Meaningless games are an inevitable result of the structure of an NFL season. Sooner or later, some teams are going to be eliminated from playoff contention, and chances are always high — if not certain — that a few of those teams are going to be out of the race well before the end of their schedule.
But there are meaningless games and then there are meaningless games, and the last Packers/Jets matchup was about as meaningless as you’ll ever see.
Two days before Christmas in 2018, the 5-8-1 Packers traveled east to face the 3-11 Jets. Both teams were set for big changes in the offseason. In Green Bay, Mike McCarthy had already been fired and Joe Philbin was just trying to steer the sinking ship into harbor as the Packers started to interview head coach candidates, beginning with Jim Caldwell and Chuck Pagano.
Meanwhile, Todd Bowles was limping toward the end of his four-year run as the Jets’ head coach. Bowles would manage just 24 wins over his four seasons in New York and was just a couple of weeks away from a merciful end to his underachieving tenure.
With that backdrop, the Packers and Jets were set to play one of the more meaningless games you could imagine. But that’s not to say it would be boring.
The Packers and Jets combined for a whopping 82 points in a display of highly entertaining but ultimately pretty sloppy football. But hey, if you can’t be good, at least be interesting.
On the Packers’ side, Aaron Rodgers led the way with a season-high 55 pass attempts. In fact, the game was largely the Rodgers show. With 55 throws, five runs, and four sacks, Rodgers was the key man on 64 of the Packers’ 90 offensive plays.
And plenty of receivers got in on the action. Though Davante Adams got 18 targets, he only managed 71 yards through the air (though that did include the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime). But beyond Adams, Jamaal Williams, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, and Lance Kendricks each managed a catch of at least 20 years. St. Brown and Kumerow had particularly notable days, both posting career highs of 94 and 68 yards, respectively.
Normally, that kind of production would result in an easy Packers win, but this was the 2018 Packers, so of course, it didn’t. That’s because the Packers’ defense and special teams were committed to making this game interesting.
Giving up career-defining performances was a staple of the Mike Pettine-era Packers defense, and that tendency was on full display in this game. The Packers allowed Sam Darnold to put together what is still the best game of his career, piling up a career-high 341 passing yards en route to a career-high 128.4 passer rating. And though he’s since surpassed those totals, Robbie Anderson’s nine catchers and 140 yards receiving were both career highs.
But the special teams were nearly as bad. Andre Roberts returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score and, after the Packers took the lead with a little over a minute to go in regulation, ripped off another big return to set up a game-tying field goal. Ron Zook was bound and determined to Ron Zook one last time.
Fortunately and crucially, the Packers won the overtime coin toss and proceeded to put together one of the least-thrilling 75-yard game-winning drives you could ever draw up. The 12-play drive included numerous exciting moments, including a stretch of three consecutive passes where no yards were gained, two pass interference penalties, an illegal shift penalty on the Packers, and a holding penalty that wiped out a zero-yard run. When Aaron Rodgers finally found Davante Adams for the game-winning touchdown, it felt more like a relief that the game was over than a thrilling win.
It would be the last high point (if you can call it that) of the 2018 Packers season. In Week 17, Aaron Rodgers would leave early with a concussion, leaving Deshone Kizer to preside over the Packers’ 31-0 loss to the Lions, ending their season with a wet thud that perfectly represented the slog the year had become. But hey, they had a comeback win over the New York Jets, and nobody can ever take that away.