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Plenty of 'mixed feelings' after Packers forced to hang on again

Failing to close game out earlier, offense and defense hit costly lulls for second straight week

Green Bay's defense rallies to tackle Cleveland RB Nick Chubb in the Packers' 24-22 win over the Browns on Saturday, Dec. 25.
Green Bay's defense rallies to tackle Cleveland RB Nick Chubb in the Packers' 24-22 win over the Browns on Saturday, Dec. 25.

GREEN BAY – A win is a win is a win…

But the Packers weren't in the best of celebratory spirits after holding on to edge the Browns, 24-22, on Christmas Day at Lambeau Field.

Referring to an up-and-down day from his defense, Head Coach Matt LaFleur said "there's a lot of mixed feelings" about the performance, and the thought applies to both sides of the ball, really.

But to start with the defense …

"The splash plays are great," LaFleur said. "Obviously the difference in the game was the four turnovers and the five sacks, but I would say just down in and down out we have to be more consistent and make sure that we're doing a better job in the run game.

"You gotta give them credit, but absolutely do I think we need to be better? No doubt about it. We gotta do a better job of setting the edge and we gotta do a better job of tackling. That was probably our worst performance tackling this season."

The 219 rushing yards allowed were a season-worst, as Nick Chubb was doing a lot of the tackle-breaking. Cleveland's seven third-down conversions tied for second-most allowed this season.

It's unsettling to win the all-important turnover battle 4-0 and only win the game by two points. That's not how it's supposed to work. There are no apologies in the NFL, but the Packers know they made it harder on themselves than they needed to.

The offense similarly went from sublime to struggling on Saturday.

The Packers scored three touchdowns and a field goal in a span of five possessions from the middle of the first quarter through the middle of the third. Twenty-four points with a quarter and a half to play is a pretty good spot to be in.

But then? Bupkis.

Two three-and-outs, featuring a 10-yard loss on a first-down end-around on the first one, and then a failure to move the chains despite a 7-yard first-down run on the second.

The offense was making an adjustment on the second series with Ben Braden momentarily subbing for Yosh Nijman at left tackle (Nijman later returned), and that influenced calling runs on both second-and-3 and third-and-2. But afterward, everyone from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams to LaFleur was lamenting the lack of aggression.

"We've got to find out exactly what we want to do in those situations and then go do it," Rodgers said. "And just trust. Put the ball in my hand, give me an opportunity to deal the ball to Davante or anybody else who's open, and go close out games in that situation."

There's certainly a lot less angst if, on the next possession, Adams doesn't lose a third-down throw in the lights when he's wide open down the sideline. That one play was the difference between the Packers breathing a little easier and hanging on for dear life.

Lambeau Field hosted the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns on Christmas Day.

But the disturbing thing is that's two weeks in a row now, with the season hitting crunch time in late December, when similar shifts have occurred seemingly on a dime.

Six days ago in Baltimore, the failure to get a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation in the fourth quarter kept the Ravens within two scores. The next thing the Packers knew, two Baltimore TDs sandwiched around a three-and-out led to a two-point try with the game in the balance.

That time, safety Darnell Savage shook off a rough game and deflected the Baltimore pass to the pylon to preserve the one-point win. On Christmas, Rasul Douglas proved to be the gift that keeps on giving with another game-saving interception.

"The last two weeks, stopping that two-point conversion and then coming up with a big pick, man, it's nerve-wrecking but winning is difficult in this league," Rodgers said.

He's absolutely right, of course, and the Packers deserve plenty of credit for improving to 6-2 in one-score games. Winning the tight ones is what makes or breaks seasons.

But it's hard to get a gauge on just where the Packers are with two games left in the regular season.

The bad news is they don't appear to be approaching the peak they'll need to hit in the postseason to make a run. The good news is they don't need to hit that peak for at least a few more weeks, and they're still in the best possible position at 12-3 atop the NFC.

"You'd rather learn from your bad plays or your mistakes after a win than after a loss," LaFleur said. "After a loss, obviously that can have devastating effects. I think our guys take the right mindset with that. We'll be better for it."

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