Raise your hand if you scoffed, snickered or smirked when Aaron Rodgers told the masses, “I feel like we can run the table. I really do.” Forget the strange air of confidence after four straight Green Bay losses. That’s Rodgers. He never panics, never concedes and always exudes confidence. As the leader of the Pack, he’s supposed to believe they can turn the ship around at any time. But how many people actually believed it was likely or even possible?
It wasn’t just the four straight defeats; it was HOW the Packers were losing that inspired doubt in late November. Most of the criticism landed on Rodgers as the quarterback, but the majority of the blame deserved to fall elsewhere. During the four-game skid, Rodgers tossed 12 touchdowns and ran for another while committing only three turnovers. In a one-point loss to the Falcons, his passer rating was near perfect. At Tennessee and Washington, he accounted for roughly 400 yards of total offense in each contest. He carried the team on his shoulders as much as he could through the air and on the ground. For the first several months of the season, Rodgers also served as the team’s most consistent running back. On the day he talked about winning out, Eddie Lacy was lost for the year. No, this wasn’t about Aaron Rodgers.
When Green Bay slipped to 4-6, the defense was giving up nearly 357 yards and 27.6 points per game. On back-to-back weekends, the Titans and Redskins combined to hang 89 on the Pack. Tennessee raced out of the locker room and scored three touchdowns before the Green Bay defense bothered to show up. Ratcheting up the intensity and toughness on defense is what stemmed the tide to kick off December. In three straight games, they surrendered no more than 13 points. In every one of their last five victories, the Packers have forced at least one turnover. Against the Seahawks and Bears, they grabbed 10 total takeaways.
The defensive numbers don’t lie. During the win streak, teams are scoring just 17.6 points per outing against Green Bay, a 10-point drop from the first 10 games of the season! Throw in 14 sacks (double the number from the month of losing), and you’re talking about a defense with teeth. The veteran presence and contributions of linebacker Clay Matthews are massive in the turnaround. He returned in Week 10 after a month-long hiatus to nurse a separated shoulder. Not fully healed, the Packers used him sparingly for a few games, sometimes only in third-down situations. Matthews admitted he felt like he was playing with one arm a good chunk of the time — until the Christmas Eve battle with the rival Vikings. On the field for the majority of snaps, Matthews recorded his first sack in a month and stripped Sam Bradford for a fumble. He also batted down a pair of passes, one of them on third-and-goal. His speed and savvy are invaluable, and the team feeds off his energy.
As a dramatic late rally by the Bears in Week 15 shows, the Packers defense is nowhere near infallible. But a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers can compensate for a multitude of sins by any defense. After Chicago erased a 17-point deficit to tie it up with a minute left, Rodgers chucked a 60-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson and set up the game-winning field goal. It wasn’t technically a Hail Mary, but it might as well have been. And that’s just one jaw-dropping moment from his 2016 portfolio. During the win streak, he’s amassed almost 1400 yards passing thanks to a 71.4% completion rate. He’s thrown for 11 TDs with zero interceptions.
Even while he’s hobbling around with a sore calf, Rodgers is keeping up a torrid pace and crashing the MVP conversation. And now he’s getting more support. One season removed from an ACL tear, his favorite target, Jordy Nelson, leads the league with 14 touchdown catches. And receiver-turned-rusher Ty Montgomery is a new bright light. His speed and power make him a dangerous combination, and he flexed his muscles with a breakout performance in the Windy City. He torched the Bears for 162 yards and two scores. The Packers with a legitimate running threat again? Beware.
The collective experience inside the Green Bay locker room should’ve been reason enough to take Rodgers seriously when he mused about running the table. The Packers haven’t missed the playoffs since 2008, and they’ve been division champs four of the last five winters. They don’t take the easy road either. Sunday night in Detroit marks the fourth year in a row the Pack will go into their season finale with the NFC North crown on the line. Been there, done that. The confidence that comes from successfully staring pressure in the face and pulling victory from the jaws of defeat is priceless. It’s like fuel to a team with its backs against the wall. Inside the locker room, the Packers credit Mike McCarthy for staying positive and hopeful instead of crushing guys during their struggles. And who doesn’t love a leader who believes you can win every game left on your schedule?
We should know better than to doubt Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at this point. They’ve proved the doubters wrong over and over. Reports of their demise were obviously exaggerated. So now raise your hand if you think Green Bay is one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL. Rodgers may soon need to add the title of “prophet” to his resume.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.