If you would have told me when Mike McCarthy got fired that on December 30th, 2019, the Green Bay Packers would be 13-3 and the second seed in the NFC I would have told you that you were crazy. The past two seasons for the Packers saw Aaron Rodgers break his collarbone, Ted Thompson step down from the general manager position, and Mike McCarthy fired from his head coaching duties.
In 2017, the Packers finished with a mere 7-9 and followed that with a 6-9-1 season in 2018. Those seasons weren’t pretty. Rodgers broke his collarbone and Packers fans had to endure Brett Hundley under center. Hundley wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t going to replace Rodgers as starting quarterback in the future. He was capable of holding a team together but wasn’t one to impress for a starting quarterback job. Hundley found himself traded to the Seattle Seahawks, eventually signing with the Arizona Cardinals in the off-season.
The Packers have done a 180-degree turn, and are trending in the right direction as a franchise. The biggest factor is General Manager Brian Gutekunst’s’ philosophy of improving the team “through all avenues”.
Gutekunst wasn’t kidding, either. He has brought in–what will eventually be known as his premier move as a GM– Za’Darius Smith, who leads the NFL in QB Pressures, pressuring the QB on at least 18% of plays, per PFF.
The Packers started off this season winning ugly in Chicago, with their defense showing that it will be able to carry this team throughout the season.
In the next week, the Packers got off to a fast start against the Minnesota Vikings, winning 21-16. The Packers relied on their defense in the second half of that game to get them the victory.
Week three saw the Packers beat the Broncos at home rather handily, and week four brought the Packers their first loss–only at home– the entire season, to the now 4 seeded Philadelphia Eagles.
Week five saw the explosion, and to some, the fulfillment of expectations in Aaron Jones, with Jones rushing for a career-high 4 touchdowns and 107 yards. The Packers won this game in Dallas, a tough place to play, no doubt.
Week six saw the Packers’ first game of a stretch of games of truly winning ugly. The Packers hardly beat the Lions at home and never led until the final seconds with Mason Crosby hitting a go-ahead field goal.
The one exception to the “win-ugly” concept was week seven against the Oakland Raiders. This was a game that set the standard for how the Packers should win, with Rodgers throttling the Raiders, putting up a perfect passer rating, the first of his career. Rodgers threw for five touchdowns and it seemed like the Packers were “back on track” to take over the NFC by winning through grit and glamour.
Heading down to Kansas City, the Packers expected to see star QB Patrick Mahomes, but instead, due to injury, they saw backup QB Matt Moore, who was essentially pulled off the street by Andy Reid. Moore put up a fight, but in the end, the Packers saw a victory of 31-24.
Week 9 wasn’t a win, it was just ugly, with the Packers never really getting off the plane, mentally that is. Losing to the LA Chargers 26-11.
Fast forward to week 16 and the Packers found themselves 11-3 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Packers played one of their worst halves of football. Rodgers threw one interception (3rd on the year) with Aaron Jones and Davante Adams both fumbling the ball. It was ugly. The Packers then rebounded in the second half, and as everyone knows, beat the Vikings for the first time at U.S Bank Stadium, winning the NFC North and clinching a home playoff game. It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless.
Then came week 17. This was a game in which the Packers were favored by 12 points, and through it all, saw a Lions team that was depleted with injuries. Undrafted QB David Blough of Purdue, made the start for the Lions. Through some trickery, the Lions found themselves on top of the Packers 17-3 at the half.
HC Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers said that their game plan was to hit the Lions in the secondary, trying to force long, developing plays, taking deep shots. This approach seemed like it should succeed. Rodgers was off though, missing many wide receivers by overthrowing the ball, including an interception (4th on the season) that under threw Jake Kumerow. The Packers needed a win to secure the first-round bye and the two seed in the NFC. The first half saw way too many three and outs with the Packers’ defense almost collapsing in on itself. If one thing showed throughout the entire season up to this point, it was that the Packers are a second-half team. That deemed to be true.
Rodgers found Davante Adams for a touchdown on a beautiful route to the end zone, followed up by the phenom Allen Lazard. Lazard has been a guy that has been consistent for the Packers, especially in the second half of the season.
The Packers drove down the field in the final minute of the game, allowing Mason Crosby to hit a vindicating 33-yard game-winning field goal.
The Packers have won ugly the entire season. It is their identity. It isn’t a bad identity either. It means they are a tested team. One that dug themselves a hole and found their way out. It is who they are as a team. This will only help them in the playoffs. Why? Because good teams find a way to win when they are down and that is exactly what the Packers did, they simply found a way. That mentality and adversity will carry them throughout the playoffs.