The game started out as a blowout in the making.
The Green Bay offense, beneficiaries of two short field of 50 and 57 yards thanks to the defense and punt return unit, bolted out to a 14-0 lead after one quarter of play against the 3-9 Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field yesterday.
But Aaron Rodgers and the offense could not put away a feisty Redskins team on a picture-perfect sunny December afternoon, prevailing with a hard-fought 20-15 victory.
Style points don’t matter in the NFL, only W’s do —especially in December.
Green Bay sits atop the NFC North Division with a 10-3 record and is the NFC’s #2 seed at the present time. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“We’ll never apologize for winning,” said head coach Matt LaFleur, who made some franchise history himself with the victory.
LaFleur became the first Green Bay head coach to win 10 or more games in his first season with the team. He surpassed the previous mark of nine victories shared by Mike Sherman in 2000 and Mike Holmgren in 1992.
“We’re always going to feel great about winning. But you always want to go out there and put your best performance out there. You know, I think there was more out there today for us.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw of 195 yards and a touchdown, echoed those sentiments.
“It was frustrating at times, just not being able to kind of get over that hump and put them away,” Rodgers said. “But they have a stout front, good linebackers, and we ran the ball pretty well. We just couldn’t find that rhythm in the passing game. But if feels good to be 10-3. . . I wouldn’t mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl.”
Running back Aaron Jones was at his dual-threat best Sunday, accounting for 192 total yards and leading the team in rushing and receiving. He slashed through the Redskins’ defense 16 times for a game-high 134 yards and a touchdown and had a game-high 58 yards receiving on six catches.
Safety Adrian Amos was signed to solidify the back end of defense and the ex-Chicago Bear had a monster game. He registered a sack, interception, two pass defended, and was Green Bay’ second-leading tackler with seven total tackles. Linebacker Blake Martinez led the team with 10 total tackles.
Newcomer Tyler Ervin was a difference-maker. Erwin, signed to the roster Monday to bolster Green Bay’s anemic punt return game, returned four punts for 51 yards (12.8 yard average). He had returns of 10 and 18 yards to set up shorter fields for the Packers offense on their two first-quarter touchdown drives of 50 and 57 yards.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Ervin was quick to credit the blocking of his special teams unit afterward in the victorious Packers locker room.
“I think they did an amazing job,” Ervin said. “From the week of practice that we had I think that we just really focused in on what we need to do and we just came out and executed. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to give the ball back to the offense in plus field position, so any chance I get to do that I’m pretty happy.”
The Packers were dialed at the start, as Kenny Clark and Da’Zarius Smith sacked rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. on third down of the first series to force a punt.
Ervin set up the Packers offense at the 50-yard with a 10-yard return. Seven plays later, Jones scored his 12th rushing touchdown of the season from four yards out for a 7-0 Green Bay lead.
After a three-and-out and another Washington punt, Erwin showed his explosiveness with a 18-yard return to the Packers 43-yard line to again provide favorable field position for the Green Bay offense.
Rodgers, intent on incorporating tight ends into the offense, opened the drive with a 25-yard pass to Jimmy Graham. Three rushes by Jones took the ball to the 12 and Rodgers then hit tight end Robert Tonyan in the end zone for a 14-0 cushion in the final minute of the first quarter.
The sputtering Washington offense finally got untracked late in the second quarter with an 11-play 95-yard drive. Guice and Peterson gashed the Packers defense with runs of 7, 7, 4, 11, and 13 up the middle and Darrius Guice’s 23-yard down the right sideline. Adrian Peterson capped the march with a 2-yard scoring run to cut their deficit in half.
Green Bay squandered a chance to add to their lead in the final minute of the half as Rodgers was strip sacked by Ryan Anderson, who also recovered the football at the Washington 40.
Amos ended the ensuing Redskins’ drive by intercepted Haskins with eight seconds remaining in the half.
Green Bay opened the second half with a 60-yard drive that stalled at the Redskins’ 15 and had to settle for a 32-yard Mason Crosby field goal for a 17-7 lead at the 10:08 mark. With just 11 seconds remaining in the quarter, Dustin Hopkins blasted a 52-yard field goal to make it a one-score game at 17-9 after a 12-play, 46-yard drive.
The Packers iced the game with a 14-play, 74-yard drive that consumed 7:29 of the fourth-quarter clock. It was capped by Crosby’s 33-yard field goal for a 20-9 lead.
Again, Washington battled back and the sell-out crowd (349th regular season in a row at Lambeau Field) was getting nervous.
Haskins led the Redskins on a 8-play, 75-yard drive and finished it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin to make it 20-15 after the 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Washington’s on-side kick attempt was covered by Davante Adams and Rodgers knelt down twice in victory formation to stamp the win as Green Bay improved to 6-1 at home on the season.
Up next for the Packers at Lambeau Field: the rival Chicago Bears, who at 7-6 are very much a factor in the North Division race.