GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a city nicknamed Titletown and with a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers, only one thing matters for the Green Bay Packers.
That, of course, is winning the Super Bowl.
Can the Packers win this year’s Super Bowl?
Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts showed that the answer is a definitive yes.
Or, maybe it’s a definitive no.
Offensively, the Packers can score against any team in the NFL. They showed that against Indianapolis by scoring 31 points vs. a team that entered the game ranked fourth in points allowed. While Aaron Rodgers’ fumble and interception early in the game and two three-and-outs in the third quarter were killers, it was a noteworthy performance. In their last game against a top-10 scoring defense, the Packers were trounced at Tampa Bay. They never crossed midfield during the final three quarters of that game. Against the Colts, Rodgers threw for 311 yards to lead an offense consistently stuck with bad field position.
Defensively, it delivered some championship-level stops. In games this season in which one team has at least four giveaways, the average point differential was almost 14 points. The Packers lost by three because of how their defense performed when put in bad spots. After the turnovers, the defense didn’t allow a single first down in limiting the Colts to only a pair of field goals.
Those are positive takeaways despite the negative outcome.
However, the NFL is a bottom-line business. “Moral victories” or “almost wins” or whatever you want to call what happened on Sunday don’t show up in the standings. They aren’t a part of playoff tiebreakers. The bottom line is the Packers once again lost to a good team. Sure, the margin isn’t what it was in the two games against San Francisco last year or against Tampa Bay this year. But a loss is a loss.
“We’ve got to be better in all three phases, and especially in timely spots,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to score when we get opportunities. We’ve got to get stops when we get opportunities. And we’ve got to take care of the ball on special teams.”
Offensively, the Packers had three turnovers in the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco, two in the loss to Tampa Bay and four against the Colts. That’s an unwelcome trend that’s obviously incredibly difficult to overcome against quality competition. They might have overcome them, though, if not for the dismal third quarter. Indianapolis gained more yards (125-15), ran more plays (24-6) and scored more points (11-0). That trend continued into the fourth quarter.
Obviously, that’s a three-way street. The defense needed to get a stop and the special teams can’t fumble away the ball. Still, the Packers’ best unit, which is led by its best player, couldn’t stem the tide until a 28-14 lead turned into a 31-28 deficit. The offense needed to gain some first downs to at least allow the defense to catch its breath.
Defensively, eliminating the take-a-knee to end the first half, it allowed five consecutive scores spanning the end of the second quarter to midway through the fourth quarter. The first four of those drives went 12 plays for 75 yards, 14 plays for 56 yards, 10 plays for 55 yards and eight plays for 50 yards.
Can the Packers win the Super Bowl? Yes. Rodgers is having an exceptional season. Offensively, the team ranks fourth on third down and in the red zone. It generally takes care of the football. LaFleur's 20-6 career record speaks for itself. Those are great starting points. If Allen Lazard can round into form and if Aaron Jones can get rolling again, a potent offense could become lethal.
Then again, the Packers could just as easily be a one-and-done team in the playoffs. The last seven Super Bowl champions have finished in the top 10 in scoring defense; the Packers are a mediocre 17th. At this point, the team’s success is almost wholly dependent on the Rodgers-led passing attack. Teams with only one path to victory typically don’t last long in January.
Ten games into the season, is the team identity etched in granite? Or can there be enough improvement on defense and special teams to make it a well-rounded challenger capable of winning rematches against Tampa Bay and New Orleans in the playoffs or the defending champion Chiefs in the Super Bowl?
“Today actually gave me a lot of confidence in our guys,” Rodgers said after the game. “That might sound weird when we lost and we turned the ball over four times, but … I did get a lot of confidence based on the way we practiced this week. I felt like this was the first week all season where we practiced like a great team and not just a good team, so that was encouraging. I was encouraged by the focus that we had, I was encouraged by the defense and the confidence that they were brimming with. I just think we need to be an all-three-phases football team to go as far as we want to go. I still feel really good about our chances and our squad.”