Green Bay – It all came down to the final play as the snow swilled around historic Lambeau Field.
With four second left, the Packers led the Panthers, 24-16. Carolina was knocking at the goal line door with time for one play.
Quarterback Kyle Allen handed the ball off to all-world back Christian McCaffrey, just as the Green Bay defensive front got set in their alignment.
Linebacker Kyler Fackrell hit McCaffrey in the backfield and OLB Preston Smith finished him off, as a Panther lineman was trying to pull his teammate over the goal line. Instant replay confirmed McCaffrey was stopped short and the Green Bay bench stormed the field as a sell out crowd celebrated the Packers’ eighth victory of the season.
Green Bay, 8-2, leads the NFC North by a single game over the 7-3 Minnesota Vikings, who kept pace with a goal line stand of their own Sunday night at Dallas to defeat the Cowboys, 28-24.
The Packers players can now enjoy their bye week on a high note, in stark contrast to their dismal performance a week earlier in Los Angeles. And this will be a defensive stand that will go down in Packers lore.
“That’s why we’re here, to make plays like that,” said Preston Smith at his usual post-game locker room press conference with fellow linebacker Za’Darius Smith.
That final tackle by Preston Smith culminated a stellar performance in which he recorded six total tackles, four quarterback hits, and two sacks—which gave him a career season of high of 10 in just 10 games. In his press conference, he promised to buy all his defensive teammates a Rolex watch.
Aaron Jones and the running game were an afterthought in the 26-11 loss to the Chargers, but a major focus in the snow at Lambeau Field Sunday.
Jones responded with 13 carries for 93 yards—a 7.2 yard per carry average—and all three Green Bay touchdowns. Jones scored on runs from 5 and 1 yards in the first half and on a slashing 13-yarder through the heart of the Panthers defense in the third quarter for a 21-10 cushion. On a day the Packers and NFL honored veterans, Jones dedicated the game to his parents, both U.S. Army veterans.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers also lobbied for his teammate to be included in league MVP conversations.
“We all know that Christian is a very talented player and he’s been mentioned in the MVP race,” said Rodgers, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 233 yards (no TDs or INTs) and a 84.4 quarterback rating. “So maybe it’s time to start talking about Aaron Jones.”
Green Bay rushed for 163 total yards on a talented Caroline defense, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Jamaal Williams added 63 yards in 13 carries and Rodgers rushed once for seven yards. Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams, playing in his second game since coming back from a painful turf toe injury, caught seven passes for 118 yards.
“This was a tough four-quarter battle—we knew it would be,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “We won the turnover battle 2-0 and then we talked about out-rushing our opponent. We got both of those done tonight so it was a lot of credit to our guys.”
Both teams scored on their second possessions of the game. After a short 36-yard punt by JK Scott, Allen took full advantage and directed the Panthers on a five-play 53-yard drive that he capped with a 2-yard scoring pass to Curtis Samuel.
The Packers responded immediately with a 75-yard scoring drive of their own.
A 20-yard pass interference penalty on Carolina jump-started the drive, and Rodgers hit three passes of 11, 19, and 15 yards as Green Bay marched to the Panthers 5. Jones blasted up the middle to tie the game at 7 with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
Carolina took a 10-7 lead on the first play of the second stanza on Joey Slye’s 50-yard field goal.
After a Green Bay punt, the Packers defense created a turnover, with defensive lineman Montravius Adams recovering Allen’s fumble at the Green Bay 48-yard line. Six plays later, Jones wiggled his way into the end zone from a yard out for a 14-10 Packers lead.
The Packers added to their lead before halftime, courtesy of a roughing the passer penalty of Rodgers in the end zone after a third down incompletion. Rodgers took full advantage, hitting tight end Jimmy Graham with a 48-yard pass down the middle that highlighted a 12-play 90-yard touchdown drive. Graham caught an apparent 7-yard touchdown pass with 8 seconds mark as he did not get his second foot down in bounds.
The Panthers defense then came up with a huge goal line stand, stuffing Jamaal Williams on the final play of the half to deny the Packers points before halftime. Defensive end Gerald McCoy beat Bakhtiari to bury Williams for a 2-yard loss as time expired.
Green Bay was unfazed, taking the second half kickoff in a light snowfall and using Rodgers38-yard pass to Adams and Jones’ 27-yard run to highlight a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
Jones’ burst up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown run for a 21-10 cushion at the 11:50 mark of the third quarter.
Allen directed the Panthers down to the Green Bay 11, but then forced a throw on the run to Jarius Wright in the back of the end zone, but safety Adrian Amos tipped the ball and cornerback Tramon Williams intercepted the ball.
Again, Green Bay capitalized on the turnover with Mason Crosby’s 47-yard field goal capping an 11-play drive that increased the lead to 24-10 with 1:21 left in the third quarter.
Carolina answered with a 10-play, 82-yard drive in just 4:23 that McCaffrey finished with a 3-yard touchdown run. The Panthers went for two and Amos knocked down the pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen.
After an exchange of punts, the Green Bay defense stifled a drive with Preston Smith sacking Allen for an 11-yard loss on 3rd-and-8 from their own 22.
This one came down to the final possession.
The Carolina defense forced a Green Bay punt and they started a final drive at their 8 yard line with 2:25 left, but McCaffrey was stopped just short of the goal line with 4 seconds left by Preston Smith to preserve the victory.