GREEN BAY – Comebacks don’t happen without both sides of the ball doing their part, and the Packers needed big moments from both their offense and defense to rally to beat the Jets on Sunday.
Take your pick as to who did the heavier lifting, if such a distinction matters. With the Jets having scored 35 points through three periods, the Packers’ defense forced three straight punts in the fourth quarter – four if you count the fake punt New York converted to keep a late drive alive.
Meanwhile the offense, which had settled for field goals on its last three scoring drives dating back to the end of the first half, found itself down 12 points with nine minutes left, on its own 6-yard line, and needing two touchdowns to keep the game alive.
“The guys just made some plays,” interim head coach Joe Philbin said Monday morning, a little more than 12 hours after the team’s plane returned from the season’s lone road victory. “We made the plays that decide the outcome of games.”
The defense’s stand started with an early fourth-quarter sack of Jets QB Sam Darnold by Blake Martinez. That forced the first punt and seemed to knock Darnold, who was having an outstanding game, out of rhythm a bit. Offensive penalties on the Jets’ next two drives helped keep New York off schedule.
The biggest stop then came after the Packers had scored 18 straight points to erase a 35-20 deficit. Jets Pro Bowl returner Andre Roberts ran back the ensuing kickoff 51 yards, and the defense took the field at the Green Bay 38 with 1:05 left, protecting a three-point lead.
Darnold completed two straight passes for a first down at the 15 with 36 seconds left, but the defense – playing without top cover corner Jaire Alexander, who left in the first half with a groin injury – rose up. Three straight incompletions to force the Jets to settle for the tying field goal.
“It wasn’t exactly an ideal start, but I thought we settled in and played well when we had to,” Philbin said of the defense, which allowed TD drives of 83, 76 and 75 yards in the first three quarters but less than 60 total yards on New York’s final four possessions.
“I thought at critical times we played well. When we had to have it, we got some stops and got the ball back.”
The offense took advantage behind both the urgency and efficiency of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose throws, scrambles and checks at the line of scrimmage got the Packers moving time after time.
A handful of defensive penalties on New York helped, too, and the Packers ultimately overcame their own penalty in overtime, requiring them to get in the end zone twice to win the game.
“Guys just kept fighting and making plays,” Philbin said, praising not only Rodgers’ performance but that of the whole offensive unit down the stretch.
The holding penalty in overtime negating the first game-winning touchdown was the only negative-yardage play on offense over its final four scoring drives. In contrast, Rodgers was sacked four times and the offense committed five penalties through the first three quarters.
“It’s great to have that captain, that player on your team who elevates the players around him,” Philbin said. “However, you don’t want to get into him having to save the day and ride in on the white horse. It’s still a team game and it all has to work together.”
The win prevented the Packers from going winless on the road in 2018 and improved them to 6-8-1 with one game remaining.
With Green Bay out of the playoff picture, Philbin talked all week long about preparing and playing the game the right way, even before the team left Chicago a week ago upon being officially eliminated from postseason contention.
“Everything you do matters,” Philbin said. “We try to tell the players every week, your preparation matters … it correlates to the game, to your performance.
“When you start distinguishing this is important and this isn’t, you’ll lose sight of and never get to where you really want to be.”
He emphasized there were never any discussions about not playing to win in order to get a higher draft pick, and any thoughts the game didn’t matter were not part of the team’s mindset.
“We’ve got an excellent locker room. Guys love to compete, and that was really evident in the tough parts of the game,” he said.
“That spirit, that tradition, call it what you want, it’s important. It’s important for organizations to have it, and it’s important for teams to have it, because in some respects, winning begets winning.”