As I awoke from my slumber today after a New Year’s Eve celebration, I couldn’t help but think about how great the Green Bay Packers looked in their commanding 33-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Not only did the Packers effectively knock Minnesota out of the playoff race, but their win ensured the Chicago Bears would once again not make a postseason appearance this year. In no particular order, let’s take a look at who closed out 2023 on a high note, and who might want to make better play one of their New Year’s resolutions.
Winner: Jayden Reed
One of the stars of Green Bay’s 2023 season kept it going Sunday night, and he broke a record while doing so. WR Jayden Reed officially surpassed Sterling Sharpe’s record for most receptions by a Packers rookie, making his 56th (and 57th, and 58th, and 59th, and 60th) catch of the year. Reed had a stunning night, amassing 89 yards and 2 TDs on 6 receptions, before exiting the game with a reaggravated chest injury. Will he be healthy enough to close the season out in Chicago, and add to his new record? With a playoff spot on the line next week, he’ll be much needed.
Loser: Samori Toure
Unfortunately, it looks like WR Samori Toure’s time in Green Bay may be dwindling. Toure muffed a punt, giving the Vikings possession within the 10 (and giving us flashbacks of Amari Rodgers), and Minnesota promptly scored. Toure has officially entered “what DOES he do here?” territory. He’s ineffective in the return game. He’s been targeted 18 times this season and has just 8 catches. In a season which has seen Jordan Love spread the ball around to just about everyone, and a season which has not seen a fully-healthy WR room all year, Toure looks to be the odd man out.
Winner: Bo Melton
To no one’s surprise, WR Bo Melton is officially the Packers’ first 100-yard receiver of the year. With the absences of Christian Watson and Dontayvion Wicks, Melton has stepped up the last few weeks, and has pushed Samori Toure to the back of the depth chart. Over the last three games, Melton has 11 catches on 17 targets for 156 yards and a touchdown. He was consistently wide open against Minnesota, a team with sticky defenders. If Reed and Wicks are both unavailable in Week 18 against Chicago, Melton will have another chance to shine. Melton finished the day catching 6 of 9 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Winner: Aaron Jones
I think it’s safe to say that Aaron Jones is back to normal. After missing six total games this season, Jones has played the majority of the last three, and has totaled 334 all-purpose yards. He saw heavy usage against Minnesota and racked up 120 rushing yards for the second straight week. Credit to head coach Matt LaFleur: it seems like he has finally come to terms with the fact that Aaron Jones just works. He was an every-down back last night and had multiple long gains for conversions, giving the offense some much-needed dimension. More, please.
Winner: Zach Tom (and the rest of the offensive line)
Zach Tom did the dang thing last night. He was frequently matched up against Danielle Hunter, who is currently 5th in the league with 15.5 sacks on the year. Tom didn’t allow a single pressure in the first half. He, along with the rest of the offensive line, protected their quarterback with the strength of a thousand cheese wheels, and Jordan Love was not sacked a single time as a result. The offensive line struggled mightily to start the year, but they have been absolutely stellar as of late, and it’s been one of the biggest contributors to this productive young offense.
Winner: Sigh, credit where credit is due
With a rookie Jaren Hall starting at QB for the Vikings, I didn’t expect much offensive production from Minnesota. When you have a generational talent like Justin Jefferson at WR, however, I suppose anything is possible. The Packers’ defense did exactly what they were supposed to do last night, and allowed just 180 total passing yards from Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens. Jefferson was limited to 5 catches on 10 targets for 59 yards, leading all Vikings receivers. When you see a stat line like that, the logical reaction would be to say “Okay, then they gave up a ton of yards on the ground, then?” The Packers allowed just 67 rushing yards. The Vikings were not able to move the ball, at all. If you take away the muffed punt which lead to an immediate Vikings TD (you cannot take it away, unfortunately), the team really only generated 3 points on their own. The most notable performance on defense came from DB Corey Ballentine, who was targeted nine times and allowed just three catches for 33 yards. Exactly the kind of play you want to see after a Jaire Alexander suspension.
Winner: Jordan Love
Is it May yet? QB Jordan Love has officially secured a contract extension, and the Packers know it; they just can’t put pen to paper for a few months. Love had one of his best games as a Packer last night. He made some of the most incredible throws I’ve seen, which is turning into a weekly statement.
Love had a couple overthrows to start the game, but this quickly settled, and he played incredibly smart the rest of the night. We saw a lot of quick throws last night, which allowed the offense to just keep marching down the field. Jordan Love and the Packers had a commanding 37:32 time of possession, and were able to put up 33 points for the second straight week. It could’ve been 40 points had it not been for a Melton drop before the half, but also, if my aunt had tentacles she would be an octopus, so I suppose it doesn’t matter!
Love currently sits at third in the league on the list of passing touchdowns with 30 and has 34 total scores this year, including the below reach which looks like a renaissance painting. With one game left to go, Love has 3,843 passing yards with a 63.1% completion rate. For comparison, here are the last two long-term starters for Green Bay in their first full year:
- Brett Favre: 3,227 passing yards, 18 TDs, 64.1% completion
- Aaron Rodgers: 4,038 passing yards, 28 TDs, 63.6% completion
Pretty good company, eh?
The final game of the regular season will be at Lambeau Field as the Packers face a “win and in” game against the Chicago Bears. Week one saw a commanding 38-20 win in Chicago. Can the team close out the season on the same note, and defy all odds by making the 2023 playoffs with the youngest roster in the NFL?