Polzin: Packers prove they've come a long way in the 6 weeks since their loss at Minnesota

Six weeks later, my tune has changed. This isn't a prediction by any means, but this group has proved that it absolutely has what it takes to win a championship.

Aaron Rodgers (12) of the Green Bay Packers looks to throw the ball during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 in Green Bay. Patrick McDermott/Getty Images/TNS

GREEN BAY — An entertaining scene played out back on Nov. 21 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where the host Minnesota Vikings had just beaten the Green Bay Packers with a walk-off field goal.

As Vikings radio play-by-play announcer Paul Allen was getting ready to start his "Between the Lines" postgame show for the team's website, an unidentified Packers coach apparently walked by and told him that he "better not talk into that microphone and give your team any credit."

That line set off Allen, who told co-hosts Ben Leber and Gabe Henderson that he was going to take the high road but eventually let his emotions get the best of him.

"I've got to say in my 20 years of calling Vikings games that's about the first time I've ever had a coach say something like that to me," Allen said at the end of an opening statement in which he praised the Packers for being 8-3 at that point despite so many injuries. "So best of luck to you guys the rest of the way and, quite honestly, I hope you lose every single freaking game the rest of the year."

This is where a narrator with a deep voice and a smooth delivery would interrupt this story to tell you that the Packers have not lost every single freaking game since that afternoon exactly six weeks ago. In fact, they've won every single freaking game, going 5-0 to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.



The pole-position clincher came Sunday, Jan. 2, at Lambeau Field, where Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams led the way as the Packers humiliated the Vikings 37-10 to improve their record to 13-3.
Allen wasn't the only one who spoke too soon that day in Minneapolis. The irony here is that my biggest takeaway from that defeat was how it was another sign that something was missing from this Green Bay roster.

Here's how I started my column:

There's a great team somewhere inside this Green Bay Packers roster, perhaps one that's even capable of emerging from a top-heavy NFC and giving the organization its first Super Bowl berth in more than a decade.

At least I think there is. It's hard to be certain this team can be special because the season is 11 weeks old and the Packers haven't authored those kind of complete performances that leave you walking away thinking, yep, this group has what it takes to win a championship.

Six weeks later, my tune has changed. This isn't a prediction by any means, but this group has proved that it absolutely has what it takes to win a championship.

It's been easy this season to poke holes in the Packers' performances, even if most of them were ending with Matt LaFleur's team ahead on the scoreboard. A team that hasn't always won pretty nonetheless has a beautiful record — the best in the NFL, in fact — and several people deserve credit for that feat.


Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) runs the football against the Detroit Lions during the third quarter at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

At the top of my list, in alphabetical order:

—Davante Adams, who had 11 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings and now has 117 receptions — breaking his own franchise record — for a career-high 1,498 yards on the season.

—General manager Brian Gutekunst, who already had built one of the NFL's strongest rosters and made several key in-season additions to help the team survive a spate of injuries to key players.

—LaFleur, who is now 39-9 in regular-season play and 15-2 against the NFC North during his three seasons in Titletown. He guided the Packers to this point despite a challenging schedule and a constantly changing roster each week.

—And, of course, Rodgers, who has been nearly flawless down the stretch run of this season. He went 29 of 38 for 288 yards with two touchdowns on Sunday, giving him 35 on the season with only four interceptions. It's too early to start engraving his name on the NFL MVP Award trophy, which would be his second in a row and fourth overall, but it's his to lose at this point.

The biggest challenge for LaFleur now is to figure out how to handle the next three weeks before the Packers' next meaningful game. Does he sit stars such as Rodgers, Adams and running back Aaron Jones next week so they're fresh for whichever NFC team — Tampa Bay? Dallas? Los Angeles Rams? Arizona? — rolls into Lambeau Field the weekend of Jan. 22-23? Or is that too risky considering how much rust can build up in that amount of time?

How does LaFleur handle the potential returns of injured starters such as cornerback Jaire Alexander, left tackle David Bakhtiari and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith? Do any of them get limited game reps next week at Detroit?


What's clear is that LaFleur will have a team that enters the playoffs having experienced a lot during the regular season.

The Packers won two games (and lost one) on the final play of the game and four other victories weren't secured until the final minute.

Green Bay won by double figures at Chicago in October but that game was in doubt until Rodgers scrambled for a touchdown with under 5 minutes remaining. Three other double-digit wins were deceiving as well: The Packers trailed at halftime in two of them and led by three entering the fourth quarter of another one.

They'd only had two "comfortable" wins before Sunday, when Rodgers found Adams and Allen Lazard for touchdowns in a big second quarter that helped them build a 20-3 halftime lead over the Vikings.

Game over and, oddly enough, it was the exact type of complete performance that seemed elusive six weeks ago.

"I thought it was our most complete game in all three phases," LaFleur said, "and that's what we need moving forward."

But please take the high road, Packers fans, and take it easy on Paul Allen. He had to sit through every single freaking minute of this rout while calling a game for a team that will be watching this postseason from home.

Contact Jim Polzin at .


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