It was a thrilling finish in Charlotte as the Green Bay Packers narrowly defeated the Carolina Panthers 33-30 on Christmas Eve. Thrilling isn’t exactly good news for fans of the Packers. The offense had their highest-scoring game since Week 1, while the defense allowed the Panthers to have their highest-scoring game all year. Who were the stars and duds of this week’s matchup?
Winner: Aaron Jones
The recipe for a successful run game calls for one (1) Aaron Jones. The Packers entered today’s game missing WRs Christian Watson and Jayden Reed, and TE Luke Musgrave. They also ended up losing WR Dontayvion Wicks with a chest injury after his TD-catch to close out the first half. When you’re missing most of your best pass catchers, the run game better make an appearance. Last week, we saw heavy usage of Jones to give the Packers a hot start during their first drive, but they failed to match that usage for the rest of the game. This week, we saw another Jones-heavy drive to begin the game. This time, however, it didn’t stop there! Jones finished the day with 21 carries for 127 yards, as well as a catch for 8 yards. His longest rush of the day was a 39-yarder during the Packers’ second drive of the game, which put the Packers in scoring position in a short amount of time. His 127 rushing yards are the most for a Packer all season by a considerable margin (AJ Dillon had 76 yards in Week 5’s game against the Raiders). This Packers offense is just better with Aaron Jones in it, period.
Winner: Tucker Kraft
Aaron Jones, winner. Tucker Kraft, winner. Am I just writing last week’s article all over again? The Packers’ rookie TE once again showed us exactly why the Packers drafted him to pair with fellow-rookie Luke Musgrave. Kraft puts 100% effort into trying to extend every single play, which includes attempting to hurdle over grown men, even if it means his nether-regions take the brunt of the hit. With many of the team’s pass catchers battling some pretty nasty injuries this season, Kraft has brought a much-needed level of excitement to this offense. He finished the day with 4 catches for 60 yards. His final catch of the day looked like it ended with a stinger to his arm or shoulder, so let’s hope Kraft is full-strength for next Sunday’s game.
Winner: Romeo Doubs
With Christian Watson still healing from a nagging hamstring injury, the Packers’ other second-year receiver has quickly become “the” veteran of the group. He’s been reliable enough that he’s Jordan Love’s most-targeted receiver this year, and he’s been able to make some of the most difficult catches we’ve seen from anyone on the team. His strong hands came in handy today, catching four of five targets for a team-high 79 yards and a touchdown. Doubs’ sideline catch today was one of the most important moments of the game for the Packers, leading to their game-winning FG to close things out.
Winner: Jordan Love
We didn’t see any outrageous stat lines today from Jordan Love, but that’s why you watch the entire game, and not just the box score. I think we saw a lot of growth from Love in the decision-making department, which minimized the offense’s chance of turning the ball over, and allowed the team to score quickly and efficiently. During the play which saw Love throw a touchdown to Dontayvion Wicks, he had enough space to (probably) run for a first down. Instead, he saw the window and trusted his receiver. Result = success.
Love also once again gave us a Rodgers-esque beauty of a throw today, this time to WR Bo Melton. This one was pretty. Real pretty.
Loser: You know. I don’t have to say it.
Bryce Young is not a good quarterback. This year’s No. 1 overall pick has broken 200-yards passing just four times all season. He’s had one game of multiple TD passes. Today? He threw for 312 yards and two TDs for a 113.0 rating, because Joe Barry and the defense love to let mediocre quarterbacks have career days. The Panthers’ highest scoring game this season came when they put up 27 points against the Seahawks. Today, they scored 30 points. This game should’ve been a walk in the park for the Packers, even with a depleted set of weapons on offense. The offense did their job, and the defense simply did not. They continually allowed big plays from Bryce Young and his receivers, and the Panthers had possession for 31:21 today, compared to the Packers’ 28:39. There is zero excuse for the level of play which we saw on the defensive side of the ball today, against a team putting up just 14.7 ppg this season. This game never should’ve been so close.
This is no longer just a Joe Barry problem, this is a Matt LaFleur problem. During LaFleur’s postgame presser, he was asked if he feels any better about the defense than he did last week. His response? “It wasn’t just on the defense. Offensively, you’ve got to give them a breather.”
That’s right. The offense, who put up their second-most points all season, has to stay on the field longer. The longer LaFleur continues to retain Barry, and the longer he refuses to publicly hold the defense accountable, the more his ability to lead comes into question. Do I foresee a Christmas-week firing of one of Matt LaFleur’s personal friends? No. Do I expect a change after this season ends, regardless of a possible playoff berth? Yes. It’s apparent what the Packers’ biggest weakness is, and if LaFleur wants to keep his job, he needs to do the right thing.
Coming into today, the Packers needed to win the rest of their games to have an even remotely favorable shot to make the playoffs. Task number one is complete (barely), and the team will face off against the Minnesota Vikings for task number two on Sunday Night Football next week.