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Packers looking to make habit of late-season surge
0:47 | NFL
Packers looking to make habit of late-season surge
Tuesday November 29th, 2016

If you destroy the tapes from the first 11 weeks of the 2016 NFL season, the Packers’ 27-13 win over the Eagles on Monday Night Football would not feel like a surprise. 

You climb out from under your rock, awake from your coma or come to your senses after a ‘Men in Black’ style memory eraser flash and sit down to watch TV. The Packers, with their two-time MVP, former Super Bowl champion, megastar QB Aaron Rodgers slice through the Eagles’ defense, dispatching of a team with a rookie quarterback, rookie coach and lack of playmakers. This is what we expected the 2016 NFL season to look like.

It’s only because of the events that have transpired since August that the Eagles entered this mutual desperation game as four-point favorites.

But you haven’t been under a rock, so you know all about the narratives that have surrounded these two teams all season long. 

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You know about Carson Wentz, the wunderkind rookie who jumped from FCS North Dakota State to the pros, was unexpectedly handed the keys to the team after the Sam Bradford trade and led the Eagles to a 3–0 start.

You know about the Packers, who have already lost six games, engendering debate about the coach, the quarterback and the team’s long-running lack of interest in free agents. You know that every aspect of Rodgers’s life has been—fairly or unfairly— dissected in public, from his mechanics to his receiving corps to which family members send him Christmas gifts and which ex-teammates have his cell phone number.

That heavily-scrutinized version of Rodgers felt different from the one who arrived at Lincoln Financial Field Monday night and handed the Eagles their first home loss of the season after wins there against Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Atlanta.

The Packers’ offense was unstoppable from the first drive, on which Rodgers went five-for-six for 47 yards, ran for two first downs and threw a touchdown to Davante Adams. Receivers spent most of the night running slants and other quick routes like layup lines as Rodgers got rid of the ball quickly and fed it to them in perfect stride. In all he completed 30 of 39 passes to eight different receivers for 313 yards and two touchdowns. 

The Eagles’ defense was unable to get him off the field, as the Packers controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes and went a startlingly efficient 10-for-14 on third down.

It’s tempting to ascribe a larger narrative to this game about Rodgers’s redemption—Rodgers was fired up to silence the critics, he knew the season was on the line, yadda yadda yadda. The truth is,  even though Rodgers has not lived up to his usual All-World standard this season, we all know he’s capable of conducting an offense like this. This was his third straight 300-yard game. He has thrown 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. His nine years as a starting QB are a larger and more reliable sample size than his first 10 games, or the X-number of games you’d like to go back to if you include the end of last season.

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The Eagles, to their credit, made a game of it early. Wentz answered Rodgers’s first drive by leading an 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive of his own, on which he was 6-for-6 for 70 yards and ran the score in himself. With the Eagles down 14–7 and backed up to their own half yard line, a stalled drive could have put them down two scores before halftime. Instead Wentz threw a ball right to Jordan Matthews’s back shoulder along the sideline and the Eagles methodically drove into field goal range, ran out almost all of the clock and cut it to 14–10.

After getting the ball right back to start the second half, the Eagles again charged into Packers territory.  But then Wentz made his worst throw of the night, a ball that sailed over Zach Ertz and right into Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s hands for the game’s only turnover.

Rodgers, after what felt like an eternity without the ball, made Philly’s defense pay right away. On the very first play of his first drive of the second half, he went play action, looked left and then bombed one deep right to Davante Adams for a 50-yard completion. The Packers settled for a field goal on that drive, but went 75 yards on 13 plays for a touchdown on their very next one. It was that kind of night.

Attention now shifts to the future, which is where the Eagles are better off looking anyway. Both teams are 5–6, but should have different expectations about the season’s final five weeks.

Both are 1.5 games behind the second wild card spot, but the Eagles are stuck in last place in the thriving NFC East. The Packers’ easiest path to their eighth consecutive playoff berth may be to storm back to the top of the NFC North. They trail the 7–4 Lions by two games (and the fading Vikings by one), but have a better division record and could be in position to wrestle it away in Detroit in Week 17.

The Eagles are less likely to be playing in mid-January, but they should still have optimism looking forward. Wentz’s statistics have regressed from his hot start, but his future remains widely regarded as bright. The Eagles will put better pieces around him than he had on Monday, when Ryan Mathews was out, Jordan Matthews left early, Nelson Agholor was a healthy inactive and the offensive line was shuffled around for a variety of reasons.

The Eagles have winnable games ahead, including home tilts with all three division rivals, each of whom they played to one-possession games on the road. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that they have lost six out of eight games, and they are right to be disappointed by a defense that forced zero turnovers, recorded zero sacks and made it entirely too easy for Green Bay’s receivers to get open.

We know less about how the season will play out for the Packers, who halted a four-game losing skid in which their defense allowed an average of more than 38 points per game. This team, which should have Super Bowl aspirations for the entirety of Rodgers’ prime, has either turned an important corner or shown us a flickering glimpse of what their once-promising season could have been.

Truthfully, what’s fun about watching the NFL is that oftentimes there’s a lot we don’t know. Even now there are teams that will rise or fall over the season’s final five weeks that we aren’t expecting. But for one night at least, what we thought we knew about these teams last August was indeed the case.

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