Green Bay – This time a different Aaron carried the load for Green Bay in a hard-fought 24-16 victory at Lambeau Field Saturday night.
The victory, coupled with the Kansas City Chiefs handing Drew Bees and the Saints a loss on Sunday, gives the Packers at one-game lead in the NFC race for the No. 1 seed.
Green Bay now firmly controls its own destiny. With wins in its last two games versus Tennessee and Chicago, the Packers will receive the only playoff bye in the conference and host the divisional and NFC championship games if they advance.
“We’re 11-3. . .” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Definitely a stinker for the offense. . . We just know that type of football in the second half is not going to get it done in the playoffs, where we’re going.”
With Rodgers and the offense cooling off after a hot start, Aaron Jones rushed a season-high 20 times for 145 yards, including 114 in the first half with an 8-yard touchdown that staked the Packers to a 21-3 halftime cushion.
His spectacular 7.3 yard average per rush was aided by a 46-yard burst up the A gap on Green Bay’s first offensive series, where he was surprisingly caught from behind. Jones also caught three passes for 13 yards.
A huge turning point in the game came when Teddy Bridgewater tried to sneak and leap over the goal line with Carolina training 14-3 in the second quarter. Linebacker Krys Barnes knocked the ball loose from Bridgewater’s outstretched arms and cornerback Kevin King picked up the ball and raced 48 yards to set up the offense and Jones for their final touchdown of the game.
The Packers offense was anemic in the second half as the Panthers defense dominated.
DJ Moore ravaged the Green Bay secondary with chunk plays of 37 and 40 yards and finished with six receptions for 131 yards. That’s an impressive 21.8 yard per catch average. “I thought we were running the ball really effective,“ head coach Matt LaFleur said.
“Probably got away from the run a little bit too much, especially early on in the second half, the third quarter. Probably should have just stuck with it.”
Safety Adrian Amos has settled nicely into his role in Mike Pettine’s defense in his second season. Saturday night Amos continued his solid and consistent play with seven total tackles, one sack of a scrambling Teddy Bridgewater for zero yards, one quarterback hit, and a career-high three passes defended. He broke up passes intended for tight end Ian Thomas and wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson.
Veteran kicker Mason Crosby tallied the Packers only points of the second half and they were big ones late in the fourth quarter.
Crosby is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goals attempts this season. Last week, he blasted a career-long 57-yarder indoors at Ford Field late in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory over the Lions.
Almost equally impressive was his clutch 51-yard field goal in the elements at Lambeau Field to give Green Bay an 11-point cushion at 24-13 cushion with 3:39 remaining. That kick would have been good from 55 yards or more.
“Obviously anytime you win in this league, you’re always happy about that,” LaFleur said. “But certainly there’s a lot of stuff to improve upon.”