It was all in your perspective Sunday inside the Green Bay Packers’ locker room. If you had a gray hair or two, had suffered through some tough seasons during your decade or so in the NFL, a 24-15 victory – unimpressive as it might have been – was still worth appreciating. If you were still a relative young guy and really had known nothing but NFL success – like, that Super Bowl XLV title, or that 15-1 regular season – you were more inclined to focus on the negatives.
But wherever you fell on the spectrum, there was no denying this: While the Packers (5-3) weren’t as dominant as they could have been – should have been? – as 14.5-point favorites against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) at Lambeau Field, winning sure beat the alternative.
“You never look (negatively) on a win. They’re tough to get,” 14-year veteran center Jeff Saturday said. “We’re 5-3, and that puts us in a better position than we were the week before. Obviously it wasn’t as clean as everybody would like it to be, there’s places we need to fix things. Offensively, we’d have some good drives, and then we’d have some lulls and stall out. Consistency wasn’t where we want it. But anytime you find a way to win, it’s much easier to lick your wounds as opposed to losing. I’m glad we won, but we’ve got to improve consistency-wise.”
A few feet away, 12-year veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett felt the same way.
“I feel good that we won. In the NFL, it’s tough to win,” Pickett said as he headed for the door. “It wasn’t our best performance, and I think everybody agrees that we could’ve played better. But we made enough plays when it counted to win. That was big. We could’ve let down and walked out of here with a loss. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We watched the tape of them playing. Pretty much everybody they played, they were in the game until the end. So we knew they’d play us tough.”
And the Jaguars did do that. Despite entering play with the NFL’s worst offense in terms of yardage and the 28th-ranked defense by the same measure – and playing without their marquee player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) – the Jaguars stuck around behind quarterback Blaine Gabbert (a career-high 303 yards passing with no interceptions) and a defense that shut down the Packers’ run game (22 carries, 54 yards for Alex Green) and harassed quarterback Aaron Rodgers (two sacks, one lost fumble, another wiped out by a penalty).
“It was definitely a grind-it-out type victory,” admitted Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team has now won three in a row. “As I shared with the football team, I felt the victory was obviously important, but there was a little bit of a rollercoaster throughout our play.”
Said Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey: “I hate to be standing up here again with another loss, but there are some things that showed up today that I was pleased with. There are some positives that we can take from this game playing in a tough environment. Some guys stepped up and made some plays for us today, including our quarterback, which I thought he did. We still have things to clean up, but I thought there was progress.”
To Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews and tight end Jermichael Finley, though, the Jaguars’ so-called progress was the direct result of their own team’s ineptitude.
Finley, for example, had said earlier in the week that he thought the Packers should “blow that scoreboard up” against the Jaguars. That didn’t happen, as Rodgers (22 of 35, 186 yards, two touchdowns, two sacks, 95.7 rating) and the offense couldn’t replicate the sustained success of the previous two weeks again Houston and St. Louis. That the offense was without wide receivers Greg Jennings (sports hernia surgery set for Tuesday) for the fourth straight game and Jordy Nelson (hamstring injury suffered Wednesday in practice) was inconsequential.
“Not to take this the wrong way, but these teams like this we’ve got to put away early. It’s just not right leaving this locker room knowing that (didn’t happen),” said Finley, who caught two passes for 24 yards. “They’re an NFL team, not to get that wrong, but the Jacksonville Jaguars stayed around in Lambeau Field. They were supposed to have been under the Frozen Tundra at halftime.
“How long (has) Greg been out? Jordy was out (only for) this game. We miss them of course, but we’ve got playmakers down this line right here. Not one person stopped us from playing our game. We shouldn’t have let Jacksonville get on top of us. A team like that, we’re supposed to dust.”
On defense, the Packers did give back much of their 14-3 lead – in part because Rodgers’ fumble setting up a Jaguars touchdown just before halftime – and couldn’t contain Gabbert or wide receiver Cecil Shorts (eight catches, 116 yards). At the same time, in the second half, the unit did force three straight punts, stiffened to hold the Jaguars to a field goal at the end of an 11-play drive and then had back-to-back fourth-down stops to secure the victory.
To Matthews, though, there was a malaise that permeated the entire team – and he couldn’t quite explain why.
“Obviously we would like to win these games in a better fashion. It was kind of sloppy out there, lack of energy, but a win’s a win in this league,” Matthews said. “I don’t know (why). Perhaps it could be the early morning game, our first one here. Ultimately, that’s not a good enough excuse, and we definitely were flat. It’s something that needs to be addressed, will be addressed.
“It was all the way around. The stadium had a lack of energy, we had a lack of energy. It just was one of those things where, you’ve been a part of this atmosphere where there’s been a more electric feel. Whether that’s the time of the day or who we’re playing or their record or where we’re at, obviously it’s good that we were able to get this victory at this time and understand that we’re coming into the same situation next week (against Arizona). You could see at times we picked it up, but it was still too much up-and-down.”
After Rodgers’ first touchdown to Randall Cobb gave the Packers a 7-3 lead, the special teams – a strength all season – delivered a touchdown two series later. After the defense held after a 43-yard Gabbert-to-Shorts completion was erased by McCarthy’s replay challenge, punter Bryan Anger’s boot was smothered by cornerback Davon House, who broke in from the left edge. The ball bounced around until linebacker Dezman Moses finally fell on it for a 14-3 lead.
Instead of putting the game away, though, the Packers let the Jaguars back in it – first when the defense let them drive for a field goal with 1:03 left in the half, and then when Rodgers was sacked and fumbled on the next play from scrimmage, with Jacksonville recovering at the Packers’ 13-yard line. Five plays and one third-down conversion later, Gabbert threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to eligible tackle Guy Whimper. While the 2-point conversion attempt failed, the Jaguars were back in the game at 14-12.
Green Bay’s first three drives of the second half then ended in a punt, a failed fake 55-yard field goal on an incompletion by holder Tim Masthay, and kicker Mason Crosby doinking a 32-yarder off the upright. But in all three instances, the Packers defense forced a three-and-out punt immediately thereafter, buying time for Rodgers & Co. to get what turned out to be the victory-clinching touchdown with 12:36 to play on a 4-yard Rodgers-to-Donald Driver strike.
As a result, the same team that alternated weekly between defeat and victory has now won three in a row. Considering how grim things looked at times early in the season, that counts for something
“I don’t see it as a setback at all. … It’s good to be on this side of an ugly win,” Rodgers said. “It’s tough to win in this league. I think the expectations that we set around here and the way we played on offense, especially the last couple weeks, the expectations were we were going to come out and maybe blow them out. But we didn’t start fast, we didn’t have enough juice early on and didn't play well enough on offense to get that done.
“Defense and special teams did their part. Offensively, we’re going to be very critical as we watch the film tomorrow and move forward. However, that being said, we’re 5-3, (and) as much as the adversity that we dealt with early in the season has affected us, I think we’ve come out, won three in a row and we're moving in the right direction.
“It’s important when you don’t play your best you can still come out with Ws. It’s a lot easier to watch that film when you won – obviously, even if you didn’t play very well on whatever side of the ball you’re on. We struggled on offense. You’ve got to give them credit. They had a good plan, they executed really well, but it’s going to feel a lot better knowing tonight we’re relaxing and we’re 5-3 and we’re right in the mix.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.