Running game and defense. If an NFL team can succeed in those areas in December, they’re likely to win games, and that was true for the Green Bay Packers on Monday night. Facing a Los Angeles Rams team that was missing numerous key players, the Packers’ defense allowed just 156 yards on a frigid evening at Lambeau Field. The team also got three touchdowns from its running backs, with two from AJ Dillon and one from Aaron Jones, as Green Bay rolled up 137 yards on the ground against the Rams’ defense.
All of that equated to a 24-12 victory for the Packers, who need to rip off wins in each of the last four weeks of the NFL season to have any realistic shot at the postseason. They got the first of those in this game before facing a tough slate of games at Miami and at home against the Vikings and Lions to close out the season, but they improved their postseason odds to about 8 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
Green Bay’s defensive performance did not come without its warts, of course. The unit allowed multiple conversions on third-and-long opportunities in the first half, but it came up with a few timely sacks throughout the game, setting a season-high with five as a team, and forced a turnover to even up the takeaway battle in the game. The yardage mark was also the best of the season for the defense by far, as the team allowed 100 yards to Cam Akers and no more than 32 yards to any other player on the Los Angeles offense.
In the first game with both Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs active since Watson’s breakout five weeks ago, the two players combined for nine catches and 101 yards, but it was the running backs, Dillon and Jones, who were the stars on this day. Jones totaled 126 yards of total offense while Dillon put up 71 as the tandem accounted for about two-thirds of the offense’s overall production.
An honorable mention must go out to Keisean Nixon as well, as the explosive return man continued in his impressive second half. He gained 36 yards on just two punt returns and had a 52-yard kickoff return, nearly adding another 50-yarder that was instead erased by a penalty. His play and that of the defense allowed the Packers to start inside their own 25 just twice all game compared to having three series that started on the Rams’ side of the 50.
In all, it was the stretch in the middle of the game, the second and third quarters, that sealed the game for the Packers. They scored touchdowns on three of four drives in those two periods to pull away from the Rams and provide a lead far too large for an outmatched Los Angeles offense to overcome.
Green Bay now sets its sights on South Beach, as they will head to Miami for a date with the Dolphins on Christmas Day.
The Packers forced a punt on the Rams’ first possession, but not before allowing a conversion of 17 yards on an early 3rd-and-15. However, a Preston Smith sack three plays later brought out Los Angeles’ punt team. Green Bay put up three points on their first offensive series, with a couple of first downs for Romeo Doubs in his first action back from a high ankle sprain. Aaron Jones carried the ball four times for 27 yards on the series as the Packers’ offensive line fired off against the Rams’ shorthanded front, but Aaron Rodgers and company settled for a field goal after a third-down sack from Leonard Floyd. That brought on Mason Crosby for a 34-yard field goal to give Green Bay an early lead.
The Packers defense forced a three-and-out on the Rams’ next drive, with two big plays from JJ Enagbare. He brought Mayfield down for a sack on 2nd-and-5, then broke up a screen pass to Tyler Higbee on third down, nearly intercepting Mayfield. A short punt from Riley Dixon then set up Rodgers with good field position at their own 44.
Rodgers would give the Rams the ball back a few plays later on a miscommunication with Allen Lazard. Off play-action, Lazard came all the way across the field and sat wide open for an intermediate throw up the sideline. Rodgers threw it deep, however, appearing to expect Lazard to continue at full sprint up the sideline. The pass sailed well over the receiver’s head and into the waiting arms of safety Taylor Rapp, who caught it for the game’s first turnover and returned it up to the Rams’ 30.
Cam Akers was the key player on the Rams’ ensuing drive, picking up a few first downs and drawing a late hit penalty on safety Rudy Ford. Adrian Amos’ best play of the season came as he took down Van Jefferson for a loss on a jet sweep on the next play, helping set up a 3rd-and-7 on which Quay Walker knocked down Mayfield’s pass to force a field goal. Matt Gay’s kick tied the game at 3 early in the second quarter.
Rodgers found Randall Cobb for a gain of 12 on 3rd-and-3 then hit AJ Dillon for an 18-yard gain, Dillon’s longest reception of the year to that point. He found Cobb for another 14-yard gain on the next play. Cobb made his third catch on the drive on another third down, but he could not get to the line to gain, setting up a 4th-and-3 at the 17. Dillon picked up four yards to move the chains, giving Green Bay just their 7th 4th-down conversion in 22 attempts on the year. He kept it on the ground with two more carries, picking up 5 and 8 yards, dragging defenders into the end zone on the last of those runs. The score was Dillon’s fourth of the year and third in three games and gave Green Bay a 10-3 lead.
After reaching Packers territory after a few plays, the Rams took a sack, as Quay Walker came around the edge and stripped the football from Mayfield. That set up a 3rd-and-long but the Rams converted again, with Mayfield hitting a wide-open Van Jefferson in front of the Packers’ soft zone coverage. Two incompletions to Tutu Atwell set up a 3rd-and-10, but the Packers finally got a stop with pressure forcing an incompletion.
Matt Gay did something that only two other kickers had ever converted, hitting a field goal from more than 50 yards out in a Lambeau Field game with kickoff temperatures below 25 degrees. Gay hit from 55 to close the Packers’ lead down to 4, joining Greg Joseph of the Minnesota Vikings and Crosby in an exclusive club.
The Packers had one timeout and 46 seconds left when they received the ensuing kickoff. Keisean Nixon appeared to have a huge return into Rams territory, but a questionable holding call on Jonathan Garvin brought it back to the 13-yard line. A first-down run for a few yards led to a big gain for Aaron Jones on a screen pass, getting Green Bay to the 44-yard line with seven seconds left. Rodgers ran around trying for a Hail Mary before the end of the half, but eventually had to eat the football to avoid a turnover.
Coming out of the break, the Packers took a sack but got helped out by a holding call on the Rams’ defense, then Rodgers hit Doubs and Christian Watson for back-to-back 10-yard gains for first downs. Dillon then picked up a nice gain of 17 on a reception up the left sideline before Watson hauled in a tremendous catch over the middle for another 15 yards. It appeared that the Rams would get a stop in the red zone once again, with Rodgers scrambling and throwing incomplete to Cobb in the end zone on 3rd-and-6, but Jalen Ramsey was flagged for illegal contact to give the Packers a new set of downs. A Dillon run on first down took the football down to just inside the two-yard line, then he plunged into the end zone one play later for his second score of the night. That stretched the Packers’ lead out to two possessions for the first time in the game, expanding it to 17-6.
Quay Walker set up the Rams in a bad spot to start the next series, knifing through the line to tackle Cam Akers for a loss of two yards on first down. A hold on a second-down run set them even farther back and a short pass did little on third-and-long as the Rams punted away. Keisean Nixon returned the punt for 17 yards to midfield, then the Packers got an extra 15 yards on a facemask penalty to start with exceptional field position at the Rams’ 35.
Aaron Jones ran for 9 yards. Jones ran for one yard and a first down. Jones ran again for three yards. Then Rodgers scrambled and hit Marcedes Lewis over the middle for 14 yards. But after an incomplete pass, Rodgers found Aaron Jones on a swing pass to the left and he did the rest, plunging into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown reception to extend the lead to 24-6. Watson laid a tremendous block on the edge to seal the cornerback on the edge, then helped Jones cut back inside for the score:
The Rams finally answered back with a score, finding the end zone for the first time in the game. Cam Akers was the key on the drive, picking up gains of 18 yards through the air and 19 on the ground. Combined with a penalty to Jaire Alexander for a low block, the Rams went 70 yards in just six plays, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown from Mayfield to Tyler Higbee. Matt Gay’s extra point was wide right, however, keeping their score half of the Packers’ at 24-12.
Right on cue, Keisean Nixon delivered a huge kickoff return to flip the momentum back in Green Bay’s favor. He gave the Packers great field position once again, starting their next drive in Rams territory after a 52-yard return. After a quick loss of four yards, Watson drew a pass interference penalty on Troy Hill, giving Green Bay the football at the Rams’ 35. The offense drew a blank on that series, however, with a pass to Randall Cobb being called incomplete (despite him clearly catching it, fumbling it, and having it recovered by teammate Zach Tom) and Rodgers getting sacked on third down to bring on the punt team for the first time in the game.
Devonte Wyatt made his impact felt on back-to-back plays to start the Rams’ next drive. Wyatt stuffed Akers for no gain on first down, then combined with Justin Hollins on a sack on second down. On third down, Mayfield chucked the ball up under duress and right into Rasul Douglas’ hands, and the cornerback pulled it in for the Packers’ first turnover. On the return, he made an ill-advised lateral, but Adrian Amos fell on the football to keep possession for Green Bay.
With AJ Dillon headed to the locker room for a concussion evaluation, Jones coughed up the football on the second play of the drive, however, with Jalen Ramsey forcing and recovering the football, leaving the Packers scoreless on a second straight drive that started in Rams territory. Nothing came of that, though, even after a 40-yard pass interference penalty on Adrian Amos, as Preston Smith sacked Mayfield and the Packers forced a punt.
Each of the two prominent rookie receivers had big plays on the Packers’ next series as they looked to bleed out some clock and put the game away. Doubs had a big gain for 23, then Rodgers hit Watson on a leak play on third-and-short for a 13-yard gain. Aaron Jones the took a pitch for 14 yards to down inside the 15. Watson didn’t read a signal from Rodgers on 3rd-and-2 from the 5, but Jones picked up a first down at the 1-yard line on 4th down. That gave the Packers the downs to kneel out the clock, keeping the score 24-12 as the team ate up the last 8:51 of the fourth quarter on its final drive.
Rodgers finished the game 22-for-30 passing for 229 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Jones picked up 90 yards on 17 carries, adding 36 yards and a score through the air on four receptions. Dillon, his running mate, went 11-for-36 and two touchdowns on the ground, adding three catches and 35 yards. On the receiving side, Doubs’ return saw him lead the Packers in catches (five) and yards (55), while Watson picked up 46 yards on four receptions of his own.
Green Bay, now 6-8 on the season, head to Miami on a slightly short week, playing on Christmas Day against the Dolphins. After falling to 4-10, the Rams likewise will play next Sunday when they host the Denver Broncos in the afternoon game of a Sunday tripleheader.