The Green Bay Packers are 12-3 and winners of the NFC North. At the time of this writing, the Packers are the front runner to secure the 1st overall seed in the NFC playoffs.
On paper, things are going great in Green Bay. The Pack has won four in a row and five of their last six. They’ve got an MVP-level quarterback in Aaron Rodgers as well as a borderline elite defense. Heck, they’ve even tightened up their special teams in the last few weeks.
The one thing Green Bay doesn’t have right now, though, is the ability to close games at a high level. That could come back to haunt the Packers in the playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers are struggling to close out games
It has now been a stark reality for the Packers two weekends in a row.
The Baltimore Ravens battled back from a 14 point fourth-quarter deficit in Week 15 and would have likely beat the Packers if it weren’t for a missed two-point conversion. Even had John Harbaugh ultimately decided to go for the tie instead of the win, Baltimore had clearly taken all the momentum away from the Packers, and there’s a good chance Tyler Huntley would have found a way to keep moving the football in overtime against a gassed Green Bay defense.
A week later, while playing an inferior Cleveland Browns team at Lambeau Field on Christmas Day, the Packers also ran out of gas on both sides of the ball. If it wasn’t for Baker Mayfield essentially gift wrapping Green Bay the win, it looked as if Cleveland had wrestled away all the momentum in the second half.
The Packers led 24-12 with 9:12 to go in the third quarter. They barely won the game, 24-22.
The Packers have now struggled to hold on to a sizable lead two weekends in a row. Sure, they did ultimately survive both games, and a win is a win in the NFL no matter how you come across it. Still, with a Super Bowl win being the only expectation in Green Bay, there has to be some concern amongst Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff that the team is struggling to put together a consistent game.
It was a tale of two halves for the Packers against Cleveland
The Packers were dominant in the first half against the Browns. Maybe it was the momentum from Rodgers breaking Brett Favre’s touchdown record, or perhaps that is just what Green Bay’s offense looks like when it’s firing on all cylinders. The Packers scored 21 points in the first half. Three out of the five Green Bay drives in the first half finished in the end zone.
Here’s the problem, though. If that is indeed what the Packers look like on offense when they’re rolling, what happened in the second half? That was the opposite of rolling.
The Packers scored only three points in the second half and ultimately had to be bailed out by a struggling Mayfield in order to pull out the win.
Despite Mayfield throwing the ball to Green Bay seemingly every other chance he got, defensively, things weren’t much better for the Packers. Though, yes, the defense was extraordinarily opportunistic and came away with the four interceptions as well as five sacks, they let Nick Chubb run all over them, especially in the second half. All told, 88 of Chubb’s 126 total rushing yards came in the second half of the game.
The Packers have the talent to become true closers, but they lack the consistency
Pound for pound, the Packers have arguably the most talented roster in the NFL, and they certainly have the deepest roster in the league. They are where they’re at record-wise despite the fact that four pro bowlers from last season’s team have missed all or a major chunk of this season due to injury. The Packers have been without Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, David Bakhtiari, and Elgton Jenkins for much, if not all, of the season.
Despite the injuries, this is a team that has proven that it can win in just about any situation. Green Bay can grind you down with A.J. Dillon or Aaron Jones on the run. Rodgers and Davante Adams are always a threat to gash a defense through the air. Speaking of defense, Green Bay’s defense has even shown up to win a few games for the Packers this season, and that’s something Rodgers has not had for much of his tenure in Green Bay.
No, talent is not the issue in Green Bay. The issue is whether or not the Packers can put it all together and play a complete game from the first whistle all the way to zeroes on the scoreboard.
Their lack of ability to close strong almost cost them in the past two weeks and you can even go back as far as the game against the Rams in Week 12 or the clash against the Bears in Week 14 to see the trend. Green Bay has lacked that killer instinct this season. The Packers have been letting teams hang around even though they are the far superior club.
That’s OK against Tyler Huntley and a banged-up Ravens squad. That’s even OK against Baker Mayfield and the Browns.
A lack of killer instinct will come back to haunt the Packers against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though, and the same could be said if they match up with Dallas Cowboys or any of the other top teams in the NFC playoffs.
The Packers have the talent and the coaching to win a Super bowl. Between now and their first shot in the playoffs, they need to somehow develop a closer’s mentality.
In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character famously stated that “coffee is for closers only.” With that in mind, if the Packers want to win the Super Bowl this season, they’ll have to dump out the decaf and pour a strong cup of regular.