GREEN BAY - With a West Coast trip looming after a long night in the Midwest, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur gave his players a reprieve Monday.
LaFleur started Week 9 handing his players what amounted to be their first Victory Monday of the season. Injured players were required to check in with the training staff, and all players were encouraged to get in their lifting for the day, LaFleur said.
Otherwise, they were on their own time after a 31-24 win Sunday night at the Kansas City Chiefs.
LaFleur said the Packers will leave a day early for their trip to the Los Angeles Chargers. The team will board its flight after Friday’s early practice instead of waiting until Saturday. Under former coach Mike McCarthy, early trips to the West Coast were not uncommon, but the Packers practiced Saturday instead of Friday. So they had to find a local place to practice after arriving out west.
With the Packers’ weekly schedule back to Friday practices instead of Saturdays, an early trip won’t change anything in the team’s preparation.
“We’re going to hit our standard week,” LaFleur said. “It just allows us to get acclimated to the time change a little bit better.”
The Packers followed a familiar formula Sunday night against the Chiefs: Take an early lead, capitalize off a turnover and win a one-possession game. It allowed the Packers to move to 7-1 and keep pace with the San Francisco 49ers (7-0) and New Orleans Saints (7-1) in the race for a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“We’re tight-knit,” Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “We’re a tight bunch. We’ve got good leaders on this team. And we fight together. We know that we’re going to win a game, lose a game and when it’s time to really lock in and play close attention to detail, we do that.
“I feel like what we’ve done in this first half of the year, we’ve won games in every type of way you can win it.”
It was the fifth such game the Packers played and they are now 4-1 in those contests. The Packers have also trailed Chicago, Detroit, Oakland and Kansas City at various junctures in games they would eventually win.
“This is the NFL – you’re not going to have blowout games every week regardless if it’s Patrick Mahomes as the quarterback of the other team or Matt Moore – it doesn’t matter. It’s regardless,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “It shows character, for sure. What were we down 17-14 at half? It was a big momentum roll and it just shows you kind of the grit, I think, a little bit. And kind of just the character.”
And two of the three wins the Packers have had by double digits haven’t exactly felt like runaways. An 11-point win over Denver was pushed to double digits thanks to a Mason Crosby field goal late in the fourth quarter and even a 10-point win in Dallas felt differently because the Cowboys missed two field goal attempts.
“We’re finding ways to win these games,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “The really good teams find a way to win when adversity hits.”
On third and 2 at the Green Bay 10-yard line with 3 minutes, 40 seconds left Sunday night, the Packers lined up in a passing formation.
When receiver Allen Lazard motioned from right to left, Rodgers saw something and decided to change the play. With the crowd roaring and the Chiefs desperate for one more crack at the end zone, he called on Aaron Jones one more time.
Rodgers went to the line, relayed the change to the offensive linemen and handed the ball off to Jones, who proceeded to run 4 yards for a first down.
“It was a great audible,” Jones said. “I guess he saw the ‘B’ gap was going to be open. And it opened up. I took it and protected the ball and got the first down. It let us keep the clock rolling.”
Carolina start time flexed
With a 7-1 record, the Packers are back in popular demand for late-season, national showcases.
Their home game against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 10 has been flexed from a noon to a 3:25 p.m. CT start, meaning a larger national audience in the late-afternoon time slot. If they keep winning, it might be merely the first Packers game to be flexed this season.
The Packers have played four of their first eight games at night, including Sunday at Kansas City. They are scheduled to have just one more night game the rest of this season: Dec. 23 at the Minnesota Vikings.
However, it’s possible the NFL could flex more Packers games to later start times. They play Nov. 24 at San Francisco at 3:25 p.m. CT, and they host the Chicago Bears at noon on Dec. 15.
Too many misses
The Packers' defense spent a lot of time waving its arms and diving at the feet of Chiefs ball carriers only to come up empty.
Up until this game, the Packers had not had an extraordinary amount of missed tackles, but the speedy Chiefs skill players caused them to miss over and over again. It wasn't until the fourth quarter that they started to get it under control and it was just in time.
“They make you tackle them in the open field,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We missed a lot of tackles. They have great athletes and it showed. They got the ball in those guys’ hands and they made plays with it.
“It’s difficult to tackle them in the open field. We had to make some adjustments in the second half to limit some of those gains and I think that’s what we were able to do.”
In the first half, the Packers allowed 232 yards and a number of big plays to receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Mecole Hardman.
In the second half, they held the Chiefs to 105 yards and seven points.
Rodgers wound up being sacked five times and hit seven others, much of it after the Packers jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has shown the willingness to blitz heavily, laid off the blitz early then went after Rodgers after his hot start.
“Steve Spagnuolo has a great scheme,” Rodgers said. “It stresses you a number of different ways and they brought empty pressures and I had to hold onto the ball. A couple of the sacks for sure were on me.
“I thought I was able to jump out on the one I lost for damn near 20 yards, but that scheme really stresses you in the noise and environment. It is tough, but I have to keep doing a good job of getting the ball out of my hands and avoiding a couple of those hits.”
Injured finger for Bulaga
Bulaga left the game in the fourth quarter after Rodgers’ 3-yard touchdown throw to Jamaal Williams early in the period, and backup tackle Alex Light filled in on the Packers’ ensuing two-play scoring drive. Bulaga ended up going to the locker room at the start of the Packers’ last drive with 5:04 to go and returned with the fingers on his right hand taped, but at that point only two minutes remained and he stayed on the sidelines.
With tape on a finger in the locker room, the veteran right tackle said he hopes he’ll feel better by the end of the week and he would not have to play with a “club” on his hand.
Sullivan gets shot at kick returner
The Packers stuck with Darrius Shepherd as their punt returner, but second-year defensive back Chandon Sullivan was tapped to return kicks. The Chiefs tested the Packers’ return unit by kicking short several times and Sullivan returned three kicks for 48 yards (16.0) and a long of 19.
They were the first kick returns of Sullivan’s NFL career, and he has not returned a kickoff since his sophomore season at Georgia State in 2015.
Coming into the game Shepherd averaged 16.3 yards per kick return on his nine attempts (147 yards).