive, including a one-yard touchdown to deliver a 21-12 lead heading into halftime.
On the first play from scrimmage out of the break, Aaron Jones delivered a jolt to the offense with a 27-yard run. He picked up another 12 yards on the ground and 10 through the air to help the Packers work their way into the red zone, but the Packers had to settle for a field goal. The Browns would respond with a strong drive but a Rashan Gary sack on third down forced Cleveland into three points of their own.
Another three-and-out for the Packers led to the Browns driving once again, but back-to-back sacks by Preston Smith and Dean Lowry put an end to the series and forced a punt. But three straight Aaron Jones runs gained just nine yards for the Packers third three-and-out of the game with Cleveland still down nine points.
That lead would not last long, as the Browns cut it to two points. Mayfield hit Anthony Schwartz on a short touchdown pass, with Rasul Douglas and the Packers’ secondary getting mixed up on an assignment. That came one play after D’Ernest Johnson ripped off a 30-yard run off right end to trim down the Packers’ lead.
After being an afterthought for much of the game, AJ Dillon entered the game to try to help the Packers offense pound the football and run off as much of the remaining 4:30 as possible. Dillon picked up a quick first down, but the Packers went back to the passing game with time left, and it burned them. Davante Adams dropped a wide-open pass on third down just outside the two-minute warning, giving Cleveland the football back with a chance to drive for a game-winning score.
Cleveland’s running game continued to gash the Packers, driving them to midfield. But Mayfield’s fourth pick went to Douglas, targeting Peoples-Jones. Douglas appeared to have a handful of jersey, but in a game that saw virtually no flags for contact in the secondary, no penalty was called. Two runs by AJ Dillon gave the Packers a third-and-inches to finish off the game, and Rodgers worked his magic, drawing the Browns offside with his hard count to give Green Bay a first down and the win.
With the victory, the Packers move to 12-3, ensuring that they stay a full game up on the rest of the field in the NFC. Winning out against Minnesota and Detroit would give the Packers the top seed in the conference.
The Browns, meanwhile, dropped to 7-8 with the loss, likely ending their playoff hopes in all practicality. They will be two games back of the AFC North division leader after this weekend.