Jim Polzin column: Packers found their identity just in time

Green Bay's demolition of the Vikings puts the Packers in control of their own destiny in Week 18.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) and safety Rudy Ford (20) celebrate after breaking up a pass play against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Wm. Glasheen / USA Today Sports

GREEN BAY — There were 7 minutes, 36 minutes remaining in a rout at Lambeau Field when Jordan Love entered the game for some mop-up duty. The seven snaps that followed were relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of developing a young backup quarterback, whose only job Sunday was to get the Green Bay Packers to the finish line.

But Love's cameo appearance in the Packers' 41-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings got me thinking about something I was asked by a reader back in late November. The Open Jim mailbag question from a Twitter follower got right to the point — Shut down Aaron Rodgers? — and that sounded like the right move to me a few days after a 40-33 loss at Philadelphia dropped Green Bay to 4-8 on the season.

I say yes. This team isn't going anywhere, so let Rodgers rest his rib and thumb injuries and give the organization a chance to evaluate Love over the final five games of the regular season.

File that one in the bad-takes category, because here we are a little over a month later and the Packers appear to be going somewhere after all. The only thing standing between them and the NFC playoffs is the Detroit Lions, who will arrive in Lambeau Field next weekend hoping to complete their own improbable run to the postseason.

The lesson here, for me and others who were ready to gaze into the future: Don't give up on a season until a team is officially eliminated from playoff contention.


"We've all seen some of the comments on the outside as we went from 4-8 to 5-8 to 6-8 and nobody's worried about the Packers and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," Rodgers said. "Now what are they going to say?"

That we were wrong, that we're sorry for doubting, that this season has become a whole lot more interesting thanks to a four-game winning streak and a ton of help from others competing for the third and final wild card spot in the NFL.

The latest example came earlier Sunday when the Washington Commanders lost at home to the Cleveland Browns, putting Green Bay in control of its own postseason fate.

But Rodgers and Co. still had to go out and take care of business and, wow, did they ever do that. This was the first game all season in which all three phases played well, resulting in a thoroughly dominating performance against the NFC North champion.

Are the Vikings imposters? Most likely yes. They're now 12-4 and yet have a minus-19 point differential, the combination of being 11-0 in one-score games with losses by 17 ( Philadelphia), 37 ( Dallas), 11 ( Detroit) and 24 ( Green Bay).

But that's still a team that was chasing a No. 1 seed and found itself trailing the Packers by 38 points in the fourth quarter.

Why? Because Green Bay finally was mastering complementary football, something that was missing the first 12 games of the season. The offense, defense and special teams all had scored a touchdown by halftime and — get this — the Packers were winning 14-3 in the first quarter despite having 14 total net yards through two offensive series.

This was the hope for this team from the start: A dominant defense that created turnovers (four on Sunday, seven in the past two games, 12 during the winning streak), an improved special teams unit under Rich Bisaccia and an offense that relied heavily on running back Aaron Jones and a veteran quarterback.


"This is the identity that we thought we were going to have," said Rodgers, who threw for only 159 yards during a turnover-free performance against the Vikings. "It just took a long, long time to get there."

Too long, in fact, but the Packers figured it out just in time.

"We just needed confidence," Keisean Nixon said.

That, and the emergence of two big surprises.

What nobody could have seen coming back at the midway point of the season was the impact that rookie wide receiver Christian Watson would make. He didn't add to a touchdown total that stands at nine and only had one catch for 11 yards against the Vikings, but his presence on the field has changed the dynamic of this offense. Defenses have to respect Watson's speed and ability to make plays downfield.

And certainly nobody could have predicted the home-run capability that Nixon has added to Green Bay's return game. LaFleur and Rodgers are disappointed when he doesn't bring a kickoff out of the end zone, no matter how deep it is, so you can imagine their sheer joy when he took one back 105 yards in the first quarter to give the Packers the lead for good.

The team once left for dead now looks downright dangerous, the red-hot team nobody's particularly anxious to play when the playoffs begin later this month.

But first things first.


"We're going to have a good story to tell ... but we've got to finish it," safety Adrian Amos said. "We finished this week and now we're 0-0. We've been in playoff mode for a while. We've got to continue going into this week."

The fact this regular-season finale against the Lions is meaningful is hard to comprehend considering how bleak things looked for the Packers in late November, back when shutting down Rodgers in favor of Love seemed like a good idea.


Contact Jim Polzin at .


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