Packers' surge raises hopes of playoffs in Love's first season
Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur took issue this week when he was asked whether he’s reminding players about the possibility of making a late-season playoff run.
LaFleur said he didn't “want to go Jim Mora on you,” a reference to the sarcastic response by the former Indianapolis Colts coach to a playoff question during a disappointing 2001 season. LaFleur then added “I think we’re a long way from even thinking about that.”
The postseason certainly seemed like a distant possibility after a four-game skid dropped the Packers to 2-5. The Packers seemed to concede as much when they sent veteran cornerback Rasul Douglas to the Buffalo Bills at the trade deadline.
Green Bay (5-6) has won three of four since that slide, and the idea that the Packers could play meaningful games around Christmas suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. A surging offense, a resourceful defense and a favorable late-season schedule have created cause for optimism.
“We’re trying to leave our mark on the division, on the NFC and in the league,” wide receiver Christian Watson said Thursday after the Packers’ 29-22 victory at Detroit. “A lot of people counted us out today, but we’re not listening to the outside now. We’re just going out there playing our brand of football, and just continue to stack these weeks and stack these days.”
The Packers still have lots of work to do, and they face a stern test Dec. 3 when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) visit Lambeau Field for a Sunday night game.
But four of their final five games are against teams with losing records. They visit the New York Giants (3-8), host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) and have a two-game road swing at Carolina (1-9) and Minnesota (6-5) before hosting the Chicago Bears (3-8) to close the regular season.
Jordan Love has sparked the Packers’ surge by throwing for 590 yards and five touchdowns without an interception over his last two games. The Packers also showcased their depth Thursday by beating the NFC North-leading Lions without running back Aaron Jones, cornerback Jaire Alexander, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and safeties Rudy Ford and Darnell Savage, among others.
“We’re taking it week by week right now,” Love said. “We need a win every week is the mindset we have.”
An offense that failed to score a first-half touchdown in five straight games earlier this season scored touchdowns on its first two drives. ... The Packers have produced five takeaways without committing a turnover during this two-game win streak. ... After allowing five sacks in a 34-20 loss to the Lions at Lambeau on Sept. 28, the Packers didn’t give up a single sack in Thursday’s rematch. ... Green Bay’s defense caused the Lions to go 1 of 5 on fourth-down attempts.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The Packers gave up 140 yards rushing, though that actually represents an improvement from the 211 they gave up in the first Lions game.
Rashan Gary matched a career high with three sacks in his first game at Ford Field since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament there last year. ... S Jonathan Owens scored on a 27-yard fumble return and had 12 tackles, matching the second-highest total of his career. ... Love has completed over two-thirds of his passes in three of his last four games. ... WR Malik Heath, a rookie undrafted free agent with one career catch before Thursday, had four receptions for 46 yards. ... RT Zach Tom continued his breakthrough season while helping protect Love. ... Watson had a season-high 94 yards receiving and scored a touchdown for a second straight game.
K Anders Carlson has missed an extra-point attempt in his last three games. He had one blocked in a 23-19 loss at Pittsburgh, sent one wide right in a 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and pushed one wide left Thursday.
DL Devonte Wyatt left the game to get evaluated for a concussion. The list of Packers inactive for the game included Jones (knee), Alexander (shoulder), Campbell (neck), Ford (biceps), TE Josiah Deguara (hip) and WR Dontayvion Wicks (concussion/knee). TE Luke Musgrave (abdomen) and RB Emanuel Wilson (shoulder) were placed on injured reserve the day before the game.
3-2: Gary collected three sacks and forced two fumbles Thursday. It was the first time a Packer had compiled three sacks and forced two fumbles in the same game since Aaron Kampman did it in 2006.
With so many players recovering from injury, the Packers should benefit from the extra recovery time they have before their game with the Chiefs.
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