GREEN BAY – It wasn't supposed to be this close.
Not because Washington came into Lambeau Field 3-9 on Sunday. But because the Packers had numerous opportunities to score a lot more points than they did and gain full command of their first December home game.
That control didn't come until a little over two minutes remained, and it was just enough for a 20-15 victory that improved the Packers to 10-3, still one game ahead of 9-4 Minnesota in the NFC North race and in position to make a run for a first-round playoff bye.
"Although we are definitely happy we won, I felt like we left a lot out there today," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said shortly after he became the first head coach in team history to reach double-digit wins in his first season at the helm.
"We had a lot of short fields today and we didn't capitalize on those. We have to look at the film critically and clean up whatever we have to clean up. We've gotta get better."
The Packers jumped out to a 14-0 lead but had four drives over the first three quarters that reached Redskins territory and produced no points. The most costly mistake was Aaron Rodgers' fumble on first down from the Washington 27-yard line with a minute left in the first half with the Packers leading 14-6.
The miscue and other missed chances left the Packers in a one-score game in the fourth quarter on a day the defense allowed one significant drive – a 95-yard Washington TD march in the second quarter – until game's end.
"It was frustrating at times, just not being able to kind of get over the hump and put them away," Rodgers said. "They have a stout front. We ran the ball pretty well. We just couldn't find that rhythm in the passing game. But it feels good to be 10-3."
The Packers did run the ball well, racking up a season-best 174 yards on the ground, including 134 from Aaron Jones, his personal season high. Jones, who rushed for his 12th touchdown on the season and 15th TD overall, was the team's top pass-catcher as well with six catches for 58 yards, giving him 192 yards from scrimmage.
No reception was bigger than his 25-yard grab midway through the fourth quarter. The Packers led, 17-9, but faced third-and-14 from their own 7-yard line. Jones got between the cornerback and safety down the sideline and Rodgers fit the ball in, with Jones making the catch while tumbling backward.
"That was pretty much the play of the game from an offensive standpoint," LaFleur said. "It was looking pretty grim right there, another third-and-long situation."
Rodgers, who finished 18-of-28 for 195 yards with one TD to tight end Robert Tonyan and a 96.6 passer rating, confessed he called the formation incorrectly on the key play. But it worked in the Packers' favor because the "wrong" alignment might have drawn more attention to receiver Davante Adams from the Washington safety, giving Jones more room down the sideline.
"I don't think it was a great throw as far as how it came off, but he's got pretty damn good hands," Rodgers said of Jones. "It was a great catch by him."
The huge first down propelled the Packers to a 14-play, 74-yard drive that consumed seven minutes, 24 seconds of the fourth-quarter clock and tacked on a field goal to make it 20-9. A two-score margin was finally restored with 2:34 left and Washington had burned all of its timeouts.
The Redskins used half that remaining time to get their second touchdown of the game, a circus catch by receiver Terry McLaurin for the 13-yard score, to pull within six points with 1:17 to go. But the Packers stopped QB Dwayne Haskins trying to run for the two-point conversion, and Adams recovered Washington's onside kick to seal the victory.
Defensively, the Packers caught a break when Washington rookie running back Derrius Guice exited with a knee injury in the second quarter. He got hurt at the end of a 23-yard run and had rushed for 41 of his 52 yards on that drive.
His departure took away the Redskins' 1-2 backfield punch, leaving the workload to Adrian Peterson, who was held in check pretty well (20 carries, 76 yards, 3.8 avg., one TD). Haskins was sacked four times, held to 170 passing yards and picked off late in the first half by safety Adrian Amos as he was trying to get the Redskins in position for points before halftime.
"I liked the energy," LaFleur said of the defense, which started the game with three straight three-and-outs. "I thought they prepared well all week. We have to make sure we build on that moving forward."
The Packers also finally have a punt return game to talk about, as newcomer Tyler Ervin picked up 51 yards on four returns (12.8 avg.) and erased the Packers' worst season stat of minus-8 punt return yards coming into the game.
He was a key reason the Packers had such good field position for the bulk of the game, but the offense didn't cash in enough times, and that's what the Packers will be focused on as they head into the home stretch with three NFC North games to close out the regular season.
"We've got a lot to clean up in order to move forward to get to where we want to get to," LaFleur said.
"We'll never apologize for winning. But you always want to go out and put your best performance out there. I think there was more out there for us."