EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Don’t try telling the Packers these games are meaningless.
They certainly didn’t play like it Sunday.
Sure they made plenty of mistakes, which made a victory over the four-win Jets harder than it otherwise could have been. But the Packers gave everything they had for all four – make that five – quarters, and were finally rewarded with a road win, 44-38 in overtime.
“We’ve got a good group of men in the locker room, no doubt about it,” interim head coach Joe Philbin said. “We’ve come close and fallen short on a number of different occasions this season, but they were determined today that wasn’t going to be the case.
“Down 15, it could have been easy to just say, ah, it’s not in the cards. I’m proud of the guys. They competed hard.
“I don’t know if you win these types of games if you don’t have high-quality people in the locker room.”
It started, as always, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was determined from the moment the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention last week to not just play out the string but to play to win.
Despite a season-long knee injury and more recent groin issue, Rodgers led an impressive comeback on a never-give-in kind of day. He talked about how continuing to battle is what represents his competitiveness and leadership, and by extension sends a message to his teammates that “their presence matters.”
“Hopefully they saw that this week, and maybe that sticks with them and means something down the line,” Rodgers said. “Because we need it.”
Rodgers also said he wouldn’t want to look back in two decades and wonder if “something special” might have happened had he played. Winning when down 35-20 at the start of the fourth quarter, and putting his favorite receiver on the verge of franchise history, certainly qualifies.
It wasn’t just Rodgers, either.
Pro Bowl snub and left tackle David Bakhtiari appeared to hurt something in his leg late in the fourth quarter chasing Jets defensive back Darryl Roberts all the way down the field on a two-point-try interception that was ultimately wiped out by penalty.
But Bakhtiari never left the game.
Also, veteran defensive back Tramon Williams took a brutal helmet shot while trying to field a punt, came out to be evaluated for a concussion, and went back in to finish.
A meaningless game? Not a chance.
MetLife Stadium hosted a Week 16 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets.
“I would expect nothing less from those two guys,” Rodgers said. “Dave is an absolute warrior. He’s played through a number of injuries over the years, in-game and what he deals with during week.
“And Tramon as well. A great leader … and a tough guy. That hit was a tough one to watch.
“Like I said last week, I think we have a lot of the right pieces in place, but I told the guys before the game this would be a character game. It’s going to show what kind of pride we have, what kind of mental toughness we have, what we’re willing to lay on the line for our teammates.”
Then there’s Jamaal Williams, who began the game as the only running back to touch the ball for the Packers this season, and ended it that way, too. Williams seemingly never took off any of Green Bay’s 79 offensive plays in pounding his way to 156 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown.
His blitz pickup also allowed Jake Kumerow to catch his first career TD pass, a 49-yarder in the second quarter. There was one pass-protection assignment in the second half Williams would certainly like back, but otherwise, he was a professional from start to overtime finish on Sunday.
“I love the guy. He’s a competitor,” Philbin said. “You couldn’t ask for a better Green Bay Packer than Jamaal Williams.”
The visiting team’s sideline was full of players like that Sunday, and in seven days it’ll be the same on the home turf.
“I got banged up a little bit,” Rodgers said. “But I feel pretty good. I’ve got another week in me.”
So do his teammates, who don’t have to go into an offseason getting blanked on the road for an entire season.
That’s not nothing to many young players who will be a big part of Green Bay’s future, and that might have been the most meaningful part of Sunday when it’s all said and done.
“It would have been nice to get one a little earlier,” Rodgers said, referring to a road win, “but it’s nice not to be a statistic next to the ’58 team.
“It’s good for the young guys to see what it feels like … the locker room on the road, what the plane flight feels like.
“We’ve talked at length about whether you can carry over momentum into next season. I don’t think so, but you can carry over this feeling for sure.”