It didn’t fully dawn on me until Monday morning that Green Bay was about to face its greatest challenge in the last three years – that covers nearly 50 games. Forget all of the ups and downs, the ugly wins, the at times suspect offense, and defense, and special teams. Monday night was a chance for this unique team to rectify all wrongs.
The sports pundits didn’t believe in this club. Neither did the betting establishment. But the ones who counted, the players, obviously believed in themselves. From the opening of the game, in an atmosphere of almost manic fervor for the home team, the Packers were undaunted.
When all three of the Packers’ offensive stars committed early turnovers, the team remained undaunted. Who can even recall the last time a Packers’ defense applied such a stranglehold on such a worthy opponent? Someone will have to research how many team records were recorded during the beatdown at U.S. Bank Stadium.
In Week 2 on September 15, the rushing line on Aaron Jones was: 23 carries, 116 rushing yards, a touchdown, and a long run of 15 yards. Once again at this second meeting Jones had 23 carries, but this time he upped the yardage to 154, the touchdowns to a pair, and he turned in the team’s longest run of the year, the 56-yard scoring dagger.
I could reprise at least a dozen “Told You So” quotes from TP, but let me make a point out of this recent one, made just a day before the big game:
“Heavy usage of Aaron Jones was the deciding factor in Green Bay’s narrow 21-16 victory. Will this again be true on Monday night? Put another way, has Matt LaFleur learned anything in the past three months?”
Amid all the joy and celebration, I must inject this one discordant note: our otherwise wonderful head coach STILL has a blind spot concerning Aaron Jones. And so does the TP commenter who rendered this opinion on Sunday:
“I just don’t think Aaron Jones is THAT good, and why I think it would not be a good idea to give him big money.”
But for Jamaal Williams suffering an injury in the second half, it is probable that Williams, not Jones, would have been in there, sharing the load, as the game wound down to under six minutes remaining. Fortuitously, the coach was unable to platoon his running backs, and the ball got handed off to Jones. He headed wide left, then cut inside, and then made an even better cut back to the outside – like an Olympic skier, he made the game-clinching slalom look easy, though it wasn’t.
How many game-deciding Jones highlights will it take, Matt? Aaron has made plays like this countless times during the last seven years, four at UTEP, and three with Green Bay. You can’t execute a game-breaking play from the sidelines. These can happen at any time with Jones, which is why he needs to be on the field as much as possible. Jamaal played another fine game, but he could not have pulled off this beauty.
And by the way, to you Jones-needs-to-be-rested holdouts, did he look tired to you as he left the entire Minnesota defense far behind as he sprinted down that sideline?
How bizarre it was that the Packers’ three offensive stars all coughed the ball up in the early going? And what happy endings they had: Jones was the difference-maker, but Davante Adams also had a career night: 13 catches on 16 throws, for 116 yards. And mainly due to those crisp and well-timed throws, Aaron Rodgers was able to control the ball, keep drives going, and help limit the Vikes to time of possession of just 22:28, versus Green Bay’s 37:32.
Not only was the Minnesota offense thoroughly frustrated, but their defense was utterly fatigued by the time the fourth quarter came around.
This team showed on Monday night that they could overcome a crazed crowd of Norsemen, a formidable home field advantage, a whole country of nay-sayers, and even three early turnovers.
In this year of seemingly endless playoff scenarios, what looked like a long shot just days ago is suddenly a probability: Green Bay appears in line for a number 1 or 2 postseason seeding. And it should be mentioned that this is a team that includes Za’Darius and his happy band of quarterback marauders.
Green Bay saved its grittiest performance for its most critical game of the season. A Lombardi trophy is no longer too big a dream for this group. It was a great team effort, and one that will surely instill these players with a world of confidence heading into the playoffs. Bravo!