1. Not just making plays – making plays when it matters
Of course, the obvious play here is the Rodgers to Rodgers hail Mary pass to win the game and that was the most important example of making plays when it mattered but there’s more. Rodgers was a tight end threat for much of this game and that bodes well for the offense as a whole. Rodgers made plays when it mattered, picking up first downs and racking up 8 catches for 146 yards and, of course, that game winning touchdown.
A lot has been written about how the wide receivers have had difficulty getting separation. It bodes well for the receiver corps moving forward that the Packers started throwing to the tight end with success. If Richard Rodgers continues to make plays when it matters, he will start to get attention (teams are taking note of him now…no?) and that may open opportunities for receivers to start to make those critical plays. Jared Abbrederis has showed flashes of being sure-handed and if Ty Montgomery can get healthy, he may yet have a part to play in this offense. Jeff Janis has yet to show himself to be more than a place holder but one has to think that Randall Cobb and James Jones will take advantage of opportunities as defenses have to respect the Packers’ tight end(s). Then the question will be…will they, like Richard Rodgers, make those plays when it matters.
Also, the Packers sent a message to the running backs last week, releasing Alonso Harris, activating John Crockett, demoting Eddie Lacy, and working out former Badgers star Montee Ball. If any running back on this team thinks they are more important than the team and the rules that make that team successful, that string of moves should remind them otherwise. The Packers offense starts up front with the offensive line and highlights the passing game. While the team has more success when the running game is efficient, that doesn’t necessarily require Eddie Lacy. James Starks has plugged in and been successful at times and against Detroit, John Crockett made plays when it mattered and likely earned himself more opportunities. Eddie Lacy will need to regain his focus if he wants to remain a Packer at this point. The Packers are serious about December football and Lacy needs to get the memo.
I really liked what I saw from John Crockett. He is niftier than Starks and looked decisive. Of course, he had the gaff with the handoff exchange so we will see how he does moving forward but if the offensive line can get healthy, I think Crockett can be successful if he is needed.
2. Not just playing hurt – playing well when hurt
At this point in the season…everyone is hurt. The Packers’ O-line tattered and when David Bakhtiari left the game…they were torn. Aaron Rodgers was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and everybody knew it. But this highlights two players in the Detroit game that didn’t just play hurt, they played well hurt. Bakhtiari came back in the game and helped hold the makeshift line together down the stretch, knowing that the odds were stacked against it being enough to get the “W”. Aaron was battered in this game and yet pulled off a throw that few if any quarterbacks in this league could have made with that kind of height on it. Rodgers could replace Mastay in the next game and the punt placement would be much more accurate.
Randall Cobb, with 4 catches for 29 yards, seemed to come back in this game. This could be because he is finally getting healthy but we know his shoulder has been hurt. If Randall comes back to form, this offense could be transformed quickly.
With a little extra time off to recover, this banged up team will hopefully come back healthier (especially on the O-line) than they were against the Lions. But the ability to play well when hurt (credit Larry McCarren) will be important if the Packers hope to win the North and perhaps make a deep playoff run. Rodgers and Cobb and Bakhtiari are acting like leaders in this regard.
3. Not just believing – believing when the chips are down
One thing the Packers refused to do in this game is quit. That starts with a defense that was constantly put back on the field with minimal rest and forced to perform well enough to give the sputtering offense yet another chance. Clay Matthews was active, the defensive backfield performed admirably (while certainly not perfectly) under the pressure. And Julius Peppers got one of his signature strips for a fumble in this game. Last season, the defense came on at the right time and this game proved that the defense doesn’t have any quit in them. It was nice for their belief to be rewarded for a change.
With changes at the running back position, more than half of the O-line out, and down 0-20, the Packers offense could easily have just ridden out the storm in hopes of coming back healthy. They didn’t do that. Vince Lombardi, while much of the game would have been shouting “What the Hell’s goin’ on out there!”, would have been proud that the team didn’t quit. And that refusal to quit is what brought home the victory.
So the Packers flashed some of the necessary characteristics moving forward, some players made big plays when it mattered…some played well hurt, and none gave up hope. That combination brought home a win for the Packers at a critical time in the season and started off a week 13 in which all of the Division opponents lost on their respective home fields. The Packers have anything but a cakewalk to close out the season, but with the Dallas Cowboys coming up, they may find an opportunity to continue to build off the good things that happened in the Lions game, correct the bad, and get in sync.