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Inbox: Give that man his hat

QB Aaron Rodgers, LB Za'Darius Smith
QB Aaron Rodgers, LB Za'Darius Smith

Jeff from Athens, WI

That makes eight. AR12 said in the beginning of the year, "We have a defense," and the season has shown that we do. In eight games (so far), the Packers' defense has held the opponent to fewer than 20 points. That is a good way to win football games. Oh, and if you love defense – that is winning pretty.

And the best part is the Packers don't just have a defense – they have a team. And that team is pretty darn good at finding ways to win football games. Merry Christmas!

Justin from Raleigh, NC

Za'Darius Smith in an emotional postgame interview said all he wanted for Christmas was a shirt and a hat. I'd say he earned them. I've never felt so confident about our chances to win in a game we were down 10-3, but if we didn't spot the Vikings 50-plus yards, it really felt like they weren't going to be able to move the ball on us. Was that what a complete game looks like, minus the turnovers?

First off, Za'Darius Smith needs to be in the conversation for NFL defensive player of the year. I couldn't care less about the Pro Bowl at this point. He's an All-Pro worthy of such consideration. He does it all, both on the field and in the locker room. You're right. Give that man his hat. He earned it. That was the most complete defensive performance the Packers have had since the opener against Chicago and Za'Darius is a big reason for that.

Justin from Los Angeles, CA

Reggie White and Charles Woodson are the eternal gold standard for free-agent signings in GB, but Za'Darius is quickly moving up the list. What players do you think are above him that he'd have to unseat to move into that three spot?

I can't think of any other free agents not named Reggie White who came to Green Bay and knocked the doors off the building faster than the Smiths. Even Woodson needed a few seasons to realize an All-Pro season in Green Bay. One Smith, if not both, could wind up doing it in his first year with the Packers.

Edward from Portland, ME

Is the Vikings' OL that bad or were they just confused with Packers' defensive schemes? I can't remember ever seeing such a total mismatch.

I actually think Minnesota's offensive line is better than it's been the past few years. The Packers just took it to them from start to finish. That snowball just kept rolling.

Ronald from Panabo, Philippines

Insiders, I love that the Packers came in as underdogs, turned over the ball early (just like San Francisco), overcame that and dominated on defense. This is the signature win of the season, isn't it?

I said over and over last week how the Packers needed to go into U.S. Bank Stadium and hand it to the Vikings. Sure, it might have been ugly early but the Packers persevered and got the statement win they were looking for. There's one more piece of business to tend to this regular season. Beat Detroit and rest up.

Howie from Saint Ignace, MI

How do the coaches guard against a letdown versus the Lions after the euphoria of winning the NFC North and beating the second-best team in the division?

Glance down at their shirts: "The North is not enough." On to the next battle.

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Wes from South Saint Paul, MN

Losing the turnover battle was totally offset by the dominant defense – just look at the time of possession! The Packers had the ball a full quarter more than the Vikings – that's how you negate the load of turnovers.

In this game, the only thing more powerful than turnovers is points.

Justin from Black River Falls, WI

Offense identity! Am I the only one that sees the short passing game combined with the run game as being the best way to move downfield? Whenever the Packers tried deep they had trouble connecting.

I'm going to use this Allen Lazard quote from my Monday story on the Packers' first-year receiver to answer this. I feel like fans and media "have had the answers to the test this whole time and they chose to ignore them." Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. When they produce, the Packers win. Period.

Stephen from Menomonee Falls, WI

So the Pack is 3-0 in games this year when A-Rod has not thrown a TD pass. Who'da thought?

Craziness. It's almost like you need more than just one player to win games in this league.

Tom from Iron River, WI

People criticize the Packers for having one receiver in Adams, however, every game Lazard or Kumerow has key receptions and provides consistent run blocking. When are they going to get a little love?

Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were willing blockers but I can't recall a receiving corps that's this proficient in blocking during my time on the beat. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a terrific block on Jones' 56-yard touchdown, as well. As Jones told me after the game, those blocks aren't just important because they spring him for big gains – they also keep hits off him. That keeps tread on the tire.

Craig from Milwaukee, WI

How far do you think this team can really go?

To infinity and beyond.

Steve from Land O Lakes, FL

I didn't notice it until I watched the replay today how many of the offensive linemen were in the end zone to congratulate Aaron Jones on his TD run. That's a long run especially at the end of a hard game. It's great to see the offense so tightly bonded.

There's a lot of mutual respect between Jones and the offensive line.

Mike from Chaska, MN

ML – Coach of the year...by a long shot. EJ – Rookie offensive player of the year. AJ – All-Pro (should be in the Pro Bowl). ZS – Defensive player of the year (should be in the Pro Bowl). MC – Best kicker of the year award. Undrafted rookies/players of the year award...AL and JK. BG – GM of the year...Smiths, Amos, starting guard, starting rookies, hiring ML! Scary thing...This is still a very young team on both sides of the ball with great leadership!

I mentioned on "Unscripted" Tuesday that Gutekunst needs to be in the running for NFL executive of the year. He made a big investment in those four free agents last March and all four have earned those contracts. Gutekunst also drafted Elgton Jenkins and unearthed a few gems in Allen Lazard, Chandon Sullivan, Tyler Ervin and more.

Chris from Cedar Rapids, IA

The Packers Monday night, and perhaps through the whole season, reminded me of the Patriots of the past few years – it never looked amazing but there was an inevitability about them. They just kept moving the ball and didn't seem to doubt that they would win the game.

You better jump on this team early, because if it's a one-score game, the Packers are tough to beat in the fourth quarter.

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

Wes, Kyler Fackrell drawing a penalty neutralizing the touchdown throw to Johnson with four minutes left does not appear on anyone's radar. I thought that was big. Don't know what the Packers defense was doing there, though. Thoughts?

Massive play. Blake Martinez was giving Fackrell praise for it in the postgame locker room. And Fackrell earned every bit of that penalty, too. If he doesn't get held, Fackrell sacks Cousins. He's played well this season behind the Smiths.

Uriah from South Vienna, OH

I was thinking the same thing about Minnesota's choice next week. Do you take a "bye" or try to win? I think I would take the week to rest. Which one would you do, and why?

I'd sit the running backs and Eric Kendricks but everyone else is playing if I'm Mike Zimmer. If the Vikings are going to do anything in the postseason, I'd argue Cousins needs a tune-up fight to get some confidence back after that performance Monday night.

Kristopher from Fulton, WI

What are your thoughts on the five (potentially six) Packer finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020?

As Spoff knows all too well, I'm a massive fan of Cecil Isbell. He undoubtedly would've been a Hall of Famer had he not stepped away from the game following the 1942 season. He had the NFL's first 2,000-yard passing year, while his 24 touchdown passes that season were the franchise's single-season record for 40 years. I was thrilled to see him included. If I had any gripe, it's that there are three contributors getting inducted and only two coaches. That should've been flipped. It's much more difficult for coaches to make the Hall.

Barry from Wausau, WI

I liked the way the Monday night game was officiated. No ticky-tack calls and you barely noticed the refs. I was worried that Rodgers might have suffered a concussion on that last sack as his helmet bounced off the turf and saw his reaction when he got back up. Glad to see he was OK. Happy holidays!

Bill Vinovich's crew is the best in the game, in my opinion. Always clear, concise and generally lets the players play. If you don't focus on ticky-tack penalties, you're more likely to catch the real ones.

Jake from Farmington, MN

Did you guys see/hear that the Vikings showed the play where Rodgers got hurt on the big screens before the game? I hope a thousand years of losing curses them for such low-class behavior. May they never win another game.

I'm a big karma guy. I'm not saying others need to be. I can also appreciate the "pro wrestling" aspect of rivalries. But once I saw that clip, I immediately thought to myself, "Oh boy, I wouldn't have done that."

Look inside the locker room as Packers players celebrated winning the NFC-North division title.

Lowell from Tuscola, IL

That horn was pretty quiet in the fourth quarter. Packer fans weren't though.

Horns in the first quarter. Tail lights in the fourth.

Brad from Clemmons, NC

The "Go Pack Go" chant sounded great on TV. How loud were the Packers fans in person?

Pretty darn loud. The reaction to Jones' 12-yard touchdown run was one of the loudest of the entire evening.

Nathan from Lino Lakes, MN

5-0 in the division? Did not expect that. Do you know the last time the Packers went 6-0 (or undefeated) against division opponents?

Man, y'all really did black out memories of the 2011 season, huh? That's like the 12th time I've gotten that question this year and the third time I've answered it.

Gordy from Plymouth, WI

Great team win. Smith Bros. showed they are great cough eliminators, with outstanding support from everyone else. I also want to commend you on the article about Lazard, shows him as a classy receiver.

Lazard has come a long way…and he's not done yet. He's going to be an important piece to this playoff puzzle.

Corinne from Madison, WI

Merry Christmas, Wes! I understand that the Pack can get the No. 1 seed if Green Bay beats Detroit and Seattle beats San Francisco. Are there other (reasonably possible) scenarios where Green Bay gets the first seed in the NFC?

The Packers can't get the top seed with a loss. They can still get a bye with a loss if Carolina turns back New Orleans.

William from Rosedale, IN

Greetings, what a great game. The defense was powerful and had more energy than I have noticed in previous games this year. With the regular season about to end, I would like your opinion of the deal the Bears made to acquire Khalil Mack. Although their defense is amazing, the Bears haven't achieved much in the postseason. Was giving up all the draft choices a good deal, looking back?

They had no choice. GM Ryan Pace and the Bears needed a playmaker to put that defense over the top. The real issue has been the offense not being able to catch up quickly enough to capitalize on Mack's arrival.

Brad from Crystal Falls, MI

No question today just a comment. Last night I sat on my recliner, 7-day-old daughter in my arms, dog between my feet, and watched the team I've loved my whole life win its division for the first time after a brief drought. I found myself for the first time truly understanding what is meant by "it's the memories that make us rich." Thank you Insiders for always keeping the tradition, memories, and family, as they say after every game, of this team and this game in perspective.

Cheers!

Jeff from Tucson, AZ

Merry Christmas to all.

And to all a good night…and a quick shout-out to Cheryl from Strawberry Point, IA, for the wonderful Insider Inbox frames. Spoff and I loved them. "Insider Inbox: A quest for the answers to the questions that won't go away."

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