Escaping From the Dawg Pound Keeps Season From Going to the Dogs.Posted:Dec 11th, 2017 2:22 pm
Admit it, with the Pack trailing the Browns by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you were figuring out how to get away with skipping work on Monday. The thought of facing Vikings fans after putting the one in the 1-12 Browns was too much to contemplate.
Brett Hundley had been outplayed by DeShone Kizer all afternoon. After his brain cramp on fourth and one in the red zone gave the ball back to Cleveland, where they promptly marched down the field to take a 21-7 lead, it looked like the game--and the prospects of seeing Aaron Rodgers on the field again--was over.
But as we've seen a few times during this long, dark Rodgers-less time warp, Hundley saved his best for last, marching the Pack down the field for a game-tying touchdown late and then making Kizer and the Browns pay for their overtime mistake with a scintillating catch and run by Davante Adams that kept the Pack's season alive.
We should learn in the next day or two whether Rodgers is cleared to return, as is expected. If he does, Hundley will have gone 3-5 in games he finished; not horrible, by any stretch, but those two Lambeau duds (against the Lions and Ravens) will likely come back to haunt us when we look back at the season and lost opportunities.
He didn't get a lot of help from the defense on this day, which gave up five yards a carry on the ground (Isaiah Crowell had his most productive game of the season) and provided very little pass rush to help out a banged up secondary. After the first series, it looked like the mercurial Josh Gordon was poised to put up Antonio Brown-type numbers. We must tip our hats to Damarious Randall, who locked down Gordon the rest of the day.
We can also thank Hue Jackson for only calling four running back screens, something that's killed the Pack all season. They targeted Duke Johnson just four times and completed all four. The defense is unlikely to stop anyone the rest of the way, especially with Davon House likely done for the season after injuring his back. Rodgers' pending return makes that a bit easier to swallow.
Offensively, the Packers struggled on the ground all afternoon, even with Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton out with an injury. The game plan was to stack the box and make Hundley beat them and it nearly worked. The Pack worked hard to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Once again Adams was the focal point, with 14 targets, but Mike McCarthy made sure Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb got involved early and they ended up with 13 targets between them.
It was clear early that McCarthy was treating this like the playoff game it was: gambling with a fake punt on the first series and going for it on a second fourth down in that opening drive. But those were the only points the Pack could muster in the first three quarters and for most of the day, it looked like the new Browns era, with John Dorsey at the helm, would start out 1-0.
Trevor Davis' 65 yard punt return gave the Pack life, leading to the game-tying touchdown and once again we faced overtime. This time the Pack lost the toss, but at that moment I thought to myself, OK, it's the Browns--they always figure out a way to lose games like this. Sure enough, Clay Matthews finally got to Kizer, causing him to make the game's biggest mistake: his desperation heave landed in the hands of Josh Jones and the Packers were in business. Adams' walk-off catch and run that took him through the end zone and into the tunnel meant that Brett Hundley had won back to back overtime games (fun fact: Aaron Rodgers has a grand total of one OT win in his career).
So at 7-6, the Packers are still alive, barely, for a playoff spot. And now the fun begins. Of course it could end very quickly because, with or without Rodgers, the Panthers and Cam Newton will be extremely tough to stop. But that worry can wait till Sunday. For now, we face the prospect of Rodgers' returning and that's all we could have hoped for. If the medical team clears him, he'll be back under center and you can't overstate what that could mean to the players around him.
Even if the Pack falls in Carolina, we can hope that he'll be out there the following week against the Vikings in prime time. Playing the spoiler is not a role we know too well, but it would feel awfully good to strike a blow to the Purple's playoff seeding.