GREEN BAY – For the most succinct explanation as to why the Packers are 3-0 and the Eagles are 1-2 heading into Thursday night's matchup, look no further than offensive execution in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay's ups and downs on offense throughout September have been well documented, but in each of the Packers' three games, the Packers have needed to put together a key drive late and done so.
On the flip side, Philadelphia has lost two games the past two weeks by a combined seven points primarily due to a pair of dropped passes in the waning moments.
It's just another example of how thin the winning and losing margins are in the NFL. No matter how a game is unfolding, never underestimate the value of finding a way to execute down the stretch.
"We just made it count when we had to have a drive, and a lot of that's the focus of the guys," Packers QB Aaron Rodgers said.
At Chicago in Week 1, the Packers were backed up on their own 6-yard line, leading 7-3 with 11:48 left. They had punted on three straight drives to open the second half, but on this opportunity they did what was necessary. Ten plays, 73 yards and 6½ minutes later, kicker Mason Crosby was making it a seven-point game.
Against Minnesota in Week 2, Green Bay had punted four consecutive times in the second half, but taking over on their own 21 with 3:14 left and a five-point lead, they picked up two crucial first downs and killed all but the last six seconds on the clock.
Then last Sunday vs. Denver, two ugly possessions filled with throwaways preceded a clock-grinding 11-play, 51-yard drive that consumed just over half of the fourth quarter (7:41) and set up a field goal to make it a two-score game with less than six minutes left.
"You look at those drives," Rodgers said, "it's been good execution, it's been good pass protection, and it's been guys making plays when they had to make plays."
Meanwhile, the Eagles have lost two straight games because they haven't done that despite opportunities, literally, in their hands.
On the road in prime time in Week 2, Philadelphia had just given up the lead to Atlanta but had one final two-minute drive for a chance to win. On the second snap of the possession, receiver Nelson Agholor was open, running full speed down the sideline, and QB Carson Wentz's pass hit him right in stride.
But it went through his hands instead of for a 60-yard touchdown, and the possession eventually stalled in the red zone in a 24-20 loss.
Then last week, having rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half, the Eagles blocked a Lions field goal to keep it a three-point game and then faced fourth-and-15 from their own 45 with just under a minute left.
Wentz lofted one deep down the middle for JJ Arceda-Whiteside, who outjumped the Detroit defender inside the 5-yard line but couldn't secure the ball. A game-tying field goal at a minimum, and potentially a game-winning touchdown, were squandered.
"That's just the key right there. We're maybe two plays or three plays away from possibly being 3-0 or at least 2-1," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said in a conference call with Green Bay media this week. "The players know. They're smart enough. I don't have to sit there and remind them or beat them over the head with all of that.
"They understand what could have happened, but look we're not. We're 1-2 and have some work to do."
So do the Packers, who are trying to avoid the offensive lulls that have prevented them from extending leads earlier in games, which in turn has put so much emphasis on those fourth-quarter drives.
More consistent production would have made some of those fourth quarters easier to navigate for the Packers, but coming through in clutch situations is a building block in itself as a long season wears on.
One can never know when that gotta-have-it drive late in the game on offense will come while trailing on the scoreboard, as the Eagles have encountered.
"There's always going to be ups and downs, and it's about how you respond," Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "I think that's one of the great things is watching them respond when it's on the line."