GREEN BAY, Wis. — A week after their no-show on the West Coast, the Green Bay Packers outlasted the Carolina Panthers back in their chilly, snowy confines of the Midwest.
If their loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was a wake-up call seven days earlier, the Packers appeared plenty inspired Sunday. They took charge in the second half and survived a last-ditch Carolina drive, stopping Christian McCaffrey at the goal line on the game’s final play to beat the Panthers 24-16.
The Packers won behind a solid run game and a defense that gave up yards but kept the Panthers in check in the clutch.
With the win, the Packers enter their Week 11 bye at 8-2 in their first season under Matt LaFleur. The victory, combined with the New Orleans Saints’ stunning home loss to the Atlanta Falcons, also leapfrogged the Packers into the NFC’s second seed.
After their bye, they will travel to the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers for a Nov. 24 showdown.
Here are five observations:
Two is better than one
McCaffrey, one of the NFL’s top running backs, did his thing against the Packers’ defense, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown. Nobody has stopped him this season, and the Packers did not. Still, the Packers had something the Panthers didn’t: two playmakers in their backfield. The Packers rode Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams alternatively, both taking their turns in the lead role and combining for 156 rush yards (Jones had 93 yards and three TDs while Williams ran for 63).
Historic day for Jones
Jones’ day was one for the record books. He had three rushing touchdowns, his second game with at least three this season, following his four-touchdown game at Dallas last month. It was the first time a Packers player has had two games with at least three rushing touchdowns in a season since Jim Taylor had three such games in 1962. Jones’ three rushing touchdowns gave him 11 on the year and 14 total. Both tie McCaffrey for the NFL lead.
During the week, Aaron Rodgers said he wanted to get Davante Adams involved – he’s a difference maker, after all – but the offense needed to stick with what worked. That’s their running back duo in general, and the run game specifically. That’s a tricky balance – something they failed at against the Chargers – but the Packers deftly handled it Sunday. Adams was indeed a difference maker, gaining 118 yards on his seven catches. It was his third 100-yard game of the season, and his first since returning from his turf-toe injury that cost him a month. That Adams was only targeted 10 times seemed like the proper mix. He made big plays against the Panthers, but the run game took center stage.
When the Packers signed free agent Preston Smith, they added a pass rusher who’d never had more than eight sacks in a season. Sacks aren’t everything, but they’re awfully important, and Smith’s lack of sacks in his first four seasons were a bit startling for a second-round pick. Smith has completely rewritten his track record this fall. He had two sacks Sunday. The first set his single-season career high. The second was his 10th of the season. Smith has played at a Pro Bowl level this season, giving the Packers everything they hoped for.
Big moment for Matt LaFleur
In terms of messaging, LaFleur might not have faced a bigger moment so far in his tenure as the Packers head coach than Sunday’s final play of the first half. After a defensive penalty, the Packers had the ball at the Panthers’ 1-yard line. There were two seconds left, enough time for only one play. They were up 14-10. They were also getting possession to start the third quarter, which was significant. Still, the safe call is to take the chip-shot field goal, going up a full touchdown. But what would that be telling his offense, that he didn’t trust it to get a yard? Instead, LaFleur eschewed the three points and went for it. The play was blown up when Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy burst through the Packers’ offensive line, dropping Williams in the back field. Still, those three points the Packers left on the board were perhaps less important than the message from the head coach.