Royce Newman, Jon Runyan and Yosh Nijman probably wondered which one of them would get the assignment. Runyan drew the first short straw, staring Aaron Donald in the face on the first Packer offensive play from scrimmage. Donald has all the hype a defender can create in the NFL. “Game changer.” “NFL MVP candidate.” “Unblockable.” You name the defensive football compliment and you can bet it has been thrown Donald’s direction. Makes you wonder how much sleep the first year starters got prior to the game? Donald has a way of creating nightmares for highly regarded NFL. pros and has previously carved up rookies and fill in depth chart replacements. On the first play Donald jumped right past Runyan’s outside shoulder but the run went the other direction. Runyan pushed Donald away from the run, making the Pro Bowler chase from behind. Donald and the Rams would chase the Packers the entire game Sunday but never quite catch the Green Bay in a hard fought, turnover prone, Packer victory.
Newman and company should sleep well tonight. Donald’s stat line ended with three solo tackles and three more combination tackles but no sacks, no tackles for loss and only one QB hit. The vaunted Ram pass rush provided lots of pressure, but the Packer’s game plan of quick passes and just enough rushing plays to keep the Rams honest, combined with three drives starting inside the opponent’s 30 yard line, produced enough points to win. Winning the turnover battle allowed the Packers to overcome Special team gaffs that kept the game close.
The Packers scored first after taking advantage of the Rams first turnover caused by Rashan Gary’s strip sack of Matthew Stafford that was recovered by Preston Smith. The third play of the offense’s following drive was the charm as Rodgers, broken toe and all, scampered around the end, faking Jalen Ramsey then out running him to the pylon. The Rams next drive pivoted on a fourth and one at the Rams 29. The Rams aggressively went for it. A bold move that ended up favoring the Packers. Adrian Amos came up with a huge stop, shooting a small gap and cutting down Darrell Henderson for no gain. That set up the Packers who could not fully capitalize on the gift, settling for a 45 yard field goal by Mason Crosby that creeped dangerously close to the goal post.
Just when Packer fans were beginning to get comfortable with a ten point lead the Rams began the game long theme of highlight film long pass plays. Stafford connected on a 79 yard bomb to Van Jefferson. On the play Chandon Sullivan seemed to trip and fall just before the ball arrived, giving Jefferson an easy jog to the end zone. The Packers responded with a 6 play drive that included a big 54 yard pass and catch by Randall Cobb. The drive stalled at the nine when a pass aimed at Cobb hit the turf with no pass interference call to the dismay of Cobb and Rodgers. Crosby kicked the 28 yard field goal through the uprights for a score of 13-7.
The Packer defense forced a three and out, but Randall Cobb muffed the punt and the Rams recovered at the Green Bay 25. The defense stood tall in what may have been the most critical stop of the game, forcing the Rams to kick a field goal after Odell Beckham dropped a third down pass after being hammered by Rasul Douglas and Adrian Amos. The Packer’s defense came dangerously close to giving up six on first down when Van Jefferson caught a nice ball from Stafford at the end zone, taking advantage of Eric Stokes failure to look for the ball. Jefferson made the catch and the officials signaled touchdown but a booth review showed Jefferson’s second foot was just over the end line out of bounds.
The Packers next possession continued the game’s string of big plays. Rodgers dropped a 43 yard sideline bomb to Davante Adams which was close to perfection. This time the offense would not be denied. Rodgers slung a tight seven yard touchdown pass into Randall Cobb to increase the Packers lead to 20-10.
The Rams refused to lay down, coming back in eight plays to drive 75 yards for a touchdown. Stafford hit Cooper Kupp for 22 yards and later for 19 yards before hitting running back Darrell Henderson for the six yard score.
The Packers had opportunities before the first half ended but failed to score on two possessions. They found the third quarter more to their liking, taking the second half kickoff and keeping the ball for 13 plays and seventy five yards culminating on a five yard catch and run by A.J. Dillon. Dillon had to fight for every one of his 69 rushing yards. He also caught five passes for 21 yards and the third period opening drive touchdown.
The third quarter did not start well for Los Angeles. Their first drive produced two incomplete passes and a rush for no gain. The ensuing punt was downed at the 34 of the Packers but the home team failed to put the game out of reach, returning the ball to the Rams with a punt four plays later. The Rams offense would not take the field due to their punt returner retuning the favor by fumbling during the return. The Packer punt return team finally produced a positive game turning play for the home team, and Mason Crosby increased the Packer lead by three after two incompletions that had targeted Allen Lazard. Lazard had six targets with two catches for 16 yards, dropping a potential touchdown that would have been a highlight catch.
The next series for L.A. produced the Packer defensive highlight of the game. Rasul Douglas drove on a sideline pass from Stafford and got there a step before the receiver. Douglas turned the play into a pick six. The Packers would fail on a two point attempt but were comfortably ahead 36-17. Unfortunately, on the next Ram possession, Douglas would get torched for a 54 yard bomb caught by Odell Beckham that was taken to the house. After a successful two point conversion the score was 36-23. The Packers offense would have the ball four more times including the last kneel down but the closest their offense could get to scoring was a missed 42 yard field goal that Crosby bonked off the uprights. The defense was required to put the game away and they stepped up. The only points they allowed was a field goal after Crosby’s shank. Kenny Clark seemed determined to prove he was the best defensive lineman playing on Lambeau Field Sunday. A sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits to go with six tackles is a stat line better than Donald. He played inspired football and his team seemed to respond when a big play was needed.
The Packers are now 9-3 and happily have a bye week to heal and recharge for the home stretch. In two weeks it will be the Bears in Lambeau for the NBC evening game.