ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)Bills safety Micah Hyde and receiver Jake Kumerow know Aaron Rodgers well enough to appreciate how much the Packers quarterback’s words resonate in Green Bay.
So when Rodgers defiantly insisted the Packers’ playoff hopes, at 3-4, remain realistic despite a third consecutive loss and facing the formidable challenge of traveling to play the AFC-leading Bills (5-1) on Sunday night, the two former Green Bay players took serious note.
”I’ve been around him before and I know that when his back is against the wall, he just rallies them,” said Hyde, who rejoined the Bills this week in a quasi-coaching role after sustaining a season-ending neck injury last month.
”You can’t take him lightly,” added Kumerow. ”You’ve seen him. He’s capable of anything.”
Well, not so much this year as of yet.
The Packers are off to their worst start to a season in four years under coach Matt LaFleur, and Rodgers – the two-time reigning NFL MVP – is experiencing difficulty overseeing an injury depleted offense that’s also missing his favorite target after Davante Adams was traded to Las Vegas this offseason.
While Rodgers ranks 10th in the league with 1,597 yards passing and tied for sixth with 11 TDs, the offense’s production has dipped over its three-game skid. After averaging 377.5 yards offense in winning three of four, the Packers are down to 270 yards offense over their past three.
What’s more of a concern is how the three losses came in outings in which Green Bay led twice and was tied once at halftime. That includes a 23-21 loss at Washington on Sunday, in which the Packers led 14-10 after two quarters.
Not only did Green Bay manage a season-worst 232 yards of offense against the Commanders, it went 0 for 6 on third down, the first time the Packers didn’t have a single successful third-down conversion since 1999.
Rodgers chalked it up to too many mental errors, questioned whether some players – without naming who – should be benched, and blamed himself.
”I think we all need to be on the details, and that includes me,” he said.
And he relished the challenge that comes with Green Bay being 10 1/2-point underdogs, the largest spread in a game Rodgers has started over his 18-year career.
”I love it,” he said. ”I hope we embrace that role because it’s probably not going to be like this for a while.”
The Packers face a buzz saw of a Bills opponent that’s leading the league in total yards and yards passing gained, and fewest yards and points allowed and interceptions (10).
The Bills are rested following their bye, and coming off their most complete victory of the season. Josh Allen threw the go-ahead TD pass with 64 seconds left, and the defense sealed the 24-20 win at Kansas City 13 seconds later with Taron Johnson’s interception of Patrick Mahomes.
”It gives you that confidence that you could win in more than one fashion,” receiver Stefon Diggs said of the Bills, who have twice rallied to win when trailing in the final two minutes of regulation this year. ”It doesn’t always have to be pretty. It could be ugly. But I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day.”
The Packers have won their last 13 regular-season prime-time games. It’s the longest such winning streak for any NFL team since at least 2000. Rodgers has been particularly effective at night. The four-time MVP has thrown 45 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 18 night games since 2019. The streak began after a 37-8 loss at San Francisco on Nov. 24, 2019.
Hyde lamented missing out on what could well be his last opportunity to pick off Rodgers. The two were teammates in Green Bay from 2013-16 before Hyde signed with Buffalo in free agency in 2017. In his first meeting against the Packers in 2017, Hyde was limited to playing a quarter before being sidelined by a groin injury in Buffalo’s 22-0 loss.
”Any time you can (intercept) a Hall of Fame quarterback, that’s something you put in your trophy case,” Hyde said. ”Maybe after the game, I can ask him for a football or something.”
BACK IN BUFFALO
Packers receiver Sammy Watkins spent his first three seasons with the Bills, who traded up five spots in the draft order to select him out of Clemson with the fourth overall pick in 2014. Dealt to the Rams in August 2017, Watkins looks forward to his first chance to be active when facing Buffalo.
”It’s definitely going to be weird, but I just can’t wait to get there, get those old feelings back when I was just a young Sammy and try to go out there and fight for a win,” Watkins said.
Aside from facing off against each other in golf outings, Rodgers and Allen connected by FaceTime last week. Rodgers reached out after seeing Allen and his girlfriend in a private box in San Diego attending Game 2 of the NLCS between the Padres and Philadelphia Phillies.
”I was giving him some guff about being a fair-weather Padres fan,” Rodgers said.
Allen, who was back home in Southern California during the Bills’ bye, was invited to the game by former Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman, who is married to a former Bills cheerleader.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed.
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