Packers start fast, then have to hang on to beat Panthers 24-16 and improve to 11-3

Ryan Wood
Packers News

GREEN BAY - Aaron Jones changed his agent Monday. On Saturday, the Green Bay Packers running back showed why he’s worth the money. 

Not that the Packers should need much convincing. Jones is a star, has been a star for some time now, and on Saturday night at Lambeau Field did what is expected of a star. 

Jones finished with 145 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, averaging an absurd 7.3-yard average in the Packers’ 24-16 win against the Carolina Panthers. His night started with a 46-yard run through the heart of the Panthers defense. By halftime, Jones had his second 100-yard game in three weeks. 

Mason Crosby sealed the win with a 51-yard field goal that gave the Packers a two-score lead with 3:39 left. Crosby’s kick came a week after his 57-yarder sealed a win in Detroit. He’s now 16-of-16 on field goals this season.  

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs for a gain against Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (53) during their football game Saturday, December 19, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

The win keeps the Packers (11-3) in firm command for the NFC’s top overall seed, which would secure the conference’s lone bye and ensure the path to Super Bowl LV goes through Lambeau Field. If they win the next two games, they’ll be two home playoff games away from the Super Bowl. 

Jones’ outburst allowed the Packers to weather a cool night from their passing game. Aaron Rodgers’ case for a third career MVP did not take a giant leap forward. The quarterback completed 20 of 29 passes for 143 yards and only one touchdown, and a 91.6 passer rating that snapped an eight-game streak of over 100. 

Rodgers added a 6-yard rushing touchdown on third-and-goal, his second straight week with a rushing touchdown. It’s the first time since the first two games of 2016 that Rodgers, who is now 37 years old, has had a rushing touchdown on consecutive weeks. 

Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (20) runs back a fumble recovery for a huge gain against the Carolina Panthers during their football game Saturday, December 19, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

But Rodgers was sacked a season-high five times and didn't hide his displeasure during a postgame interview on NFL Network.

"This is 'one of those disappointing wins," Rodgers said. "I've got a sour taste in my mouth."

Davante Adams had a quiet night with seven catches for 42 yards, but it was his 10th straight game this season with at least six grabs, further extending his franchise record. Adams did not have a touchdown reception for the first time since Oct. 18, snapping his franchise record of eight straight games with a touchdown catch. 

Tight end Robert Tonyan caught Rodgers’ lone touchdown pass from 1-yard out, a play after Tonyan slipped short of the goal line. It was Tonyan’s fifth straight game with a touchdown catch. He’s now the third tight end in Packers history with double-digit touchdown catches in a season, one from Paul Coffman’s record 11 set in 1983. Tonyan’s 10 touchdowns are the most among NFL tight ends. 

After opening the game with three consecutive touchdowns, the Packers' offense sputtered. It punted – with varying results from JK Scott – on its next five possessions, an abrupt turn. The Packers' defense showed more consistency throughout the game, especially inside the red zone. 

The Panthers had five trips to the red zone Saturday night. Three ended with short field goals, only one a touchdown. The Packers turned the other into a game-changing play when rookie inside linebacker Krys Barnes punched out the football as Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tried to extend it beyond the goal line. Cornerback Kevin King scooped the fumble and returned it past midfield, setting up the Packers’ third touchdown drive with a short field. 

Barnes had six tackles, one for loss and the forced fumble, providing the type of presence on the second level that has earned the undrafted rookie a starting job this season. Safety Adrian Amos provided reinforcement on the back end. Amos had seven tackles and broke up three passes, including a potential touchdown to Robby Anderson in the end zone. He also had a no-loss sack. 

It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game the Packers have played this season, but the defense made sure it was successful nonetheless.