GREEN BAY – The Packers woke up on Sunday morning to start a five-day stretch that has the potential to turn their season around.
By the end of the day, they’d done what they could. Now, they have to do what they haven’t been able to all season.
The 31-12 victory over the Dolphins at Lambeau Field sends the Packers to Seattle on Thursday night looking to win on the road for the first time in 2018. To say one road win might be all it takes to change this team’s fortunes might be a bit naïve, but then again, the Packers have to start somewhere.
“I hope so,” Rodgers said regarding whether one road victory could alter the prospects of this 4-4-1 team. “We’re pretty tough to beat at home right now I think. As the weather continues to turn in our favor, meaning the colder, the better, I like our chances at home.
“But we need to win some road games or we’re going to be home in January.”
Based on what transpired against the Dolphins on Sunday, there are reasons to like the Packers’ chances in the veritable house of horrors known as CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
For one, Rodgers played for a second straight game without a knee brace and didn’t take a whole lot of hits from Miami’s defense, which sacked him just twice in 31 drop-backs (28 pass attempts, three scrambles). So the QB’s in as good a shape health-wise as he’s been all season, noting the pain in his knee has diminished week by week.
The Packers’ running game is also the best it’s been, with the offensive line opening some gaping holes for Aaron Jones, who ran for 10 or more yards on six of his 15 carries.
“I think they dominated the line of scrimmage,” Rodgers said of the starting five up front. “Both sacks fall under the coverage-sack category. There wasn’t a lot of pressure, and when there was I had lanes to move.”
The Packers also found some new wrinkles on offense. A 30 yard catch-and-run by veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis to convert on third-and-short was a play that “wasn’t great” in practice, but the execution was there in the game. Finding Jones for two receptions out of the backfield for 27 yards early in the game was a nice change of pace, too.
Defensively, new cornerback Bashaud Breeland’s interception was the Packers’ first since Kevin King’s in the fourth quarter vs. San Francisco back in Week 6, ending a drought that had seen Green Bay’s cover men deflect plenty of passes but not snag any.
The red-zone work on both sides of the ball stood out as well, but it was especially uplifting to see the defense respond to rough field position multiple times by not allowing the Dolphins into the end zone.
Even the special teams chipped in with a successful fake punt on the game-sealing drive for a field goal after some costly mistakes (fumbled punt return, blocked punt) had put the defense in those rough spots.
Maybe most important, the Packers finally just flat-out beat somebody rather soundly. They’ve pulled out a couple of dramatic wins over the Bears and 49ers, but taking a three-score lead with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter felt pretty good, too. It was just Green Bay’s second lead of three scores all season and first since the shutout win over Buffalo in Week 4.
“We need to win games, that’s the obvious,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think we’ve played well at home and we played well again today.
“Everyone knows what our record is. We haven’t won on the road yet. That’s an obvious emphasis this week.”
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 10 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Miami Dolphins
There also are reasons for concern, though. Short-yardage troubles in the second quarter stalled potential scoring drives, the defense got a huge break on the bad shotgun snap or it would have allowed points yet again on an opening drive, and the aforementioned special-teams miscues could have been far more costly against a more explosive opponent.
But none of that is perhaps as troubling as the team’s health, particularly in the secondary. Breeland (groin), safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) and cornerback Jaire Alexander (evaluated for concussion) all left the game when the defensive backfield already was without corner Kevin King (hamstring).
That could mean a lot of work for two undrafted rookies in safety Raven Greene and cornerback Tony Brown. Greene got his feet wet and made an impact on both defense and special teams Sunday, while Brown seems to have put his pre-bye week penalties behind him.
It’s one thing to fill in adequately at home but quite another to do it on the road, under brighter lights, on a bigger stage. The Packers know exactly what they’re walking into come Thursday night.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Rodgers said. “Super loud. The loudest environment in the NFL. They’re loud the entire time.”
Quieting that noise would equate to the Packers truly making some of their own this season. Four days and counting …