Victory boosts morale, playoff race tightens

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews offers a helping hand to Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson after knocking him to the ground in the fourth quarter.

The Green Bay Packers host the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, December 11, 2016, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY - For better or worse, Sunday's late afternoon kickoff at Lambeau Field afforded the Green Bay Packers an opportunity to be scoreboard watchers. And as the regular season winds down, they certainly didn't like what they saw.

The Detroit Lions (9-4), current leaders of the NFC North, earned another fourth-quarter comeback when they knocked off the Chicago Bears, 20-17.

The Minnesota Vikings (7-6), who have the tiebreaker over the Packers thanks to a Week 2 victory in Minneapolis, pulled away from the Jacksonville Jaguars, 25-16.

And Washington, which blitzed the Packers last month and is in prime position for a wild-card berth, came from behind to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-22.

"Shoot, we’re just trying to win out here," outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Obviously it would be nice if we got some help along the way, but we’re playing real well. This is our third win in a row. You’ve seen for the past several years our team really start to come on late in the season. We’re going to focus on that. We have, what, three more games (and they’re) all division games? We’ll let the cards fall where they may. But hopefully, we do enough at the end and didn’t put ourselves in too much of a hole.

"But this was a big, big win for us tonight, and we’ll take it. There’s some things to build on. I thought for the most part all three phases really played probably our best game tonight, and that’s encouraging moving forward."

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Several players echoed Matthews' sentiment that Sunday's win — a 38-10 pummeling of the Seattle Seahawks — aided the Packers despite the teams around them maintaining their leads in various playoff scenarios.

The Packers, who improved to 7-6, are projected as the ninth seed in the NFC playoff race as of Sunday evening. Four division winners make the playoffs automatically, and two wild cards are distributed to teams with the fifth- and sixth-best records. At the moment, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the wild card spots.

Also ahead of the Packers are Washington (7-5-1), who is projected seventh, and the Vikings, whose victory over the Packers earlier this year gives them the tiebreaker.

"Like I said at 4-6, I felt like we had a lot of confidence and it was close to clicking for us," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Most of the people in this room probably didn't believe me when I said I think we can run the table, but I was confident in our abilities and getting guys back from some injuries that we were going to start playing a little bit better, more of a complete game in all three phases, and we've done that, especially in two of these three weeks, I think.

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"But this was an important win for us confidence-wise, and I think it was a good statement to our fans as well to stick with us because there's a lot of football left."

The Packers have three games remaining, and all of them are against NFC North opponents. But because of their two-game deficit to the Lions, the Packers do not control their own destiny the rest of the season. If Detroit wins all three of its remaining games, the Lions will win the NFC North and secure the division's playoff berth.

In that scenario, the Packers would need to hope that their record is good enough to earn a wild card spot.

"We maybe didn’t gain any ground in the standings, but we talked about all week: A game like this, the way we played, the way we won the game, that’s going to be huge momentum for us going forward," right guard T.J. Lang said. "Obviously huge for our confidence as well because Seattle is one of the best teams in the NFL. We might not have gained any ground in the standings on Detroit, but we’ve got three very important games coming up here."

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