The nation paused as Aaron Rodgers frantically rushed his offense up to the line to spike the football in the waning seconds of Sunday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers. Would Rodgers be able to spike the ball with time left on the clock to give seasoned veteran Mason Crosby a chance to win the game with a 51-yard kick?
It’s a storyline that seems all too common.
For those who live under a rock, yes, Rodgers was able to spike the ball with a few seconds left. The spike came with a bit of attitude. After the franchise quarterback drove his team into field goal range with just 37 seconds on the clock and zero timeouts, how could it not?
And yes, Crosby nailed the kick through the uprights just as he has so many times before to give the Green Bay Packers a 30-28 win over a previously undefeated 49ers team.
Any win in the NFL should be celebrated, especially a last-second one such as this. Sunday’s victory was a bit sweeter, though. Rodgers snagged a W in the backyard of his hometown team that famously passed on him in the 2005 NFL Draft. Head coach Matt LeFleur gained a victory against close friend and former co-worker Kyle Shanahan, his first at Levi’s Stadium.
The biggest takeaway? The Packers defeated a high-quality football team — not just Rodgers, but the entire Green Bay squad.
Earlier this season, I wrote about how Green Bay’s Week 3 matchup against the Niners would be make or break in terms of setting the tone for the season. That tone has been set, and the Packers are moving in the right direction.
Projecting Super Bowl contenders in September is far from a good idea. Yet it’s hard not to argue that the Packers are starting to show traits of a contending squad. And while they’re far from perfect, there’s a lot of firepower inside the Green Bay locker room; they’ll only be further emboldened after last week’s confidence-boosting win.
Here are some components that indicate why the Week 3 Green and Gold look like contenders for the Lombardi Trophy.
Aaron Rodgers didn’t need four touchdowns for the Packers to win
We’ve become accustomed to Packers comebacks consisting of Rodgers throwing for 300-plus yards and at least three touchdowns. On Sunday, he only had 261 passing yards and two touchdowns. That’s still a great day at the office, but the Packers have matured when it comes to offensive play calling. Rodgers only completed 23 passes and handed the ball off 25 times in the game. Yes, his last-minute heroics will gain all the attention, but the fact that Green Bay emphasizes quality over quantity will only benefit the offense in games to come.
Run the ball, even if it isn’t working
This statement may sound rhetorical or even hypocritical. Say what you want, but the fact that Green Bay ran the ball often was a huge factor in Sunday’s win, even if Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon only rushed for a combined 100 yards.
A week after scoring four touchdowns, Jones didn’t bring the electric plays to San Francisco that we saw at home against the Detroit Lions — and that’s okay. Dillon and a noticeably banged-up Jones were utilized enough to keep the 49ers’ defense uncomfortable. Both men even tallied substantial yardage on receiving plays in addition to some great blocks. That versatility is an offensive coordinator’s dream and something that will frighten defensive units all season.
Small defensive victories led to a stronger unit as a whole
Eric Stokes can play. The 2021 first-round pick cornerback received perhaps the most national attention in his short time as a pro on Sunday night. Despite two questionable pass interference calls, Stokes’ speed and aggressive playing style are going to serve as a massive weapon in the Green Bay secondary for years to come.
And while the Packers’ secondary won’t be pleased with the 267 passing yards that they surrendered, the strong play of the Green Bay run defense evened things out. The Niners managed only 67 yards on the ground all game. Despite the absence of Raheem Mostert, Green Bay’s defensive line and linebacker core looked as strong as they have all season. Preston Smith and Rashan Gary applied pressure to Jimmy Garoppolo all night and made it tough for anyone to get through the heart of the Packers’ defense.
The Bottom Line
Aside from a win, Sunday night instilled something in the Packers that had not shown the first two weeks: confidence. Green Bay had moments of brilliance on both sides of the ball from various players, not just No. 12. Next week, the Packers line up against a struggling Pittsburgh Steelers team, followed by road games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Chicago Bears. This stretch against weaker teams will only help bolster that confidence as they prepare for the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs in Weeks 8 and 9.
If they capitalize on their strengths from last Sunday, there’s no telling what this team can do come the postseason.