Packers figured out what it takes to finish

“Sense of urgency” on offense ratcheted up after rough second half in Week 15

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RB Aaron Jones and QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Three months ago when the Packers were blown out at Tampa Bay, quarterback Aaron Rodgers conceded his previously 4-0 team might have been feeling too good about itself.

"I think we needed a kick in the ass a little bit," Rodgers said right after the 38-10 loss to the Buccaneers, who will visit Lambeau Field for Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

Successful seasons present poignant moments like those in the topsy-turvy, adversity-filled world of the NFL. Rodgers' words no doubt helped the Packers refocus in winning three of their next four games after that initial loss to take control of the NFC North.

But there's another more recent moment that's likely having a greater impact on Green Bay making this current playoff run.

Rewind just one month to the Saturday night game against Carolina at Lambeau Field.

The Packers were rolling on offense, having scored 30-plus points in three straight wins since a loss at Indy. They had a 21-3 halftime lead on the Panthers and appeared to be cruising to a fourth consecutive victory.

Then another reality check hit.

Carolina decided to do everything in its power to take away Davante Adams and any big plays, disguising coverages behind unconventional fronts. The Packers didn't adjust and tried to force the issue, looking perhaps more for a knockout punch than the steady production that had served them so well.

The result? Five possessions, 49 total yards, one field goal, three sacks, 1-for-6 on third down (16.7%), and the need to squeak out a one-score victory (24-16) against a team that two weeks later would finish 5-11.

"We looked at it real closely," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "Luckily we won that game, and you take that as an opportunity to learn, to grow as a group."

One thing the Packers saw was how they had rushed for 159 yards in the first half against Carolina and didn't insist on continuing to run the ball despite leading the entire second half.

The following week, the Packers ran for 234 yards against Tennessee on a snowy night, and it set the tone for the league's No. 1 scoring offense to reach another gear.

Over their last three games, all against playoff opponents – the Titans, Bears and Rams – here are the numbers: 25 possessions, 1,248 yards, 17 scores (15 TDs, two FGs), two sacks, 16-of-27 on third down (59.3%), and an average margin of victory of nearly 20 points.

"It's kind of the sense of urgency we've had," center Corey Linsley said of the late-season surge, "knowing that, if we want to get where we want to go, it's going to take that level of focus, that level of intent, that extra level of whatever you have to put in to perform at your best."

It might be exaggerating to say the second half against Carolina was the best thing to happen to the Packers down the stretch, but there's no denying a lesson was heeded in two quarters of football Rodgers called "clunkers" at the time.

"I think it was a good reminder for all of us how important it is to just be patient, and if teams aren't willing to stop the run, there's no need to maybe abandon it at all," Rodgers said this week.

"It's something that we took into last week against a team (the Rams) who also wanted to play some shell coverage, and I think we were patient with the run and it paid off for us."

The Packers' 188 rushing yards, using all three running backs, in last week's playoff win pushed their total over the last three games to 501 yards on the ground on 92 carries, a robust 5.4-yard average. Even take out Aaron Jones' 60-yard scamper to open the second half against the Rams, and the rushing average is still 4.8 over that span.

No one's going to say Green Bay has morphed into a run-dominant team with the league's MVP in Rodgers at the controls, but the way it's playing now has showcased how dynamic this offense is when it stays balanced.

The commitment to the run, and to that balance, will be tested like never before on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the No. 1 rushing defense in the league this past season.

The recent numbers may be hard to replicate, but finding some level of success on the ground is imperative to prevent Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles from focusing solely on the pass rush, which overwhelmed the Packers three months ago.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur admitted back in October he got away from the run too early at Tampa Bay, when the team got that kick in the rear.

But now it's about a different kick – a finishing kick – and Sunday could reveal how valuable the mid-December "reminder" was in helping the Packers find one.

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