Following a dominating win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers control their playoff destiny thanks to a Washington Commanders loss earlier in the day.
What a difference 16 weeks can make. In Week 1, the Vikings beat the Packers 23-7. Green Bay’s defense had no answer for Justin Jefferson on his way to a 184-yard and two-touchdown performance. Fast forward to Week 17, and the script was completely flipped as Jefferson was stifled for just one catch of 15 yards.
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This Packers defense has been on a hot streak since Week 13. Over the past four games, a defense that had once been dormant is now taking the ball away like no other, with nine interceptions over that span.
Last week, it was Tua Tagovailoa who threw three picks in the second half so Green Bay could secure their seventh win. Kirk Cousins matched that total and helped a team that is oozing with confidence at just the right time.
Thanks to a stellar defensive performance, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense did not have to expend a ton of energy in a 41-17 win.
The Vikings, of course, have already clinched a playoff spot but were in contention for the top seed in the NFC before Sunday’s loss. Green Bay now needs a win over the Detroit Lions in the final week of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot.
But before we look ahead to a crucial Week 18 matchup, let’s highlight the standouts from the Packers’ most recent victory.
It was bound to happen at some point. Nixon finally got his first home call when he took the first Minnesota kickoff 105 yards to the end zone. It should have happened last week in Miami, but he was tackled after a 93-yard return. Nixon made sure he scored this time when he burst through the middle of the field, only needing to beat kicker Greg Joseph to get into the clear. The return came at a great time to counter a blocked punt by the Vikings to set up a short field goal to go up 3-0. Nixon came back with the perfect answer to give Green Bay a lead they would never surrender.
Crosby hadn’t been called on for many long field goals this season. Entering the week, he was 0-2 on attempts over 50 yards with a length of 48. But with four seconds left in the second quarter, the Packers put their trust in Crosby’s leg for a 56-yarder. The ball bounced off the crossbar and through the uprights to give Green Bay a 27-3 lead heading into halftime. Crosby has now made his last 13 field goal attempts (not including extra points) dating back to his game-winner against the Dallas Cowboys.
Jones was limited all week in practice, but even with a clean bill of health, no one knows what his workload will be on a weekly basis. This week, the Packers decided to give him 14 carries, which resulted in a total of 111 yards (7.9 YPC). Jones has now rushed for at least 100 yards in five games this season and reached 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. After the game, Matt LaFleur said Jones was one of the toughest players he’s been around because of how he fought through injuries.
Not only did the offensive line do a great job opening rush lanes for Jones, but they were also outstanding in pass protection. It was a night-and-day performance from the first matchup, in which Rodgers was sacked four times. Of course, that game did not feature the Packers’ two best linemen in David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. Both were healthy for the second matchup, and that proved to be the difference, as Rodgers was sacked only once and operated from clean pockets for most of the day.
No one was more ready for their individual matchup than Green Bay’s premier corner. Alexander called Jefferson’s first game a “fluke” and backed up those comments by limiting him to one reception on five targets. The one catch did not appear to be against Alexander’s coverage. The Packers took a different approach in covering the NFL’s leading receiver, as Alexander covered Jefferson on 65% of his routes compared to just 36% in Week 1, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Alexander also managed to break up a pass intended for Jefferson and mocked him with a Griddy celebration. The highest-paid corner in football has had an up-and-down year, but he shut down one of the elite wide receivers in the game.
Clark hadn’t had a sack since Week 10, but that streak ended on Sunday. On their first possession of the second half, the Vikings moved the ball 60 yards to the Green Bay 15. Cousins dropped back to pass on second down but was met by Clark, who had beaten guard Ed Ingram with a dominant pass rush. While sacking Cousins, Clark swatted the ball away for a fumble he would also recover. The turnover may have taken points away from Minnesota and kept the Packers at a safe 24-point distance.
It hasn’t been a great year for the veteran safety, but Amos made his presence felt in Week 17. Amos led the team with eight tackles and also had the second of Cousins’ three interceptions. During the second quarter, the Vikings were threatening to score at the Green Bay 31-yard line before Cousins had his pass tipped at the line by TJ Slaton. The ball flew into the hands of Amos, who returned it 26 yards and set up a Packers touchdown drive to take a three-score lead. It was Amos’ first interception of the year after having two in each of his previous three seasons with the Packers.
With help from Rasul Douglas, Savage made his way back into the good graces of the fans with a pick-six in the first quarter. The pass was intended for tight end TJ Hockenson, who was closely covered by Douglas. After deflecting off Douglas, the ball floated into the hands of Savage. Green Bay’s safety then ran it 75 yards to the end zone for his first defensive touchdown. The Packers never looked back after taking a 14-3 lead, as Savage’s pick ignited a strong defensive performance. Two weeks ago, Savage played only one defensive snap against the Los Angeles Rams. Now he is back to playing meaningful snaps for a defense that could use the confidence of their former first-round pick.