Aaron Jones' big day helps Packers beat Washington 20-15, improve to 10-3
GREEN BAY - All the Green Bay Packers seemingly had to do to secure a win Sunday against lowly Washington was show up. Fortunately for them, the buses arrived at Lambeau Field with plenty of time to spare before kickoff.
The Packers sleepwalked much of Sunday afternoon, jumping out to a 14-point lead after the first quarter and then doing little else, but it was enough to beat one of the NFL’s worst teams. Their 20-15 win over Washington (3-10) improved their record to 10-3 — though the sloppy play left much room for improvement, particularly on offense.
"I think if we had the answers, you wouldn't be seeing what you saw today," coach Matt LaFleur said of the offense. "I don't think it's up to our standards. So we've got to go back, look critically and make corrections and make sure we're putting our guys in good positions."
Here are five quick observations:
Jones carries offense
How long this Packers season continues depends on multiple factors, but perhaps none are more important than how they use Aaron Jones down the stretch. Jones was fabulous again Sunday, finishing with a season-high 134 rushing yards on 16 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown. The Packers were also determined to get him involved in the pass game, where Jones caught six passes on seven targets for 58 yards, including a huge 25-yard grab on third-and-14 in the fourth quarter. He also once again showed the gap between him and Jamaal Williams, a fine running back who doesn’t provide the same dynamic potential as Jones. Williams had five carries for 20 yards Sunday, but there were stints in the game LaFleur was determined to keep him involved. Those stints mostly fell into lulls, something that can’t happen against a better team in January.
"We ran the ball pretty well, we just couldn't find that rhythm in the passing game," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "But it feels good to be 10-3."
Pass game slumps
Rodgers could not have had a much hotter start, completing 5-of-6 passes for 69 yards, one touchdown pass to tight end Robert Tonyan and a 154.2 rating in the first quarter. With Rodgers clicking, the Packers' offense looked like a hot knife slicing through butter. But, as has happened occasionally this season, the Packers could not carry their momentum for four quarters. Rodgers was 13-for-22 for 126 yards in the final three quarters. Against a Washington defense that ranked 21st in the NFL in scoring, that was a troubling development, but Rodgers put a positive spin on things afterward.
"I wouldn't mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl," he said.
Stout run defense
A maligned Packers run defense got a good exercise Sunday, and it held up rather well. Behind rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Washington couldn’t do much in the pass game. So it ran. A lot. Washington finished with 28 rushes for 121 yards, a 4.3-yard average. A 23-yard run from Derrius Guice was the only run the Packers would want back. On an otherwise underwhelming afternoon, that was a promising sign.
Big day for Clark
Kenny Clark’s pass-rush production had been notoriously lacking through 12 games this season. It showed up Sunday. Washington could not block Clark, the Packers’ top interior pass rusher. He had 1.5 sacks, equaling his total from the season’s first 12 games. Sometimes, pass rushers can get streaky, production relying on the rhythm of a season. If this was a day Clark found his rhythm, it would be a big boost to the defense down the stretch.
Finally, a punt returner
So much for the Packers' punt return team making dubious history. Through 12 games, the Packers had minus-8 punt return yards on the season. They were within range of seriously flirting with becoming the first team in NFL history to have negative punt return yards in an entire season. Instead, they found something with new punt returner Tyler Ervin, whom the Packers signed this week specifically to spark the return game. Ervin had 40 yards on his first three punt returns, pulling the Packers out of the red – with some extra cushion to spare. The Packers still need 68 yards to avoid joining the 2015 San Diego Chargers as only the second NFL team in the past 37 years with fewer than 100 punt return yards in a season. With three game to go, it might be close.