GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)Aaron Rodgers didn’t make any bold proclamations about running the table this time around.
But the similarities between the Green Bay Packers’ current turnaround and their remarkable run to the NFC championship game back in 2016 otherwise are too obvious to ignore.
After losing eight of their first 12 games, the Packers (8-8) have won four consecutive games and will reach the playoffs if they beat the Detroit Lions (8-8) on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. That 2016 team rebounded from a 4-6 start to win eight straight before losing to the Atlanta Falcons with a Super Bowl bid at stake.
”Now, that (2016) team had some guys who’d been a part of winning some really big football games,” Rodgers said. ”This team has less of those guys. But I just think this team is a little bit more talented top to bottom. Definitely on the back end, the way our guys play in this defense, I think, guy-for-guy is probably a little bit better on that side of the ball. Offense is probably pretty similar. And then we have (kick returner) Keisean Nixon.”
The current Packers who played on that 2016 team included Rodgers, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, kicker Mason Crosby, wide receiver Randall Cobb and injured defensive lineman Dean Lowry.
”It definitely has some similarities, the course of the season, the way that it went,” Cobb said. ”For us to battle back and be in this situation and have an opportunity, that’s all you can ask for.”
Rodgers said back in 2016 he believed the Packers would ”run the table” before they went on that streak. The four-time MVP quarterback didn’t make a similar prediction this time, but said after the 41-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday that he had a good feeling the Packers would make a late run.
He recalled thinking when the Packers were 3-6 that if they could win just one of their next three games – home matchups with Dallas and Tennessee plus a trip to Philadelphia – they could win their final five games. Green Bay beat Dallas in overtime, lost the next two games, but has gone 4-0 since while plenty of other results involving other teams have fallen their way.
”There was something in there that had hope, but it was a fool’s hope at the time I think,” Rodgers said. ”And so much had to happen, which is why, like I said Sunday night, I had to wrap my head around the scenarios and find a peace in that.”
These Packers have relied on a different formula than that 2016 team.
Rodgers led the way in 2016 by throwing 15 touchdown passes without an interception in a six-game winning streak to end the regular season. He then threw six touchdown passes with only one interception in Green Bay’s two playoff victories while throwing to a potent receiving group featuring Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Cobb.
The 39-year-old Rodgers has been solid but unspectacular over the past four games – he has thrown only one touchdown pass in each of them – but Green Bay’s defense has come on strong after underachieving for much of the season.
During their four-game winning streak, the Packers have forced the same number of turnovers (12) that they did through their first 12 games of the season.
”I’d like to be 15 and 0,” Rodgers said. ”That was a fun run. But those are different teams. Different players, different mindset, different scheme. I just need to be efficient. If I’m efficient and taking care of the football as best I can, making the right checks, I can still impact the game in a positive way.”
Green Bay benefited from some subtle tweaks during this late surge. Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he tried to include more competitive periods in practice ”just to try to heighten the intensity a little bit.”
A fourth-quarter rally provided the spark.
One month ago, the Packers were 4-8 and trailing the lowly Chicago Bears 19-10 heading into the final period. The Packers rallied to win 28-19 and haven’t looked back since. Rodgers called that moment the turning point.
”I just think it felt a little bit different in the locker room,” Rodgers said. ”There was maybe a deep exhale from everybody, and then we had the bye week. And the bye week allowed me to get healthy. I think it allowed us to mentally get some clarity and we came back, and for whatever reason, we had a different level of enjoyment and energy at practice.”
The Packers aren’t taking anything for granted.
They’re still in a must-win situation against the Lions, who have staged their own remarkable turnaround by winning six of their past nine games after a 1-6 start. The Lions would earn their first playoff berth since 2016 if they beat the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks (8-8) lose at home to the Los Angeles Rams (5-11).
Detroit’s surge started two months ago with a 15-9 victory over the Packers in which Rodgers threw three interceptions.
”I think our game kind of maybe galvanized them to turn it back in the right direction, and they’ve been playing really good football – as good as just about anybody in the league the last nine weeks,” Rodgers said.
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