Jim Polzin column: Packers are division champs, but still flawed

Inconsistency could cost the Packers in the postseason.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83)] dives for a touchdown during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2021. Tommy Gilligan / USA Today Sports

BALTIMORE — The Green Bay Packers are the NFC North champions once again and it's officially time to start pondering what kind of identity they'll have when the playoffs begin in less than a month.

If the past four games are any indication, it's a team that will have to be great enough offensively to survive the other two phases and win shootouts.

That certainly was the case Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Packers rode Aaron Rodgers' hot hand to a 31-30 victory over the Baltimore Ravens to improve to 11-3 and move one step closer to earning a No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Watching scoreboards light up is nothing new to this team. It outlasted the Chicago Bears 45-30 last week and the Los Angeles Rams 36-28 the game before that. This stretch of shootouts began with a 34-31 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 21.

That's enough evidence to suggest this might be the way the Packers have to win in the postseason, putting up high point totals and hoping the other two units don't make all that production go to waste.


"I sure hope not," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "We'd like to hold teams to less points. I think our defense has shown what they're capable of doing."

But that group has been shaky at times since shutting out the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 14 and on Sunday had a lot of trouble against a backup quarterback.

That wasn't Lamar Jackson out there for the Ravens, but Tyler Huntley sure did a solid impression of the 2019 NFL MVP. Huntley accounted for four touchdowns while throwing for 215 yards and running for 73 more. He nearly led Baltimore all the way back from a 31-17 deficit in the fourth quarter, but the Green Bay defense came up with a play when it needed one the most and stopped the Ravens' 2-point try in the final minute.

Huntley didn't help his cause with an inaccurate throw on that attempt to tight end Mark Andrews, who the Packers couldn't cover all game.

Green Bay's special teams unit wasn't the train wreck it was a week ago against the Bears but it still made plenty of mistakes. Losing in that phase of the game was expected considering Baltimore's special teams unit is arguably the best in the NFL, but the Packers continue to shoot themselves in the foot with unforced errors.

Like, for example, when punt coverage gunner Isaac Yiadom got a 15-yard penalty for running into the returner in the first quarter. That gave the Ravens the ball in Green Bay territory and they needed only seven plays to cover 45 yards and build a 7-0 lead.

"Certainly the special teams isn't up to the standard and we've got to keep continuing to find ways to improve," LaFleur said. "We've got to coach it better, we've got to execute better. But that goes for offense and defense as well."

Yes, for as much of a heavy load as the offense has carried over the past month, it feels like it can do even more lifting. A constant theme, even after a string of 30-plus point games, is LaFleur and his players talking about how they've got to be more consistent and not waste opportunities.


Rodgers and the Packers had a three-and-out on their first series of the game and another as they were clinging to a 31-24 lead in the fourth quarter. There was also a drive late in the first half that began with a 24-yard strike from Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling but stalled when Rodgers was sacked on the next play.

Instead of the Packers taking a lead into halftime, the possession ended with a punt.

"We're making steps in the right direction, for sure," said Valdes-Scantling, who had five catches for 98 yards and a score. "Obviously we want to score on every possession, that's just our mindset. Being able to score 30-plus points in consecutive games is kind of our goal, but there's still more out there for us and we're definitely not playing up to our standard for four quarters."

Rodgers' presence has made the Packers a Super Bowl threat in the majority of the seasons in his legendary career and his play continues to be the No. 1 reason that remains a realistic goal for this campaign. He's got 13 touchdowns with no interceptions during this four-game run of shootouts, producing passer ratings of 148.4, 97.2, 141.1 and 137.6 during that stretch.

While he won't end up with numbers as gaudy as his 2020 MVP season, Rodgers is playing every bit as good.

Packers running back Aaron Jones, who had caught one of Rodgers' three touchdown passes against the Ravens, said his quarterback is "playing at the same high level as he was last year, leading this team to wins and he looks good doing it, too."

Truth is, Rodgers probably makes the Packers look better than they actually are, especially considering how many top-of-the-roster players they're missing due to injury. Even he believes the offense is good enough to keep this team winning, even if the other two units don't hold up their end of the bargain.

"I do, I do," Rodgers said. "I think there's times that we're going to have to do that. We're going to have to outscore teams."


Whether that formula is sustainable in the postseason remains to be seen. But it sure helps to have a great gunslinger if you're going to be involved in a shootout.

Contact Jim Polzin at .


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