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Inbox: 'It speaks to the brotherhood of this league'

We pause. We reflect. We pray.

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Team huddle

David from Riverwoods, IL

Mike and Wes, we need you. II is a place of healing and catharsis. As we all pray for the well-being of Damar Hamlin and empathize with the concerns and fears of the NFL brotherhood, II readers look to you to provide well-reasoned and level-headed insights into the path through this difficult time for the league and its players.

Like the rest of the NFL, we took a momentary pause out of respect to Damar Hamlin, his family and the very difficult circumstances surrounding Monday's game between Buffalo and Cincinnati. Matt LaFleur delivered many poignant words during his Wednesday morning address but there was one line in particular about the outpouring of support for Hamlin that spoke to me: "It speaks to the brotherhood of this league." It truly does. I found it touching reading all the supportive responses from Packers' players, and players across the league, over the past two days. I take solace in the power of people coming together in trying times. There is a very real, very human element to this game and the sacrifices athletes make to play the sport we all love.

Jonathan from Medina, TN

Wes, please give us hope. For Damar Hamlin, for the Bills, for the NFL, for any of it.

It has been a long few days. I'm still stunned and saddened as I write this column. Like many of you, I was very excited for Monday Night Football. I ate dinner at my parents and actually watched the beginning of the game with them. By the time I got home – I live about five minutes away – I already was getting text messages from my dad and a few friends about the incident. My heart sank when I turned my TV on and saw what had happened. There are just no words. We pause. We reflect. We pray.

Jonnie from Garden City, MI

Gentlemen, thank you for keeping us grounded when expectations soar, giving us hope when things look bleak, educating us when we don't understand the finer points of the game, and continuing to guide our perspective when things go sideways. Thoughts and prayers continue for the young man, Damar Hamlin. They continue for the Bills and Bengals teams and football fans who witnessed the devastating event unfold.

I cannot say enough about the fans in attendance for their patience and understanding of the seriousness of the situation. I thought the crowd handled the delay, and eventual suspension of the game, with empathy and class. And my goodness, I have to express my admiration for the job the trainers, doctors and first-responders did in the seconds and minutes after Hamlin's injury. I'm a big Fred Rogers guy; always have been. In that moment, I thought of Mr. Rogers' quote about his mother and how she used to say, in moments of crisis, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." What those men and women do is nothing short of heroic.

Gary from Beaverton, OR

Has the recent happening in Cincinnati altered the way in which you prepare your emergency crews or first responders for a game?

You obviously take stock of your emergency plans after an incident like Hamlin's, but as NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy tweeted this week, the NFL and its clubs have a sound and well-established process for handling these type of situations. Again, I thought the trainers, medical staff and first-responders in Cincinnati were all on the ball Monday night to give Hamlin the best care possible. The Packers, in particular, have one of the best medical teams in all of sport with world-class resources. That extends from the orthopedics side of things with Dr. Pat McKenzie, who's been with the organization for more than 30 years, to Dr. Chris Carr, the team's director of performance psychology whom Aaron Rodgers praised during his Tuesday appearance on the "Pat McAfee Show." LaFleur said he brought the team together for a meeting before practice Wednesday. It was a quiet gathering but also hopefully cathartic. Head trainer Bryan Engel addressed the team, as well, reminding all the players of the doctors and support staff available to them in case of an emergency. I thought it was a good idea that Dr. Carr also was going to be available to players after practice for anyone who wanted to meet.

Kirsten from Madison, WI

The whole country is praying so hard for Damar Hamlin. Hopefully, by the time II appears, we'll have good news. But I want to commend the respect everyone immediately gave this scary situation, from the players shielding their teammate from view, to ABC not reshowing video of Hamlin's collapse, to the ABC anchors saying, "Football doesn't matter anymore tonight. Only Hamlin's health. This game should be called." TV often gets knocked for insensitivity. Kudos to all for handling this humanely.

I commend Joe Buck, Lisa Salters and ESPN for how they handled a terrible, impossible situation. This was not filling time during a weather delay. This was a 24-year-old man fighting for his life whose mother and family were in that stadium. I have so much respect for broadcasters and their ability to articulate in real time, especially during moments like Monday night when every word matters. This was so much bigger than sports. As we await further updates, I'm going to take a few Packers-related questions and Sunday's game vs. Detroit. We continue to keep Hamlin and his family in our prayers.

Dar from Mansfield, TX

Wes, I feel like this team has not quite found its full identity yet. Resilient? Yes. But the rest of the Packers' attributes seem to be forming as we watch. Peaking at the right time, perhaps?

I never doubted the Packers' ability to get on a run, especially with the Week 14 bye. I was just wondering if there was enough season left. According to the New York Times, the Packers had the fourth-lowest odds (4%) of making the NFC playoffs after losing to Philly. Even when the NFL was counting the Packers out, they just kept chopping. Now, much like "Run the table," Green Bay faces Detroit in a win-and-you're-in matchup. One thing I've learned over the past month is there is no quit in this Packers team.

Bob from Bella Vista, AR

Well, the ball was certainly and literally bouncing the Packers' way in this game, that's for sure. It was good seeing the defense and special teams making their mark. Does this game put the momentum fear into the hearts of other playoff teams, or will it take a dominant effort against Detroit?

The Packers' kickoff return has gone from an area of weakness to must-see TV. Kenny Clark talked after the game about how he now peeks out from the sideline to watch Keisean Nixon on every return. The guy is that good. Defensively, Green Bay has its swagger back, too. Jaire Alexander is playing at an All-Pro level and I thought the Packers put together their two best weeks rushing the passer since Rashan Gary was lost for the year in Detroit.

Julian from Gastonia, NC

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed this about the Packers' improved defense and their ability to intercept more passes. Before Gary was injured it seemed most of the defensive pressure they were able to produce came from the outside. After the injury that pressure started coming more from the inside, which is more likely to create ill-advised passes from the quarterbacks. That said, those four huge players in the middle (Kenny Clark, Jarran Reed, T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt) may be a key moving forward.

The interior defensive line moved the pocket against the Vikings. Clark, in particular, was a force against that banged-up Minnesota front and Slaton is becoming a player against the run when he stays on task. In his first career start, Slaton had four tackles, including the TFL on third-and-goal in the first quarter, and two pass deflections on 24 snaps.

Julie from Janesville, WI

What does the defense attribute their new success to?

Belief, in themselves and each other.

Margeaux from Tallahassee, FL

Good 2023 Morning, Wes! That was the most physical, swarming defense I have seen the Packers play all year. One play where we had four guys surrounding a receiver in the flat really stood out. Your thoughts?

That was a great play, with the first defender slowing the runner and the defense getting hats to the ball. That was missing earlier this season. Overall, I think it's just the urgency Green Bay is playing with. The defense looked so much more confident than it did during the midseason slump. Alexander, for all the outside chatter, is so locked into what he needs to do to be successful and I think the secondary and defense are feeding off that.

Andy from Green Bay, WI

Is it true that the victory over the Vikings marks the first time since 1967 that the Packers were able to return both a kickoff and an interception for touchdowns in the same game? I was watching my favorite morning sports show today and that is what one of the hosts had to share regarding the swift and dominant beatdown that our Packers delivered on Sunday. What a win! Go Pack Go!

It's true. Green Bay is also the first team in NFL history to have a kickoff return TD of 105-plus yards and an INT return TD of 75-plus yards in the same game.

Aaron from Phoenix, AZ

Hi Mike/Wes! Tell me if I'm the only one astonished by this statistic. AR12 is going to finish with the lowest passer rating of his career. That number will be in the low 90s. There are currently 27 QBs in the HISTORY of the NFL that have a career mark of 90 or better. And AR12 has never had a season below that threshold. Again, people talk about it being a "down" year for Rodgers. Yet his numbers would make for a career year for at least 95% of QBs in NFL history. We are spoiled, gratefully.

Beyond just the stats, there's so much about Aaron Rodgers' game that's predicated on feel and momentum, and he's peaking in both areas. Throughout this winning streak, the opposition's signal-caller has kind of taken his team out of the game with turnovers. Meanwhile, Rodgers has made the throws he needs to make for the Packers to win. Shoot, he even threw in a QB sneak and a TD run. Rodgers is giving the Packers what they need from the QB position.

Check out photos of the Week 17 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on January 1, 2023.

James from Eagle, ID

Did it look like Christian Watson was a step slower in this game? Hopefully he's full speed for Detroit. Also, Zach Tom substituted at right tackle part of the game. Is Yosh Nijman OK?

That was probably to be expected with Watson playing through the hip injury, but he was still getting some downfield separation. Robert Tonyan praised the rookie afterwards for all the work Watson did to get on the field for 38 snaps Sunday. Yosh Nijman came out with an injury and could've returned. However, the Packers chose to stick with Zach Tom the rest of the way.

Butch from Donna, TX

When the Vikings went down two linemen early in the game it reminded me of the struggles we had earlier in the year when we were shuffling linemen game to game. Those big boys up front have to be on the same page for any offense to work.

Minnesota endured some heavy blows on the offensive line. Austin Schlottmann, who was playing for an injured Garrett Bradbury, is out for the rest of the year due to the ankle injury he suffered on the second snap. Brian O'Neill also left with a calf injury. With Chris Reed at center, the Vikings seemed to have some communication issues that led to procedural penalties and breakdowns. But like the circumstances the Packers faced in the opener, you have to make do with what you have.

Dale from Downers Grove, IL

Was it just me or did I see and hear a lot of Vikings fans at Lambeau? Glad the Packers shut them up early and often. It would have been horrifying to hear the SKOL chant. Please don't sell your tickets to Lions fans.

Packers fans still made up most of the 78,190 in attendance but hopefully the high stakes lead to even more green-and-gold in the crowd Sunday night.

Kevin from Whitehall, WI

Kudos to Mason Crosby. That FG he hit would have been good from 55 yards.

A true game of inches…or centimeters.

Dan from Tallahassee, FL

Hi Wes, based on the replay view from the Lions' end zone of Keisean Nixon's TD scamper (straight up the middle!), when Mason Crosby decides to hang up his cleats, he could open a tackling school for kickers.

Before he was the Packers' all-time leading scorer, Mason Crosby was a former first-team, all-district free safety at Georgetown (Texas) High School. In all seriousness, he really is one of the better tackling kickers in the NFL. You just don't want it to come to that, especially at 38 years old.

Hannes from Glendale, WI

Sitting in Lincoln Financial Field a few weeks ago, seeing the Packers go down 14-0 early against the best team in the NFC, I thought to myself I'd learn who this team is in the next three quarters, and I did. They started pushing an arrow that was pointing straight down to a slightly more favorable position and have kept doing so since. Let's hope that continues at Lambeau Field this weekend.

Echoing my comments from Saturday, the Packers are another step closer to making the improbable possible. Detroit dropped the ball in Carolina but otherwise has played well for Dan Campbell since the 1-6 start. I expect nothing less at Lambeau Field. The Lions haven't played a meaningful regular-season finale since that game against the Packers in 2016. As disappointing as Week 9 was for Green Bay, the good news for the Packers is they still came within six points of winning despite three turnovers inside 25 yards of the end zone. Play confidently. Win confidently.

Ben from Pensacola, FL

I'm not taking the Lions for granted but they don't seem to be the juggernaut they are when away from home. They'll want to disprove that this Sunday. I see the game plan somewhat similar – put a ton of pressure without blitzing as much on Jared Goff and cause errant throws. Easier said than done, with their better OL. I do find it interesting that Minnesota seemed to abandon the run when it was still close. Don't think Detroit will make that mistake.

I believe the Packers will perform better offensively than they did in Week 9 but the same also can be said for the Lions. Shortchanging Goff would be a fool's errand. He's having one of the best years of his career behind that O-line. He hasn't thrown an interception since Alexander picked him off, and he's only been sacked 22 times in 16 starts. Green Bay needs to stop the run, keep tabs on Amon-Ra St. Brown and not allow Goff to get comfortable.

Randy from Raymond, IA

With the game now set for 7:20 CT on SNF and the Rams and Seahawks at 3:25, a Seattle victory should make the roar of the Lions sound more like a purr for Detroit! JUST WIN!

If I were a Seahawks or Lions fan, I would be none too pleased. But everyone knows who runs the bingo in this hall. That's the NFL's call in concert with the TV networks.

Jeff from Dorr, MI

How many of us (including me) complained about having to play Detroit the last game of the season again?

I'm just happy this game is at Lambeau Field after Green Bay ended the regular season with back-to-back home games, remember the Packers have played five of their last six regular-season finales on the road.

William from Charleston, WV

Good morning II. Could it be the plan was right all along? Things just didn't go according to plan.

That depends on the Packers and the outcome on Sunday. If the Packers win, I'd argue they're positioned to be this year's San Francisco 49ers – a team that started slowly but is now a squad no one is excited to face in the playoffs. Green Bay had a bye the past three years and came up short, so maybe it is better to be the B-side.

John from New York, NY

Heard a crazy stat today, the Packers are 5-0 this season and Matt LaFleur is 12-0 career when the Packers run the ball for more than 50% of their offense on that particular day. They should do this every game is stating the obvious, but if teams start putting 7-8 players in the box, then let Rodgers pick them apart. This seems like the simple formula for a deep playoff run. What say you?

Sure. There is some nuance here, though. I don't think it's as simple as "Well, run the ball 30 times." Production and efficiency go hand-in-hand. When the Packers run the ball well, the offense's success and final score are usually reflected in those numbers. There is no question, though, that this offense is significantly more dangerous when Aaron Jones goes off like he did. The ripple effect is staggering.

Dan from Wausau, WI

How was Justin Jefferson not tossed for contacting the official with his helmet? At the very least, if he's not fined, or is fined less than Allen Lazard, something is wrong.

I don't believe it was malicious or intentional so I'm not sure how the NFL will rule on that. When Jerry Jeudy contacted an official last month, it was during a heated interaction with the referee. Maybe the league still fines Jefferson for being cavalier, but I didn't see grounds for removal from the game. It was an emotional moment on the sideline, not the field of play.

Dave from Arlington Heights, IL

On the last two Vikings' kickoffs, both of them possibly onside kicks, I saw Aaron Jones as the deep man. Was that just a trick of camera work and he hustled back or was he really the deep man.

That's how the Packers position their hands team. Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are up front for the recovery and Jones covers deep to protect against a squib or mortar kick.

Rich from Janesville, WI

Earlier in the year, I said, "Maybe now we see why Rasul Douglas was on Arizona's practice squad." You guys never posted my comment. After watching him tip that pass that Savage intercepted and immediately block the nearest Viking, I take back what I said out of frustration. Douglas is a baller!

Douglas set an incredibly high standard for himself last year, but the guy can play. Douglas also has become a vocal and emotional leader in the locker room. He's confident and accountable, two great traits for an NFL cornerback to possess.

Nathan from Philadelphia, PA

I get the talk about positive manifestation, but what do you make of Ron Rivera not realizing Washington could be eliminated from the playoffs last week? The closest I can think of is Mike McCarthy believing the Packers had been eliminated after Week 16 of 2013 (the near-comeback against the Steelers), and we saw how that turned out.

That's a new one for me. Either somebody wasn't properly briefed on potential outcomes or simply didn't want to hear about them.

Patsi from Riverside, CA

Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies. One more week of hope. Go Pack Go.

Months of preparation, hours of film study and it all comes down to one 60-minute game. But it is just a game at the end of the day. We'll turn our attention back to the season finale very soon. But for now my thoughts and prayers continue to be with Damar Hamlin and his family.

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