Dougherty: Packers keep season alive

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) signals a first down after a catch and long run against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA, November 28, 2016.

PHILADELPHIA - The Green Bay Packers staved off the death of their 2016 season.

This was a must-win Monday night, and win they did. Moreover, their offense showed 60 minutes of life for the first time in a long time in their 27-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles that ended a brutal four-game losing streak.

Does this mean all's well in Packerland? Certainly not. The Packers have shown hints of life earlier in the season only to regress the next week. They'll have to play well for several games in a row to take them seriously as a postseason threat. Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged as much after the win.

"I think we’ll be a much better football team because of what we went through," McCarthy said. "But the fact of the matter is this is one win. We’re 5-6. We need to stay the course. We look at this as a launching pad."

Right now, at 5-6, the Packers are alive, two games behind NFC North leader Detroit with five games to play. That was as much as they could accomplish on this night.

The difference between Monday night and their back-to-back blowout losses to Tennessee (47-25) and Washington (42-24) leading up to this game? Two actually: a quick-rhythm passing game that they haven’t used from the start of a game since their narrow loss at Atlanta a month ago, and an opponent that provided a much more favorable matchup.

First, the matchup. Both Tennessee and Washington had the offensive weapons to exploit the Packers’ shortcomings on defense. Tennessee had two legit running backs in DeMarcus Murray and rookie Derrick Henry, plus a talented tight end in Delanie Walker, and an up-and-comer in second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota. Washington had a deep and explosive receiving corps with two playmakers at tight end (Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis) and two more at receiver (Jamison Crowder and DeSean Jackson).

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It was way more than the Packers could handle with Clay Matthews (hamstring) either out or ineffective because of injury, and with their top two cornerbacks sidelined (Sam Shields with a concussion, and Damarious Randall after groin surgery). The depth the Packers appeared to have at that coverage position going into the season just didn’t hold up.

The Eagles, on the other hand? Not so much.

While Philadelphia has to feel good about its future with rookie Carson Wentz at quarterback, the Eagles don’t have much to help him. Their receiving corps is one of the league’s worst, and lost maybe its best performer when Jordan Matthews left the game because of an ankle injury early in the third quarter.

And at running back, Darren Sproles played only part time because of a rib injury, and starter Ryan Matthews didn’t play at all because of a knee injury. The Eagles just didn’t have the firepower of the teams that had beaten the Packers recently, and Wentz, while promising, isn’t ready to carry them, even if he was the reason his team stayed in the game.

Then there was the Packers’ offensive attack. With James Starks back and recently signed Christine Michael ready to play for the first time in a Packers’ uniform, it looked like coach Mike McCarthy would play conventional late-season football. Try to run the ball to set up the pass. After all, he’d essentially tried that the last two weeks before falling way behind early.

McCarthy, though, surprised. He came out throwing, mostly quick-rhythm passes that jump-started Aaron Rodgers and his offense.

The first drive, 75 yards for a touchdown, set the tone. Of the 10 plays, eight were called passes (one ended up a Rodgers scramble) and two were called runs. The second series, also a touchdown drive, was six passes and three runs.

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By halftime, Rodgers had 21 passes and three scrambles; he, Starks and Ty Montgomery combined for nine called runs.

That meant the Packers were picking on the Eagles’ weak cornerback duo of Leodis McKelvin and Jalen Mills. And as the night went, the big plays came: a spectacular 20-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams in the second quarter, and a 50-yarder to Adams over the top of McKelvin on the Packers’ first play of the second half.

Rodgers (116.7 rating) had one of his best games of the season, though there might be some concern with him because of the hamstring injury he sustained in the second half. After that, his mobility was limited, and he had to operate out of the pistol formation so he didn’t have to move much to hand off or pass.

Clay Matthews also suffered another injury, to the AC joint in his shoulder. He returned to the game, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be well this week. Losing either of those guys would be a mortal blow to the Packers’ still-tenuous playoff hopes.

But those hopes still are alive. McCarthy’s team rallied after its back-to-back embarrassments and played maybe its best game of the year. Against a defense that ranks in the top 10 in points (fourth) and yards (eighth), the Packers put up 27 and 387, and put the game away with a clock-killing drive of eight minutes, nine seconds in the fourth quarter.

The talk of firings should die down for a week.

But as we’ve seen watching the ups and downs of the Packers’ season, one good week doesn’t count for much in this league other than putting one up in the win column. It will take a string of them to make a real statement.

NFLScoreboard | Standings

BOX SCOREPackers 27, Eagles 13

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