GREEN BAY, Wis. — Now comes the hard part.
This time, Aaron Rodgers thinks the Green Bay Packers can handle it.
With the five-game midseason losing streak well behind them and with two straight wins to lift their spirits, Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur said after Monday night’s 24-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field that a sense of belief has begun to grow.
A team that was all but out of it after falling to 4-8 in late November suddenly looks like one that could actually win its last five games and sneak into the playoffs.
“Well, it’s three now,” Rodgers said Monday. “We’ve got two. Got two in the bag. I don’t know. Look, before the Bears week, we knew we had a bye afterwards, and those of us who sometimes peek ahead knew that we had to win five and then have a lot of things go our way. So, we’ve won two and just about everything we needed to happen has gone our way. Just about, right? So, things are looking up.”
ESPN Analytics gives the Packers a 12.2% chance to make the playoffs. A loss on Monday night would have reduced that to almost nil (0.8%).
It’s one thing to beat two teams that now have a combined record of 7-21; the Bears are 3-11, and the Rams 4-10. But the Packers’ final three opponents are a combined 26-16, beginning with Sunday’s game at the Miami Dolphins (8-6). However, the Dolphins have lost three straight, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense has been porous and who knows if the Detroit Lions are for real.
“I mean, they’re all good football teams,” Rodgers said. “Miami’s playing for the playoffs. Minnesota’s obviously division winners and coming off a big win. Detroit’s won, what, six out of seven; they’re playing really well. So it’s going to be three difficult games. Two of them are at home against dome teams. It’ll be January for those two. We’ve notoriously been pretty good in those games over the years.
“So this one [versus the Dolphins] it’s really important because it’s on the road. They obviously have a really high powered offense. They’ve been a little up and down the last few weeks. Maybe we’re catching them at a good time. We’ll see.”
Rodgers refrained from making one of his proclamations like “run the table” or “RELAX,” but he uttered a soft-spoken belief that the Packers can win out.
“I do, yeah, I do, I do,” Rodgers repeated. “Now we’re going to play three better football teams, but I do. Definitely.”
Perhaps this is what drives Rodgers’ belief: He finally had Romeo Doubs (five catches for 55 yards) and Christian Watson (four catches for 46 yards) healthy and on the field together. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for three touchdowns and 197 total yards from scrimmage. The Pack’s defense sacked Baker Mayfield five times, including two by Preston Smith, and Rasul Douglas picked off the QB once. And kickoff returner Keisean Nixon has become a weapon with his third 50-plus yard return in the past three outings.
“That was step one,” Douglas said of beating the Rams. “First, today, we came in and said, ‘Let’s dominate, and let’s get a win.’ Now, we’re moving on to step two, and that’s Miami.”
And they’re moving from a 15-degree night in Green Bay to the sun of South Florida.
“It’s going to have to be a really good effort to go out there and win,” Rodgers said. “It’ll be a nice weather change. Nobody’s going to be bummed that it’ll be 40 or 50 above what it is, at least, maybe 50 or 60 above what it is right now. We’ll be looking forward to getting back home to some cold weather, and hopefully, we’ll be 7-8.”
And that’s as far as LaFleur was willing to discuss. He wanted no part of any talk about winning out.
“Well, I don’t even want to talk like that, to be honest with you,” the coach said. “I think you’ve got to keep the focus on what’s right in front of you. Certainly, if you look at the totality of it, all three teams are really good football teams. So I don’t want to get too far in front of ourselves and just want to be the best we can be each and every day, each and every game, and that starts with Miami.”