1) Playing behind an offensive line consisting of four backups and a rookie, all Aaron Rodgers did on a cold December night was go 29 of 37 for 341 yards and four touchdowns. It was yet another remarkable performance in a remarkable season. Aside from an ill-advised deep toss on 3rd and 5 late in the third quarter, the future Hall of Famer made really smart decisions. He threw a lot of short and accurate passes to matriculate the ball down the field methodically. And he did all of this with a fractured pinky toe and one starting-caliber receiver.
2) The Packers are extremely fortunate to have Dennis Kelly. The 10-year veteran has physical limitations that could very well get exposed if he has to start for the remainder of the season, but there’s not a better fourth-string tackle in the league. The former Titan replaced an injured Billy Turner late in the first half, and more than held his own in 42 snaps. The performance was even more impressive because Kelly hadn’t played a single down on offense until last night. To be fair, it sure helped that Trevis Gipson was playing left outside linebacker for the Bears instead of Khalil Mack.
3) After a rough first couple of months, Royce Newman appears to be finding his footing in the NFL. The rookie right guard had his third solid game in the past five weeks. The fourth-round pick from Ole Miss is reacting quicker to blitzes and stunts. He still needs to get a lot stronger to handle bigger defensive tackles consistently, but lately, he’s been doing just enough to give Rodgers time to get rid of the ball and AJ Dillon the space needed to pick up positive yards.
Newman (#70) pulls to his left on this play, and his block of linebacker Roquan Smith helps Dillon gain five tough yards.
4) The Packers needed Allen Lazard to step up, and he did just that on Sunday night. The third-year wide receiver caught a season-high six passes for 75 yards, including a 32-yarder to flip the field in the first quarter. Lazard also blocked more effectively than he has in recent weeks. The former Iowa State star needs to keep up this level of production because, without Robert Tonyan and Randall Cobb, defenses will pay even more attention to Davante Adams. And while the Bears still couldn’t slow down the All-Pro (10 catches for 121 yards and 2 TDs), better secondaries await in January.
5) Josiah Deguara and Marcedes Lewis combined for seven catches for 95 yards. Credit clever scheming and a savvy quarterback. The coaches creatively figured out ways to get the second-year fullback and the veteran tight end open, and Rodgers found them and delivered accurate passes. To their credit, Deguara and Lewis caught every ball thrown their way and picked up whatever yards were available after the reception. Just as significantly – maybe more so due to the state of the offensive line – they both blocked very effectively. Deguara, in particular, did some fine work in the run game.
1) Preston Smith earned a $500K bonus after picking up his sixth and seventh sacks of the season on Sunday night. The veteran outside linebacker had a terrific all-around game. He was disciplined versus the run and disruptive as a pass rusher. It’s hard to believe this is the same player from a year ago. Give credit to Smith for getting himself in much better shape. He’s quicker and more explosive. But also give kudos to new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. The two were together in Washington, and they have a good relationship. That’s obvious by how hard Smith is playing on every snap.
2) De’Vondre Campbell had 16 tackles, but that’s not why Sunday night was one of his best games of the season. Heck, ex-Packer Blake Martinez had that many tackles numerous times. It’s where Campbell made the tackles that mattered. The former Falcon and Cardinal was meeting running back David Montgomery at or near the line of scrimmage and getting receivers to the ground as soon as they caught a short pass. It’s still hard to believe Green Bay’s best inside linebacker in over two decades was still available nearly three months after the start of free agency.
Campbell (#59) isn’t fooled by any of the pre-snap movement and stops 260-pound tight end Cole Kmet in his tracks.
3) One of the reasons Rasul Douglas is making so many big plays is because quarterbacks are avoiding Eric Stokes. And for good reason. Aside from a rough game against Justin Jefferson in Week 11, the rookie from Georgia has been covering receivers like a blanket for the past two months. Sunday was no exception. What makes Stokes unique is his mix of size and speed. He’s big enough to keep from being outmuscled by 215-pound Allen Robinson and fast enough to keep from being outrun by speedy Darnell Mooney. As for making big plays of his own, those opportunities will increase when Jaire Alexander returns.
4) Henry Black allowed a 54-yard touchdown to Damiere Byrd in the second quarter, but to be fair, there aren’t many safeties in the league who could’ve stopped that well-designed and executed play from happening. Otherwise, the second-year pro from Baylor had a solid night. He skillfully broke up a pass over the middle and was physical against the run. It’s questionable whether Black is the long-term answer in sub-packages, but there’s no question he’s an upgrade from Ibraheim Campbell, Raven Greene, and Will Redmond, who logged significant snaps in a similar role the past couple of seasons.
5) Tipa Galeai, who was on the practice squad until late last month, outplayed No. 3 outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin. The 235-pound outside linebacker had a couple of decent rushes off the edge, but it was his solid play versus the run that stood out. The former Utah State star is playing bigger than his size. He’s using quickness to slip around blocks and leverage to keep from getting blown off the line of scrimmage by offensive tackles who outweigh him by close to 100 pounds.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It’s rare when a team wins by 15 points, and you feel worse about the team than you did before the game started, but that’s what happens when the defense gives up over 200 yards to a below-average offense in the first half and special teams – bad all season – reach a new low. Coach Matt LaFleur always says that wins are hard to come by in the National Football League and should be appreciated. He’s 100 percent right, but it’s still hard to feel positive about Sunday night when I see visions of Grant racing by would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone every time I close my eyes.