The Packers have needed to keep winning to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture. On Christmas Day, that is exactly what happened, as Green Bay outlasted Miami at Hard Rock Stadium, 26-20.
It was a tale of two halves in Miami on Sunday. The first half was a sloppy mistake-filled jumble of questionable decisions and missed opportunities, while the second half was a clinic of capitalized chances, ball control, clock control, and clutch play that had the feeling of a playoff-worthy club.
Beginning the game, the first time Green Bay possessed the ball was after a Keisean Nixon 93-yard kick return to the Miami 9-yard line. But the Packers offense couldn’t do anything with the ball, in fact, losing yards after Aaron Rodgers was sacked for a loss of 13-yards on second down.
Green Bay led after settling for a Mason Crosby 36-yard field goal, but the first half tone was set.
Other first half miscues included a failed fake punt on the Packers own 20-yard line that gave Miami a short field to work with, and a deep ball badly overthrown to Christian Watson on 4th & 1 from the Miami 37-yard line gave the ball back to the Dolphins on a low-percentage play.
At halftime, Green Bay trailed 20-13.
Often, the opening minutes of the second half of games are a harbinger of the tone of the rest of the contest. Sunday that held true, as Green Bay received the kick to start the third quarter and embarked on along, seven minute-plus, 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive punctuated by an AJ Dillon one-yard plunge to tie the game at 20-20.
Meanwhile, maligned defensive coordinator Joe Barry saw his oft-criticized defense bring one of the most efficient and explosive offenses in the NFL to a screeching halt in the second half.
After a missed 48-yard field goal attempt by Jason Sanders sailed wide right on Miami’s ensuing possession, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa proceeded to end three straight possessions with poorly thrown interceptions to Jaire Alexander, De’Vondre Campbell, and Rasul Douglas to seal in Green Bay’s third consecutive victory.
"If you can read the quarterback the right way, that also gives you some opportunities defensively, and our guys did a great job of that,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I thought Joe (Barry) did a really good job in the second half."
The question, of course, will be whether the Packers last three wins will be enough to lift them into the playoffs with two weeks left to play? But with Saturday losses by Seattle, Detroit, Washington, and New York all losing, Green Bay is in much better chance to be playing for something beyond January 8.
"Considering where we were two weeks ago, a lot has happened in our favor,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters after the game when asked how he feels about his team’s playoff chances. "We played meaningful games in December, and we won all three of those. Now we're playing meaningful games in January and got to win those."
Next Sunday, Green Bay returns home to play NFC North Division champion Minnesota at 3:25 PM.